BY FREDA MIKLIN
Michael Hancock is the 8-year incumbent mayor of Denver, who was endorsed for a third four-year term by Governor John Hickenlooper, Senator Michael Bennet, South Bend, Indiana Mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, as well as the Denver Post. He received over 80 percent of the vote in his last bid for re-election in 2015. But the city has grown nearly 20 percent since 2010, leaving some residents uncertain about the future. It’s easy and logical to blame the incumbent for the strain on its housing and transportation systems that Denver is experiencing.
Jamie Giellis is an urban revitalization expert with consulting experience around the globe. She holds a master’s of public administration degree in local government from the University of Colorado-Denver. Like Hancock, she has recent executive experience, albeit at an organization that is a tiny fraction of the size of the city of Denver, having served as president of River North Art District in Denver for the past five years.
177,000 people, representing 43 percent of Denver’s active voters, participated in the mayoral primary election held May 7. Hancock got 39 percent of the votes cast, while Giellis received 25 percent, leading to a runoff between the two on June 4. Like virtually all municipal elections in Colorado, and around the country, the mayor’s race is non-partisan, but both candidates are Democrats, as are 49 percent of Denver voters (16 percent are Republicans and 34 percent are unaffiliated).
Aaron Harber, a political media fixture on the Denver scene for more than a quarter-century, hosted the two candidates in a two-hour debate at the Summit at 1901 Blake Street on Friday, May 24. It can be seen online at HarberTV.com/Denver.
Both candidates had plenty of statistics that almost seemed to cancel each other out. Giellis said that the city’s budget has doubled in the past eight years and that its workforce has increased 20 percent while the population has increased 11 percent. Hancock said that city services have grown 55 percent during his time in office.
Homelessness was a major topic. According to the mayor, there are multiple programs underway worth “close to $60 million being conducted across different city departments.” He said that homelessness has “decreased 34.6 percent in the past eight years” and that the city has “housed 8,000 (formerly homeless) people in permanent housing.”
Giellis said, “You need a strategy to first understand the types of challenges homeless people have. Many have mental health and addiction issues. The number of homeless people and families is increasing.” She questioned how the mental health sales tax that went into effect in January, projected to raise $45 million annually, was being used and where 8,000 homeless (that Hancock said the city had housed) were living.
Giellis claimed that Hancock’s proposed Department of Housing and Homelessness, announced April 18, and Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, announced April 2, came about after she called for them. Hancock responded, “It took us two years to disentangle the Department of Public Works so we could form them.”
The candidates also disputed the best way to use city planners. Giellis said planners should be housed in the city’s neighborhoods. Hancock differed, saying, “We looked at it. How would you pay for it?” Giellis retorted, “I’m sure we could get out in the neighborhoods by giving up that lease on the Denver Post downtown building.” According to Denverite, the city agreed in spring 2018, by a vote of 7-5, to add 26,000 square feet for 10 years to the 92,000 square feet it was already subleasing in the Denver Post building at 101 W. Colfax Avenue. In another article, the Post pegged the total cost of all the space being sublet by the city in that building over the term of the multi-year sublease at $31.3 million.
Hancock and Giellis squabbled over the effect of the scandal involving Trammell Crow Co.’s role managing the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. Giellis claimed that the budget had doubled to $230 million. Hancock said that it had been $230 million from the beginning, with $180 million coming from the city and $50 million from other sources. He also said that the project is not over budget, “because construction hasn’t started.” Debate host Aaron Harber disputed that theory, saying, “If you’re starting later, costs go up.” On the scandal, which resulted in Trammell Crow being fired by the city, Giellis said, “The buck stops with the mayor.”
A similar discussion ensued around the current revamping of Denver International Airport (DEN), where questions have been raised about the load-bearing ability of concrete used to build the airport. Hancock said that the city is testing all the concrete. He pointed out the airport expansion is being paid for by enterprise fund monies, not Denver taxpayers. Giellis claimed that the concrete problem had a potential cost of $1 billion, and will result in increased costs for airlines and services in and around DEN. Hancock responded that DEN is one of the most cost-competitive airports in the country, as evidenced by airlines adding gates there.
The debate ended with the candidates offering a final pitch. Hancock talked about growing up in Denver and vowed to continue the strategies that have made it a global model. Giellis said she was in the race for Denver’s people and that the city has grown up fast, threatening its quality of life. She said, “We can be a great city where business and people both thrive.”
2018 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |