Something doesn’t smell right. Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter gave his press conference yesterday announcing his withdrawal from his re-election bid. By his own admission, his fund-raising had been going swimmingly. The decision took his staff by complete surprise. And the idea that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wanted to return from the Beltway swamp to take over the governor’s mansion just doesn’t wash. He’s an incurable Washington creature who loves where he is. (Update: See, told you so – “Salazar won’t run for CO GOV”)
So, let’s examine Ritter’s did-it-for-the-children card. While one Denver Post columnist lavished praise on Ritter’s ostensible sacrifice for family, other veteran observers point out that it doesn’t add up. Two of his college-age children no longer live at home. The others are teenagers who’ll be leaving the nest in short order. Ritter choked up when he said he hadn’t made his family a priority and called the step-down an “intensely personal decision.” That’s a carefully-chosen phrase which signals to the press: Back off. Don’t ask any more questions. But if he isn’t really stepping down over neglect of his children, who was he referring to when he spoke of failing to make family his priority?
I said the other day that the whiff of the Stephanie Villafuerte scandal taint was noticeable. Denver Fox affiliate KDVR’s Julie Hayden was the only one at the press conference yesterday who dared raise the issue. Ritter tersely dismissed her question. The clueless national media accounts on Ritter’s withdrawal don’t even mention the Villafuerte story.
Quick refresher: Villafuerte is entangled in the railroading of Denver ICE agent Cory Voorhis — whom federal prosecutors tried to punish after he blew the whistle on sweetheart deals for criminal illegal aliens during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. A jury acquitted Voorhis of all federal charges. He’s trying to get his job back. At least one of his supervisors (whom Hayden asked Ritter about yesterday) has admitted lying. Villafuerte served on Democrat gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter’s campaign team while on leave from the Denver D.A.’s office and from all local news accounts was deeply involved in the witchhunt against agent Voorhis. Last month, Villafuerte withdrew from her nomination as U.S. Attorney in Denver amid growing questions about her role in the Voorhis railroading and the accessing of federal criminal databases for political purposes.
Villafuerte remains Ritter’s deputy chief of staff. But she was noticeably absent from the press conference yesterday.
The local buzz about a rumored affair involving Ritter and Villafuerte hasn’t died down. Her absence and Ritter’s sudden and bizarre withdrawal aren’t likely to quell the rumors.
Whatever the real story is, Ritter’s not telling it yet.