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A conversation with Penfield Tate III

Penfield Tate III finally had enough. His right knee had told him, for quite some time, it was time for a change, so he had the knee replaced.

Penfield Tate III

Penfield Tate III (Steve Mark)

“It still hurts,” says Tate. “But slowly but surely, I’m getting used to it.”

The same cannot be said for Tate’s pain tolerance of the state of civil and political discourse.

“It bothers me deeply because I think this absence of civility, the lack of decorum, feels like a general sense of impatience and intolerance.

“It is just making life very difficult.”

On the cusp of turning 68, Tate has lived through and studied the numerous mutations of how we talk and relate with each other. As an aide to former Denver Mayor Frederico Pena, a cabinet member of former Gov. Roy Romer, and six years in the Colorado General Assembly, Tate bristles at the accepted norms in our current climate.

“I hear people often attribute it to the former president and his behavior, and while I think he is perhaps Exhibit One, I don’t think this is all his fault,” says Tate.

“I do think that during his time campaigning and serving, and now since being out of office, and now running again, has maybe normalized it, and what I mean by normalizing is, people have gotten used to it, so it doesn’t shock and offend the way it used to.

“You get to the point where nothing that happens, regrettably, surprises you or disappoints you, but of course this is happening.

“What really disturbs me is I see this on every level. I see it locally. I see it on the left and the right. I’ve been an elected official and some of my friends or people I associate with as fellow Democrats, we don’t see eye to eye on a bunch of stuff because I’m not progressive enough for them. And they don’t even want to have a conversation.

“At the end of the day, I think respect for authority boils down to mutual respect for human beings. And when you lose the mutual respect for human beings’ authority, the lack of respect for authority is just a byproduct.

“You see a bunch of legislators who have decided not to seek reelection, and they all say the same thing. There’s no mutual respect. There’s no respect for authority, there’s no respect for institutions. There are no rules or guardrails anymore.”

Despite his previous mention of occasionally being at odds with fellow Democrats, Tate is proud of his progressive roots.

He recently moved into a new office in Glendale, where the lawyer of 43 years handles wills and trusts, and advises local governments on how to borrow money to help build infrastructure. That includes work for the state of Colorado.

“I enjoy what I do,” Tate says.

Tate does, though, have some basic concerns about the current workplace in America.

“I was reading an article the other day, highlighting that for the first time in like 40, 50 years, Baby Boomers will no longer be the largest segment of the workforce. It’s Gen Z, then Gen Y. And what that means is a new set of norms are coming into the workplace.

“I’ve owned my own business for almost 30 of my 43 years in law. I talk to other lawyers at big and large firms, and they talk about the change in work ethic — that more people want to work from home.

“COVID had something to do with that, too.”

Tate rubs his newly replaced knee and brings up another painful topic: race relations in Denver. He thinks his city can do better.

“I actually had this conversation yesterday with a friend of mine, a former lawyer who is white and Jewish,” Tate says. “We are about the same age, and we were talking about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“We both observed that we may actually be in a worse spot than we were in back in the ’60s. That was our perspective. There are fewer blacks in major law firms in Denver now than there were when I graduated from law school (CSU) in 1981.

“The push to diversify has suffered from the anti-DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) movement that’s occurring as a result of court cases and just some public policy that’s been developed. In some cases, there is open hostility toward trying to be intentional about diversity and inclusion.

“I think Denver has struggled for quite a while. I worked for Mayor Pena, who taught us to imagine a great city. He changed the ‘good old boy’ network forever. He put us on a different glide path and then stepped down after eight years rather than doing 12, which he could have done easily.”

Tate is somewhat of an expert on community and race relations. In 1967 —  in the height of heated racial divide around the country, Tate’s family moved to Boulder.

He was 11, and was one of three blacks in his elementary school in Boulder. He was one of four blacks in his graduating class at Boulder High. That was an education in itself.

“Oh, yeah,” Tate says. “Yikes.

“Everything was about race and the Civil Rights movement. It was Vietnam. It was 18-year-olds having the right to vote. All of that was converging, and in many ways, Boulder was kind of ground zero for some of that.

“A lot of that anti-war, civil rights protest stuff was going on.


Tate’s father, Penfield II, was a city councilman in Boulder, and became the city’s only African-American mayor.

So, Tate the younger has a significant reservoir of racial experiences to draw on. He boasts that he has a full plate on the legal front, but one gets the sense he would be open to another shot at local politics.

For the record, Penfield Tate is non-committal on a potential future run for a political office. He entered the ring for Denver’s mayoral contests in 2003 and 2019.

When asked if he has another run in the offing, his answer is simple, evasive and what one might expect.

“As someone who’s run for office and held office, you never say never,” Tate laughs.

“But the world and the political dynamic is shifting. There is a schism in both of the major parties.

“You have what I would call traditional Republicans trying to figure out their place in the world with the Trump-style Republicans.

“Then you have traditional Democrats trying to figure out their place in the world with this progressive democratic socialist push.

“I’m not convinced that voters pay as close attention to some of these schisms as the people who are living it every day and I still think people vote based on people and personalities and people they think they like or they think they agree with, and vote against people they think they don’t like or don’t agree with.

“Some of the fine tuning is sort of noise in the system. I don’t know from my point of view if it’s the right set of circumstances or the right issues aligned so that I would run again.

“But I, like I said, you never say never.”

Tate pauses slightly, perhaps for effect.


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IJN Staff Writer | [email protected]

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