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Denver fundraiser for Sen. Kamala Harris focuses on supporting fellow women of color

Wanda James, the first African American dispensary owner in America, and former Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon, are hosting the event.

DENVER — After Sen. Kamala Harris is done with her presidential campaign rally at Manual High School, she'll do what so many others do on a Friday night… hang out in LoHi.

Harris, who is holding a public rally at the Thunderdome gymnasium, also has a fundraiser at the home of Wanda James, the first African American dispensary owner in America.

RELATED: Sen. Kamala Harris to hold Denver rally Friday night

"We have brought together an amazing group of women and other co-hosts, people of color, to welcome her to the great state of Colorado and the wonderful city of Denver," James said.

She's co-hosting with former Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon, who is now the chief of staff for Denver city councilwoman Candi CdeBaca.

"Lisa (Calderon) and I sat down and talked and said, it would be a powerful move to be able to bring her here and have a host committee made up mostly of women that are changing the conversation," said James.

"If we want to diversify who is running for office, if we want to have better options, including women of color, then we have to be the ones to make that happen and that's what we're doing," said Calderon.

They expect around 150 to fill James' LoHi home, which was cleared of all furniture in the living room.

Credit: KUSA
Wanda James and Lisa Calderon in James' very clean living room

"It's like spring cleaning on steroids, is what it is," James said. "Our goal is to help her raise $100,000-plus, introduce her to many people who may not have met her yet or had a chance to speak to her, and hear from her, what her plans are as she runs for the presidency of the United States."

Calderon is passionate about hosting events like this to help future candidates with support that she said she lacked while trying to unseat Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

"We're going to be working after she leaves to help support women of color running for office, give them the kind of support that I know I wish I had when running for office and just build the bench," said Calderon. "Even though tonight we're focusing on a presidential race, if we're going to look at those national races, we have to build the bench downstream, and that includes supporting women, whether it be for an RTD board race, a school board race, all the way up to Congress."

When Harris steps into the home of Colorado's marijuana matriarch, it will bring attention to Harris' position on pot. Last month, a pot banking bill had a Senate committee hearing. The bill, consulted on by James, would provide more flexibility for federal banking by marijuana businesses.

"Her campaign is aware of our stature in this and, clearly, we were part of the bill that came out, so hopefully, it does shine some light on what cannabis entrepreneurism now also means when we start talking about the election of the United States President," said James.

The rally at Manual was put together in just one week.

Credit: KUSA
Sen. Kamala Harris presidential campaign rally at Manual High School

According to records obtained by Next from Denver Public Schools, the Harris campaign initially requested East High School. The parking lot, however, was reserved by the Hispanic Chamber Education Foundation and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. A spokesman for the district said that it was willing to work with the campaign if it was only the museum needing the parking lot, but could not accommodate because of the other event.

The district and the campaign looked at East, Manual and North High Schools and determined Manual High School and the gymnasium would be the best option.

DPS charged the Harris campaign $2,173.39:

  • $906.26 for use of the Thunderdome gymnasium at $62.50 per hour
  • $262.50 each for two custodians at $35 per hour
  • $151.16 each for four armed DPS patrol officers at $37.79 per hour
  • $56.25 each for the use of two classrooms for three hours at $18.75 per hour
  • $25 application fee

We did the math and it appears a DPS custodian earns almost $73,000 a year.

According to a DPS spokesman, the per hour rate included overtime at a rate of time-and-a-half.

Both Mayor Michael Hancock and former Mayor Wellington Webb count themselves as Manual alumnae, but neither attended with Harris.

A spokeswoman for Hancock said that he remains supportive of former Gov. John Hickenlooper for president and he has a great relationship with Sen. Michael Bennet, but that he also has tremendous respect for Harris.

A spokesman for Webb said he's sticking with Colorado's local candidates for now, but that Harris is a great candidate.

James said that her hosting a fundraiser in the state with two of its own candidates did not enter her mind.

"Not at all. Not even a little bit. It wasn't even a thought," James said. "We initiated her coming for the fundraiser, to be able to meet with, like we said, the women of color, and then from there it continued to blossom, electing women became part of it, the Manual public rally became a big piece to it."

"Women of color, often are, the factors to turn the election one way or another, yet we're often overlooked in the importance of running for office ourselves," said Calderon. "Denver can't be left behind in building the pipeline for women of color being elected to public office."

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