Braille Monitor                                                                               April 1986

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Of Elections and Equality

by Diane McGeorge

Our struggles for equality take place in many arenas--sometimes in airports, sometimes in universities, and sometimes at the polls and in the press. On November 5, 1985, Homer Page was elected to his second term on the Boulder City Council, receiving 8,326 votes, making him the top vote getter in Boulder among the twelve seeking election.

The Boulder City Council is made up of nine members, who are elected at large. City Council elections are held every two years, with five positions being filled each time. The top four vote getters in each election win four year terms, and the fifth person wins a two-year term. The nine Council members then select the mayor from their ranks. One Council member must receive five of the nine votes cast in order to be elected mayor, and the same process is used to select the deputy mayor.

Shortly after the November election Homer made it clear to his colleagues that he wished to become the next mayor of Boulder. This triggered a series of events which are documented in excerpts from articles, which appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera and which we reprint here.

Federationists in Colorado who watched those events unfold over the next two months felt a combination of outrage and concern. Those feelings changed as the letters and editorials continued to appear. The first article appeared on the front page of the Boulder Daily Camera on December 8, 1985:

Page Wants to Prove Blindness Not an Issue

by Sally McGrath
Camera Staff Writer

Homer Page has been blind since birth, but he believes he has the vision to serve in the city's highest office. "I want the other council members and the public to support me because of my abilities and not because of my inability," Page, one of the three council members up for the mayor's job, said Saturday.

Another reason he wants the job is to show the world that the handicapped can get the job done. Said Page, "This would demonstrate in a very public forum how little difference a disability makes." But Councilman Phil Stern opposes Page's mayoral bid in part because he is blind.

Stern emphasizes that a difference in philosophy between himself and Page is the main reason he opposes a Page mayoral bid. (Stern considers environmental factors to be the main framework for evaluating issues; Page considers the environment to be one element of his evaluations.)

Stern brought up the blindness issue in an interview last week when the Daily Camera was polling council members on their leanings for mayor. Members will choose a mayor from their ranks on January 1. Page, Linda Jourgensen and Spense Havlick are candidates. Stern said Page's lack of sight could create problems.

"I have questions about a sightless person being able to conduct a meeting of nine people elected at large," Stern said. "It's not to say he can't conduct a meeting; it's to conduct a meeting with a body where there are dynamics and the mayor has to be in tune with those dynamics. I think the balance that is going to be on council is going to be very subtle," and Page could flip that balance if he is not sensitive to it, Stern said.

But Page, director of the Office of Services for Disabled Students at the University of Colorado and a teacher in the College of Education, said he will have no problems conducting meetings or performing any other mayoral duties. "I just don't understand the questions about how I would run council meetings. It seems like such an easy kind of thing," Page said.

Now, someone records his background material for council meetings, and Page listens to the tape. Some documents are transferred into Braille by volunteers at the Boulder Public Library. Page, with someone's help guiding his hand, "looks" at developments by tracing roads, open space and other features on a map.

"I'm so familiar with the city by now that verbal descriptions are all I really need to familiarize myself with a project," he said. Page said he will dictate correspondence for the council's secretary the same way he handles his other correspondence. He cites his experience as chairman of the Governor's Council on the Physically Handicapped, the Mobile Home Task Force and numerous other groups as proof that he can conduct meetings.

Minor changes in the conduct of meetings may be necessary, he said. For example, instead of council members raising their hands to be called on, Page said he would ask them to make the request orally.

Another change would involve public hearings. Now, people in the council audience who want to speak sign a sheet of paper, which is handed to the mayor. Page said he would have someone--not on the city staff--quickly transfer the information to a Braille card. Page said he would ask the deputy mayor to make sure that everyone who wants to speak is acknowledged. Ruth Correll, mayor for the past nine years, knows well what it takes to be mayor.

Correll said some modifications will have to be made to accommodate a blind mayor if Page is selected. "There are certain choices that the mayor has to make, like which council member are you going to call on when four hands go up. You make a choice to start at one end or the other. You try to vary that depending on what you did before. That kind of choice, which is made in the mayor's head (and quickly), is one of the things that would have to be dealt with."

The volumes of mail would have to be dealt with differently, she said. "These are things which the sighted person handles one way and the person who is blind handles another. Of course, Homer Page is the first person to recognize this. To say it's done differently is not to say it can't be done," Correll said.

Other council members, including Page's two competitors for the mayor's post, said his blindness is not a factor in considering his mayoral bid. "We will have to make an effort--more than if Homer wasn't there," said Steve Pomerance, who will join the council January 1. "The question is: Is Homer, with that restriction, better than somebody else without that? It doesn't put him out of the running for me." "Having worked with him so long, (his blindness) is one of those things you forget about," said Councilman Bob Greenlee.

"I'm not concerned about that component. " Page said this is not the first time his lack of sight has been raised during a political campaign. In fact, his recent City Council race was the first time it was not raised, he said. "I thought we'd finally buried that issue," he said. "But when I try to take the next step, the issue comes up all over again."

On the day this article appeared Homer started receiving calls from his friends and supporters throughout Boulder asking what they could do to counteract the negative attitudes expressed by some of the Council members. It was suggested that personal contacts with those Council members, as well as letters to the editor, would be helpful. However, even before the first letter was published, the following editorial appeared in the Daily Camera on Wednesday, December 11:

He Sees Well Enough

It seems as if it happened ages ago. A fellow announced his candidacy for office in Boulder and the headline in the Daily Camera read "Blind Democrat announces bid."

The writer of this editorial remembers the phone call the next day from a friend of Homer Page. Please, the caller said, there is much more to this man than his blindness.

And so there is. After spending a few hours talking with Page, after watching his service to the community, after noting his warmth and sincerity, we see that there is indeed much more to the man.

In our opinion, Homer Page should be chosen by the members of the new City Council to be the mayor of Boulder. He was the leading vote getter in the last election. This despite his devotion to some unpopular but much needed city programs.

We go back to what we said about Page when we gave him our top endorsement for the council. Page has courage. He has the guts to do something simply because it is right.

In the past we have announced our candidate selections prior to the election, but we have pulled back on endorsing a candidate for mayor. The elected panel has to work with the mayor, after all, and should be in a position to make its own best selection.

But Councilman Phil Stern has raised the issue of Page's blindness and the ability to serve as mayor. Please. There is so much more to the man than that.

Linda Jourgensen has done a fine job on the council and deserves consideration for the title of mayor. But for God's sake, let no member of the panel withhold his vote from Homer Page because of his blindness.

Page has triumphed over his handicap to achieve quite a standing in this community. He was born without sight but he has made do with vision. We would be proud to have Homer Page represent our city. He proved to us long ago that his kind of vision is broad in scope, covering many community needs. Some others on the panel should see so well.

Once you read an editorial like this, you know that the work of the National Federation of the Blind has not been in vain.

The support expressed by the community at large was equally gratifying. Alexander Bracken, Director of Personnel, Ball Aerospace Corporation, wrote the following letter:

Judge on Merits issue. Councilman Stern's comments as to Homer Page's capabilities and suitability to be mayor because of his blindness reached a new low level for judging one's merits. Why was it necessary to raise the blindness issue at all in talking about Mr. Page's qualifications? I have had an opportunity to serve on a community organization board with Homer Page, a board which he has chaired for several years. His ability to lead and effectively manage the work of this organization has not been hampered in any way by his blindness. Indeed, he has been an outstanding leader.

I hope the City Council will judge and vote on each candidate's proven capabilities and not let one person's disability be reason for less consideration. Homer Page has demonstrated his leadership skills, and his vision for Boulder is more comprehensive and insightful than others who can see.

Alexander E. Bracken

Enid Schantz, Homer Page's campaign director during this past election, spells out the meaning of bigotry as we have all experienced it:

Editor: The City Council's selection of Boulder's next mayor is a critical one for setting the tone and providing the leadership for the Council and the city in the next several years. It is unfortunate that the issue of blindness has been raised in the selection process. The Camera's December 8 front page story on who will be mayor injected a sad insensitivity into the mayoral

The Blindness Issue

Editor: So Phil Stern thinks Homer Page can't handle the job of mayor because he's blind.

The most charitable interpretation I can put on Stern's lengthy remarks in the December 8 story by Sally McGrath is that Stern honestly believes he is simply facing the realities of the situation. So, too, were the Southern slave owners who knew that blacks were inherently inferior, and the generations of Americans who knew women didn't have the native intelligence to be allowed to vote, and the Nazi hierarchy who knew Jews were too racially polluted to be allowed to live. The curious thing about bigotry is how easily it can be rationalized by the people who are afflicted with it.

I've been through several political campaigns with Homer and, as he says, blindness has been an issue--if often an unspoken one--in every one but the last. Homer's solid first-place finish in November showed that there are a lot of voters out there who know he can do the job, as do other council members who have served with him and the many people who have worked with him over the years.

Right now Council is faced with a difficult choice, selecting one of two very caring, committed, and capable people--Homer Page and Linda Jourgensen--who want the job of mayor. Stern's attempt to discredit Page on the grounds of his blindness is a cheap shot that I'm sure will be recognized as such by the other people making that decision. It's just too bad that being a bigot isn't grounds for either disqualifying Stern from participating in that decision or for being recalled from Council.

Enid Schantz On the morning of January 1, 1986, while Federationists crowded the Council chambers in Boulder, the new City Council members were sworn in. The election of the mayor and the deputy mayor were the only items of business on the agenda, and when the votes were counted, Homer had been elected deputy mayor of Boulder. While serving in this office, he will work closely with the Mayor, Linda Jourgensen, in planning and running City Council meetings, in providing and interpreting policy direction from the Council to the city staff, and will work closely with the community in development and interpretation of policy. Early in February, Homer was the keynote speaker at a conference on Advocacy for Children sponsored by the City of Boulder Child Care Center.

When we look back over the time between November 5 and January 1, we know we have come a long way. Yes, there are still unenlightened people who would hold us back and keep us down, but there is also the National Federation of the Blind--our only effective vehicle for collective action. There are hurdles and obstacles to overcome, but there are also the Enid Schantzes and the Alexander Brackens, who believe in us and who will work with us--and Homer Page is deputy mayor of Boulder, Colorado--the biggest vote getter in the City Council election last fall. Homer Page has shown us that a blind person can be elected to a high office in a major community. There are many elections yet to come, and each victory brings us all closer to the top of the stairs.

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