On a recent Saturday at a Safeway in Lakewood, dozens of people weaved through aisles stocked with cheese and tables stacked with veggies. But this wasn’t the normal weekend rush for groceries. They’d come to see Representative Ed Perlmutter, who’d set up shop next to the flower department to talk one-on-one with constituents.
Perlmutter has held more than 100 of these events since taking office in 2007. But this one was bittersweet; it was his final ‘Government in the Grocery’ before he retires at the end of the year.
“I almost started crying, just talking to (people),” he said. “I’m feeling very hopeful about the future; I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the past. I’m just glad I’ve gotten to do these.”
Perlmutter said he’d woken up in the middle of the previous night to journal. As he wrote, he realized how many stories he’s collected from these events.
That pattern continued for his final event. As he spoke with people, he kept a log of each conversation. That’s something that Lakewood resident Lloyd Covens appreciated.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it, that he would even have a meeting as a retiring congressman,” Covens said. “That kind of shows you his attitudes toward his work and the district.”
Perlmutter said public events like this are the best way to get out and help his constituents. The issues that people have brought to him over the years range from housing to taxes to inflation – and can also get personal.
Wheat Ridge resident Dale Ozwald came to make Perlmutter aware of a problem he’s facing. He’s Chicano and Native American and said that in recent years, he’s experienced an uptick of racist harassment.
“I’d like to relay those issues to (the) congressman, because this isn’t just an attack on elected officials,” he said. “We’re dealing with it on the streets.”
Rather than just send an email and wonder who’s reading it — or if anyone’s reading it — he said it’s important to get face-to-face with the people who make policy.
That’s what 11-year-old Madhvi Chittoor wanted to do, too. Her family has been bringing her to meet with Perlmutter since she was six, right as she started to advocate for climate issues.
Now, she’s an United Nations child advisor, and she’s organizing for people to go to the polls with the climate in mind.
“Children like me, we cannot vote,” she said. “But my mom, parents, grandparents, adults can all vote. So we're trying to encourage everyone to vote.”
Perlmutter jumped to his feet as she and her mom walked up.
“These guys have been coming to my ‘Governments in the Grocery’ since (Chittoor) was about this tall,” he said, gesturing to his hip.
A good chunk of the crowd were supporters of the congressman – and some just wanted to thank him for his work.
That was the case for Joe Beaver. He’s a long-term advocate for Colorado’s disability community and has helped out with Perlmutter’s campaigns.
“I've known Ed ever since he was a state legislator,” Beaver said. “And he's always been very responsive to every time I've ever called on him for my needs.”
As Perlmutter said his goodbyes, the match-up to replace him is ramping up. Voters will decide this fall between GOP military veteran Erik Aaland and Democratic state senator Brittany Pettersen.
The district has a 7 point Democratic lean, based on recent election results. Under redistricting it was redrawn to include some conservative mountain areas that trimmed back the party’s advantage – and Republicans believe they have a chance to flip it.
Whoever wins this fall, Perlmutter has a piece of advice: “Stay close to the community, stay close to the people,” he said. “D.C. can be a pretty intoxicating place, and you really get charged up and get going. But these are the people you represent, and they're the best people on the planet.”
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