Former Mayor Federico Peña joins University of Denver trustees

June 15, 2015

Federico Peña just can’t get enough of his adopted Denver. He was the city’s first Hispanic mayor, who served from 1983 to 1991. He revved up the crowd at the University of Denver in January 2008 before a speech by then-candidate Barack Obama. And he took the stage again during the Democratic National Convention at Invesco Field at Mile High in August 2008, when he was the national co-chairman of Obama’s campaign.

Today DU is introducing Peña as the latest member of its board of trustees. The board also added Mary Sue Coleman, the former president of the University of Michigan; and Craig Harrison, the managing director of Arrowhead Partners LLC, which is based in Denver.

According to DU, the board provides “guidance and oversight” for athletic affairs; audits; building and grounds; faculty and educational affairs; finance and budget; investment; nominating and governance; strategy; student affairs; and university advancement.

Peña also advises the Latino Leadership Institute in DU’s Daniels College of Business.

But it’s not like he needs to pad his resume or Mile High bonafides, even though, like the current governor, he’s a Colorado transplant who came west after college to find his fate and fortune.

Peña is a native of Loredo, Texas, who got his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas. After lawyering in El Paso for awhile, he landed in Denver at age 26 in 1973 to work at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The rest, forgive my cliche’, is history — literally Colorado’s state history.

Peña was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1979 and became the chamber’s Democratic leader before running for mayor in 1983. He beat an incumbent, Bill Nichols Jr., who had held the job for 14 years.

Before Colorado’s Ken Salazar went to Washington to serve in a president’s cabinet, there was Peña, who didn’t seek a third term as mayor to serve as President Clinton’s secretary of transportation during the first term and secretary of energy for part of the second.

Speaking of Salazar, in 2012 Mitt Romney said the Coloradan should be fired as interior secretary as part of the “gas hike trio.” Pena applied the “Don’t Mess with Texas” mentality to his adopted state.

“If Mitt Romney thinks the best way to win Colorado is to attack a native-son like Ken Salazar, he needs to think again,” said Peña, who was again a national co-chair for Obama’s campaign. “Coloradans are proud of Ken and inspired by his story.”

These days Peña is a senior adviser to Vestar Capital Partners and to the Colorado Impact Fund, a venture capital fund for companies that do well by doing good, or creating “positive community impact,” as the fund puts it.