For Antonio Esquibel, the past few weeks have been filled with moments of recognition for his service to the community.
Adams 12 Five Star Schools held a ceremony for him, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter submitted a letter into the congressional record about Esquibel’s service. The city of Northglenn was scheduled to give Esquibel a sendoff at a May 24 city council meeting.
Esquibel isn’t shy about the recognition; he appreciates it. He said, “My mother said all of her life, ‘Bring me flowers, while I’m alive. Not after I’m dead.’” Esquibel accepts the recognition with humility and gratitude, but he has no reason to be shy or modest about it.
In the 20 years Esquibel has lived in the wider Northglenn area, he worked as a prevention intervention counselor for Adams 12, was chair of the Adams County Democratic Party, and councilman and mayor for Northglenn. Today, as he moves to Utah to be closer to family, he likes to think he left a legacy on north metro Denver.
Esquibel and his wife, Deborah Esquibel Hunt, moved from New Mexico to unincorporated Adams County in 2000. Hunt, a social worker, got a job in Denver and Esquibel started at Adams 12. As a prevention intervention counselor, Esquibel worked with students in one-on-one settings and groups at five district schools. The students he counseled dealt with homelessness, anger, and drug and alcohol abuse, among other issues.
The groups he helped form were Las Chicas, for female Hispanic students, a Native American student support group and a Black Student Union at Thornton High. The groups gave students, “the space to be able to talk about the obstacles in their life. In commonality with other students, they could see that they weren’t alone in their struggles,” Esquibel said.
Esquibel and his fellow counselors tried to help students improve their grades and graduate high school. “I’m not saying we saved everybody. But I feel I made a tremendous difference,” he added.
After 11.5 years of working for the district, Esquibel retired. But he was far from settling down. “I’ve always been on the side of advocating for something,” he said. So, in 2011, he ran for the Adams 12 Board of Education, to no avail. Then in 2013, he ran for city council, again, unsuccessfully. However, his enthusiasm for elected office caught the attention of fellow Adams County Democrat Party members, who chose him to be party chair in 2013.
During that time — which were the final years of President Barack Obama’s second term — county Democrats were growing in support for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who would both eventually run for president in 2016. During the Adams County Democratic Party convention in 2014, members were trying to decide which presidential candidate the party would support in the upcoming campaign season. “It was a dog fight … Nobody wanted to agree with anybody on anything,” Esquibel recalled.
The 2014 convention was frustrating for Esquibel, but it was also a turning point for him personally and politically. It helped him realize that national politics wasn’t his forte; local politics was. So, when his two-year term as chair of the Adams County Democratic Party ended in 2015, he ran again for city council.
Esquibel said he would tell people, “I can’t do anything about Washington D.C., but I can do something about Northglenn.”
That’s what he did in expected and unexpected ways when Ward 4 residents voted him in.
The most surprising moment during his time on council was becoming mayor. In June 2019, former Mayor Carol Dodge resigned, leaving Esquibel, who was mayor pro tem at the time, to take the mantle.
Dodge said she was resigning because of a “toxic council environment,” leading her supporters to be critical of Esquibel when he took her place. Esquibel said dealing with that was stressful, “But I have a very supportive wife.”
Esquibel was only the mayor until November of that year because voters elected Meredith Leighty to office. Esquibel returned to being a Ward 4 councilor. Soon after, COVID-19 came. “I hated it,” said Esquibel, who enjoys being out in the community and interacting with constituents.
The pandemic took an even greater toll on Esquibel, who lost a nephew and cousins to the virus. That’s what led him to the point he’s at now. He and Hunt have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in Utah. The two were always planning to move out there, but COVID-19 hastened that plan.
“I said, you know, time is short. I don’t know how much time I have on this planet,” Esquibel said. He didn’t intend for his time on the council to end so abruptly.
“Serving your community is really important. It always has been to me,” he said, “But when you compare it to raising your grandchild, I don’t know. I don’t think you can make that comparison.”
Yet, an abrupt ending hasn’t been unceremonious. All the love people have shown him after he announced his resignation has filled him up. Elaborating on his mother’s comment about flower-bearing, he said, “It is more meaningful to an individual when they are recognized when they are still able to enjoy the recognition. Rather than having a statue of them in the city square 20 years after they are dead.”
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