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DA challenge comes fr

by DeeDee Correll
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter has a challenger from within his own party, a man who is seeking to win an election by vowing to repair the rift between the county's police officers and its head prosecutor.

Boulder lawyer Ben Thompson, a Democrat, has declared his intention to run for Hunter's job, making Thompson the first person to declare a definite candidacy in the 2000 race for district attorney.

"It's time for new blood, and I'm ready to go," said Thompson, a former mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., sounding very much like a candidate even though the election is 16 months away. "There are changes that can be made, and I think I can make them."

Hunter has yet to make a decision whether he will seek an eighth term as the county's leading prosecutor. One of his top deputies, respected sex crimes prosecutor Mary Keenan, has filed the paperwork necessary to become a candidate for the post, though she reportedly is waiting on Hunter's decision before she decides whether to run.

Thompson has not yet filed his official paperwork, but he has no doubt he will seek the Democratic nomination to the post.

"I just decided to quit waiting for Alex," Thompson said. "I respect him, but I think he's probably been there too long and I suspect he feels that way about it too."

Thompson, a 54-year-old attorney in private practice, believes he could be joined by as many as three other Democratic candidates who will emerge from the district attorney's office if Hunter decides not to run, and maybe a pair even if he does.

Four years ago, Thompson thought of running against Hunter but decided against it. This time, Thompson is running.

He vows not to turn the campaign personal or negative, but is quick to point out that the rift between the county's law enforcers and Hunter's office is a major reason he's running.

"That situation seems to be getting worse, not better. And I think it's going to take fresh blood to fix it," Thompson said, adding that the JonBenet Ramsey murder case brought a lot of problems between police and Hunter's office to the fore.

Thompson has a history in criminal defense and other crime-related positions. He sat on a Florida House of Representatives committee studying and writing laws about organized crime.

He moved to Boulder in 1983, has practiced criminal, civil and real estate law and has assisted in several local Democratic campaigns.

That experience translates into connection within the Boulder County Democrats that could be valuable as the party is forced to decide who its candidate will be.

If Hunter runs for re-election, his formidable clout, deep ties and reputation within the party will loom large, but it won't keep Democrats from voting in a newcomer, Thompson said.

"They'll still love and respect Alex, and praise the work he has done. But a lot of them'll vote for someone else this time."

No Republican candidate has yet to emerge in the race.