Boulder elected its first African-American to the city council in November 1971. Penfield W. Tate II received the highest number of votes in that election. Some supporters said it was the strength of the "newly enfranchised youth vote" that gave him the victory.
In January of 1974, his fellow council members elected him mayor of Boulder. Karen Paget, 28, was elected deputy mayor and was the youngest council member ever when she was elected in 1971.
Tate, a 42-year-old attorney, was a 1968 University of Colorado law school graduate. He earned his undergraduate degree from Kent State University, where he played on the varsity football team. He had been active in Boulder civic affairs for years, serving as a member of both the City Housing Authority and the Human Relations Commission.
A striking figure with a short, graying Afro, large mustache and mutton chop sideburns, he always sported a fantastic string of beads, even with his suit and tie.
In February of 1974, Tate introduced an amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance that became known as the "sexual preference" amendment. This clause would ban an employer from firing or refusing to hire a person who was otherwise qualified, but was also a homosexual. The Human Rights Ordinance, with the amendment, was passed by council in December 1973. On second reading, many angry citizens protested the sexual preference clause, and the council decided to place the amendment on the ballot.
According to the Colorado Daily, "the community was foaming." Tate received insults, death threats and hate mail. He defended his position in a guest editorial printed in the Camera. Tate wrote, "I believe that the most basic right this country offers is the right for its citizens to enjoy 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' I believe that every governmental body has an affirmative duty to insure that it takes the necessary steps to provide this right to all its citizens."
On May 7, 1974, Boulder citizens soundly defeated the "sexual preference" amendment 13,107 votes to 7,438.
Many Boulder citizens wanted a recall for the council members who voted for the amendment. Those in favor of the amendment were Ruth Correll, Janet Roberts, Karen Paget and Tim Fuller as well as Tate. The three women weren't eligible for recall due to a charter technicality. Tate escaped recall by 567 votes. Fuller was recalled from office on September 10, 1974.
The following year, Tate lost his city council re-election bid. He came in eighth out of the 12 candidates in that 1975 election.
Tate died after a brief battle with cancer and pneumonia in 1993. At the news of his death, Democratic stalwart Josie Heath remembered, "In the '70s, he was at the cutting edge of a lot of progressive ideas for this community, and the fire never went out."
In 1974, during the bitter recall election controversy, Tate spoke these memorable words, "The measure of a great city and a great country is not the size of its greenbelt, but how it treats its people."
Carol Taylor is a librarian and local history researcher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org