DUS Updates Community On The Mayoral, City Council Races
It’s early spring. Just over 30 days out from the Denver Municipal election and there is a smattering of political yard signs everywhere. If this were November the byways would be covered too. Just because Barack Obama is already president and this is a local election with less fanfare and political ads on the television, does not mean you shouldn’t make voting a priority.
March 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma, Alabama. Even President Obama went there with his family to observe this important anniversary recently brought to the forefront of popular culture in the film Selma. Although few dispute it as an ugly time in our nation’s history some discount its relevance today. However, we must never forget the men and women who were beaten on “Bloody Sunday” and during other similar demonstrations fought with courage, persistence and tenacity in the pursuit of the basic civil right to vote.
President Obama’s message, and that of Georgia congressman John Lewis, resonated with many but there is still much work to be done. Although poll taxes and literacy tests are no more, other forms of voter suppression continue to threaten our democracy. Denver may seem far removed from the Jim Crow south, but African Americans and Latinos have been protesting and fighting for equal employment in the Mile High City since the 1960s. The Keyes desegregation case that a Park Hill resident brought against Denver Public Schools District No. 1 went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Although the city has had its trials and triumphs, it is perhaps the growing independent character of voters that has allowed for the majority of the city’s successes. Denver’s first Hispanic mayor Federico Pena coined the phrase, “imagine a Great City” and he funded Denver International Airport (DIA) and built a new convention center. Wellington Webb, Denver’s first African American mayor, completed the airport. The second African American and current mayor, Michael Hancock imagines even greater things for Denver and DIA.
Mayor Hancock has had a successful first term. He has forged the requisite partnerships with the business community to bring jobs and investment and has worked with the educational community to help ensure that an educated workforce is ready to take the jobs that are being created. A review of his 2014 State of the City report reveals many of his accomplishments. If fundraising wins elections, it appears that he will easily earn a second term – even with the likes of Sauk’, Paul Noel Fiorino and Marcus Giavanni having been officially certified on the mayoral ballot. He has raised more than a million dollars for his campaign.
Mayor Hancock has also taken Mayor Webb’s walking of Denver neighborhoods to another level. While leveraging social media, he is out and about in the community. Photos on his Facebook page from St. Patrick’s Day reveal he may even have a bit of the Irish in him.
Still, effective governing is not fun; it is hard work and Hancock, like many of his colleagues on city council, is aware that not all neighborhoods have been a part of Denver’s success. For example, in 2014 he focused his attention on slighted neighborhoods like Westwood and Five Points/Welton Street. The Five Points neighborhood recently received $150 million in funds for redevelopment. It was thought in the early 1990s that light rail would boost the area’s economic standing, but that did not pan out – and the stark contrast is quite apparent when driving in from a new and vibrant downtown onto Welton Street in Five Points. Fortunately, the rehab and redevelopment of such historical landmarks like the Rossonian Hotel are helping the vision change for the area.
District 8 has many changes. Albus Brooks represents the economic engine of downtown and has frequent interfaces with business and organizations like the Downtown Denver Partnership. His Integr8 program in partnership with the Denver Office of Economic Development placed nearly 30 at-risk youth in gainful employment. These were youth on the margins that had committed felonies or misdemeanors. Brooks is just one of the young councilmen who are making a difference in Denver’s communities of color, while at the same time making a mark as good policy and law makers. During a conversation with him last fall he told me: “The city is what changes your life most immediately. The city is where I have the opportunity to make a decision on Monday and it affects someone’s life on Tuesday. People don’t understand that 90 percent of our GDP (gross domestic product) is generated in cities. We have so much influence and power on a city level to change the welfare of individuals. So it is extremely important for African Americans and Latinos in this city to begin seeing the advantage that they have in their elected officials at the city level and seeing that the power they can bring at the city level.”
Brooks is running for reelection. He will represent the redrawn District 9. Another young councilman and current council president Chris Herndon has moved out of District 11 and is running in District 8, which now includes the Stapleton neighborhood. His latest accomplishment is getting the Punch Bowl Social restaurant into the old control tower property in Stapleton and he, like Brooks, is focused on programs that help break the preschool to prison pipeline for youths, particularly ones of color. His successful Northeast Denver Leadership Week slated for June 15-19, will focus on providing young people with career alternatives and leadership opportunities.
Redistricting happens in Denver every 10 years. The boundaries were redrawn in 2012 to go in effect for the May 5 election. District 9 will include Five Points, Cole, Elyria Swansea, Coors Field and the Pepsi Center. District 8 will include Park Hill, Stapleton, Northfield and parts of Montbello. District 11, one of the most competitive races, will include parts of Montbello, Green Valley Ranch and DIA. According to the denvergov.org website:
Current City Council members will represent constituents within these boundaries until July 20. 2015 City Council Districts: These boundaries will be used to determine voter and candidate eligibility for the May 5 General Municipal Election and any election thereafter. Representation for these boundaries will go into effect when newly elected City Council representatives are sworn into office on July 20.
Chris Herndon’s departure from District 11 leaves an open seat. There are now five candidates vying for his spot – Sean Bradley, Shelli Brown, Stacie Gilmore and Tea Schook (candidate Tim Camarillo is also on the certified ballot, but he has not reported any campaign contributions).
Here’s some of what they had to say when I reached out to them for comment on the pressing issues and their candidacy.
DUS: What are the major issues facing Denver and its communities?
Particularly out here in our neighborhood it’s growth. There are 12,000 people moving into Denver every year and we are seeing the effects of that in Green Valley Ranch and Montbello. Growth is really happening. Traffic is really a problem here.
The other thing is that we have some real challenges with safety. We have had enough shootings that have taken place in our community, that now people think we should be that much more alarmed. Because that was during the cold months of the year, just imagine what could potentially happen during the summertime. And so having a safe environment and a safe community to raise a family and for seniors to continue to live out their lives, that is a real challenge for us out here.
And then the third thing I would say are the grocery options that we don’t have for our community are real and legitimate. But we do have economic development challenges. We do have senior transportation challenges. We need to make sure that RTD is running full services throughout our neighborhoods so that seniors can get to their prescriptions and get to their doctor’s appointments and then get back home.
It’s growing pains. We are a city that has grown tremendously and District 11, in particular as it is now, has seen 75 percent of the growth across Denver. We are trying to figure out how to accommodate all that. Whether that means housing, whether that means amenities and services that match all these developments, in different parts of the city we are hearing the same common theme, just maybe a little differently.
I would also say our public safety department is going through some changes. Our sheriff’s department was highlighted (for use of excessive force and officer misconduct) over the summer and our police department has had this issue come up more recently. So that is a citywide issue and something that we need to that we need to kind of think through so that the folks in charge of keeping us safe and managing our safety are really making the best decisions possible on our behalf, and with us, if that makes sense. Those are the two big things that come to mind.
The three most important issues facing the city are 1. Denver is under retailed, with revenue seepage to other municipalities 2. Lack of affordable housing: and 3. Investment in infrastructure, including roads. The issues facing our community in District 11 are the need for 1. Youth and adult training programs, with an emphasis on jobs leading to livable wage careers with benefits: 2. Healthy food options: and 3, addressing transportation issues with our roads that create traffic flow bottlenecks.
How to balance the needs of residents with growth – managing growth – with balancing the desire for safe neighborhoods and city with fears of police overreaction, getting basic maintenance like streets, lights, traffic management, sidewalks and code enforcement in District 11.
Jumping into the public sphere to tackle these issues is a daunting task, especially considering the fact that some have lingered for more than 25 years. Bradley moved to Denver 11 years ago and has worked on Capitol Hill and with state legislatures, but he says his grandparents, mother and aunt (who were precinct judges and spent time registering people to vote in rural Texas respectively) inspired him to pursue public service. “They were registering people to vote, they were encouraging people to go to the polls. And so to get a chance to see that really showed me how impactful you can be in the community – if you vote, you participate and get involved.”
Brown, a licensed counselor who has lived in Green Valley Ranch since 2001, works as the site manager for a violence prevention youth program in Montbello. “I think in the capacity of this job and position my eyes were opened to the possibility of leading the community in a different way,” Brown said.
Gilmore has run a successful environmental education nonprofit for 20 years. For her it is about quality of life. “I love our community. I am passionate and committed to making sure it is represented on all issues affecting our quality of life. We deserve to live in a community that has smart and sustainable economic growth, jobs that lead to careers and a beautiful neighborhood where the quality of life supports our family’s health and well-being.”
Schook has been a community and political activist all her adult life. She says she worked under and was mentored by Mayor Webb, Cathy Donohue and Cathy Reynolds. “City council is the form of government that is closest to the people governed and is the next natural step in a lifetime dedicated to bringing power to the people.”
DUS: Why do you think you are the best public servant to address some of the critical issues?
I think because of my experiences. I’ve worked on the federal government level; I’ve worked on the state government level [and] I’ve worked on the local government level. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector and as the president of the Denver Urban League. My wife and I started our own business, so my wife and I are small business owners. We live in the neighborhood. We know these issues.
Having political experience allows me to maneuver through the weeds and get things done on behalf of the people in this community. We have a significant amount of support in the neighborhood and throughout the city, so I am not just thinking we can do this work. I know we can do this work.
Because I work hard: because I am not in it for anybody else but the community. I feel that I can be a strong advocate for the families that are in far northeast, because it is something that is natural for me. I have been living out here since 2001 raising my family. Our district includes most of Montbello, Green Valley and DIA. I don’t want to discount DIA which has a pretty large impact over the whole city, but in terms of keeping my finger on the pulse of really what is going on in the community itself, I feel I am the strongest candidate to be that voice.
I am the one that is most embedded in this community and the one that is doing this community work every day. Far northeast Denver is essentially the center of my world because of the fact that I do live and work here. So I really do have a stake in seeing this district represented well.
The role of an elected city leader should be to listen first, do their best to thoroughly understand an issue, gather information from content experts and then be able to make a decision based on that information. I have been doing this throughout my 20 years of work in the community and I will continue this through my public service. I will stay true to my work for the past two decades in which I champion children and families to succeed, making sure we have a fiscally responsible government, economic opportunities and a high quality of life to ensure our citizens have every chance to succeed in life.
I bring experience to the role; I have worked for the city of Denver nearly 18 years. I managed the relationship with the restaurant owners at the airport as food and beverage manager and now as land manager I work with our external tenants – the rental cars, the gas station, and the pet boarding facility. I have worked with businesses of all sizes to create successes for them and for local government.
I wrote Denver’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, a law protecting all people in the city, and I pulled together a coalition of religious, racial, business and social entities to lobby the city council for its passage, which was accomplished in 1990. I bring passion, experience and commitment to the job along with the desire to make something good into something great.
These candidates give voice to many of the issues on the minds of many in the metro area and they want you to know they are passionate about running and resolving them.
Last October former Mayor Webb told the Spectrum that you always vote for your interests. Everyone has an interest in a good job, good schools for their children, infrastructure to support your daily commute and a safe environment to raise a family. We have a responsibility to participate in the process and let them know what we want. Engage and investigate all of the candidates online and with social media, but also in person at town halls, neighborhood meetings and when they knock on your door. Tell them what you want and need and validate that by casting you’re on May 5th for the one you feel most likely to get it done for you.