Editor’s note: Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who served as the city’s first African American mayor from 1991-2003, reflects on the recent mayoral runoff and the future of the Mile High City. Below are his suggested 10 priorities for Denver elected officials.
“The 19th century was the century of empires, the 20th century was that of nation-states, and the 21st century is that of cities.”
Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb at U.S. Conference of Mayors in 1999
While campaigning for mayor in 1991, I was often asked the question if I wanted Denver to look like San Francisco, or Chicago, or Santa Fe? But before they could finish that thought, I answered: “I have never heard who Michael Jordan wants to be like – I want people to say they wish their city was like Denver and the people of Denver would know they lived in a special place.”
In July, our mayor will enter his third term and a new council will take their oath.
As I drive around Denver or walk our parks, I see the unexpected transformation of our city – some good, some bad – and here are my thoughts and 10 priorities for our elected officials.
One, we must tackle the issue of poverty, which has led to other issues, including homelessness.
Two, we must manage growth and not let growth manage us. Some may say this should have been done several years ago, but better late than never.
Three, work harder to protect our historic preservation and protect our western heritage. For example, don’t tear down Larimer Square. This area is a unique space and doesn’t need to be changed for the sake of change.
Four, get back to listening to our neighborhood organizations. Their opinions should be a priority, not an afterthought.
Five, preserve and promote our architectural design, and don’t mold us into neighborhoods of Chicago or New York. We want grass in front of condo buildings. Walking out a door onto the sidewalk with no greenery is not Denver.
Six, protect our parks and open space.
Seven, repeat with me: Protect our parks and open space.
Eight, expand Denver Health Medical Center because it is our medical safety net and a national model for health care.
Nine, let me focus on a few issues that cover basic city services. First, revise the concession program at Denver International Airport to 10-year leases, and build minority and women business opportunities, which means the large corporations have to be held accountable. My administration was the first to open the airport concessions to local small business, women and minority owned businesses. This can’t just be a policy on paper but enforced to include qualifying businesses. Second, do not charge Denver residents for trash collection, and a new fee for recycling is a backward way to go about it. Internationally, China and India no longer will take our recycled products. City employees are the glue that holds the city together. They should get a pay raise. Lastly, refocus on pedestrian safety and give tickets to drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians in the right of way, and ticket pedestrians that jaywalk. Our streets have become danger zones where everything goes. A few tickets will help remind drivers and pedestrian about basic safety laws.
Ten, our elected officials need to be bold. Make decisions, even the unpopular ones, because that’s your job.
We all want to be able to say we love Denver because it is unique. Don’t let us turn into San Francisco or Chicago, or any other city. As I often said as mayor, “That’s not the way we do things in Denver.”