The ballot for Denver’s April 4 municipal election won’t be finalized for weeks yet, but five of the more than two dozen people vying to be the city’s next mayor got an early shot at pitching themselves to voters.
The former head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Kelly Brough, State Sen. Chris Hansen, State Rep. Leslie Herod, former state senator Mike Johnston and Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega were the five candidates the Denver Business Journal invited to appear on a panel Thursday morning focused on the overlap between city policies and operations and business concerns in the Mile High City.
The panel covered topics including crime, affordability, homelessness, revitalizing the city’s ailing downtown and a backlog in the city’s permitting processes that is hindering development.
Over the course of more than an hour and a half of discussion, the candidates provided nuanced and detailed responses to questions. The Denver Post is highlighting five notable ideas put forward by the would-be mayors.
To tackle the runaway cost of living that is forcing low- and middle-income residents out of Denver, Brough said her administration would become a developer in its own right. Public properties, including those owned by Denver Public Schools, the Regional Transportation District and the city would be on the table as places where more housing density could be created. She focused specifically on building more affordable for-sale housing.
“We can build on great properties throughout our city, build a product that people can buy and begin to build wealth and live in the city that they serve or (where) they work,” Brough said.
Jobs to end homelessness
Providing housing alone isn’t enough to impact the homelessness crisis playing out on the streets of Denver and the metro area at large, Ortega said. Wraparound services are a common term used in discussions about helping people transition into stable housing but the long-time councilwoman said she would specifically zero in on creating more job training programs if elected mayor.
“When we help somebody get back to work it changes everything for that individual in terms of feeling like they have regained their sense of self-worth and purpose,” Ortega said. “I want to be able to help these people to self-sufficiency we can discuss and we do that by working with our regional partners.”
Help established businesses open downtown
Herod vowed that within her first 100 days in office, her administration would reach out to companies and business owners who have recently pulled up and left downtown to see what it would take to get them to come back. That’s an action that would likely require major follow-through to have an impact.
In terms of a big idea that would pump new life into Denver’s struggling downtown that might be more easily carried out, Herod suggested the city needs to approach the 16th Street Mall the way it does Denver International Airport. That would be by making it a gateway that features a glimpse of the city at large by recruiting businesses from neighborhood hubs like Tennyson Street, Welton Street in Five Points and South Gaylord Street and having them set up shop along the famous pedestrian mall.
“Why not bring in and incentivize some of these businesses to come back into downtown, give them the resources they need to be successful, and liven things up a bit?” Herod said. “That should be a priority of the city.”
More police on the beat
Downtown revitalization could hinge on public safety. In a city that has seen spiking rates of violent and property crime in recent years, Johnston’s approach to improving public safety would be a straightforward one. He vowed to put 200 more police officers on the city’s streets.
Johnston wasn’t specific about how he would overcome the Denver Police Department’s ongoing struggles with recruitment but he specifically does want to focus on diversity in the police force.
“Fifty percent of our incoming classes at med schools and law schools in this country right now are women. Fifty percent of our incoming cadets at the police department should also be women,” Johnston said. “And we should have law enforcement officers that represent the communities they serve and that are on the beat, walking on the streets, talking to people, stopping crime before it begins.”
Denver needs an app for that
In his campaign launch ad, Hansen portrayed himself as Iron Man, the brainy, technology-driven comic book hero. Zeroing in on the city’s permitting backlog and the economic damage it is doing by adding costs to projects and delaying income tax revenue, Hansen vowed to digitize more city processes. The techy candidate wants the city to leverage technology including greatly expanding the functionality of its mobile app as the state has done.
“What can we do on our city app right now? See what trash day pickup looks like. That’s about it,” Hansen said. “There is a massive opportunity for streamlining, debottlenecking, improving these systems and making it easier for citizens to get the work done that they need to.”
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