Record Voter Turnout Picks Hispanic Mayor

Federico Peņa Elected by Broad Coalition

Denver—June 21, 1983

Mayoral Portrait, Federico Peņa

City & County of Denver

Federico Peņa was not the first Hispanic mayor of a major U. S. city. But members of ethnic minorities had previously been elected only in cities with large ethnic populations. Only 19% of Denverites were Hispanic, and only 12% were Black at the time of Peņa's election. The election was not racially divisive. Voter turnout was a whopping 72%, and supporters of all backgrounds crowded his victory celebration at Currigan Hall (named for an earlier Irish mayor). Celebrants hung a large banner outside the convention center, renaming it "Hall O'Peņa." O.K., even a pun as bad as that can be forgiven on election night.

One early issue that faced his administration was equipping all the city's typewriters to produce the "ņ" character required to correctly spell his name.

Peņa went on to serve a second term, and later joined the Clinton administration as Transportation Secretary. He was succeeded by a black mayor, Wellington Webb, elected in 1991, again without racial turmoil, in a city that was still mostly white and middle clas.

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© J. C. Adamson, 1996