Denver's ethnic politics boiled over Wednesday, prompting the City Council president to storm out of a debate over names for the new justice complex.
The tension was prompted by a proclamation encouraging Mayor John Hickenlooper to name a plaza between the new courthouse and jail after former Denver District Attorney Dale Tooley.
At Wednesday's meeting of the City Council's Safety Committee, Councilwoman Judy Montero adamantly opposed the idea because she thought the Latino community had not had a chance to weigh in.
"The Latino community was not part of the conversation," she said.
Montero's objection, joined by those of council members Rick Garcia and Paul Lopez, brought the drive to name the plaza after Tooley to a halt and prompted the council's president, Jeanne Robb, to leave the room.
"It would be wrong not to name some part of the justice center after Dale Tooley," a stern-faced Robb said, stressing that she would not support other naming recommendations for the downtown courthouse and jail without Tooley in the mix.
Robb said she thought she had the votes to muscle her proposed proclamation through committee anyway but was willing to wait in recognition of Tooley's efforts to promote racial harmony and to avoid a "food fight" among council members.
Later, in the hallway, Robb declined to comment further.
The objection by Montero and other Latino council members comes after a string of perceived slights to an ethnic group that makes up 34 percent of Denver's population.
Latinos were either not considered or were not finalists for appointment to recent high-profile state and local jobs, including U.S. Senate, secretary of state and superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
No nominating petitions were submitted on behalf of Latino community leaders during a long-term process hatched last year to name the buildings and plaza. A 12-person mayoral task force, which included four Latinos, sorted through the petitions they received and forwarded recommendations to the council, including a recommendation that the plaza be named for Tooley, who was district attorney from 1973 to 1983.