Councilman Chris Hinds spent years telling people he would never run for public officer; however, after some unforeseen circumstances, Hinds ended up “rolling for office” instead, representing Denver’s District 10 on the City Council.
Hinds grew up in rural Texas, graduating from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor's degree in computer science and a master’s degree in finance and strategy. He worked in software sales, financial planning and analysis before moving to Colorado in 2007 for the rugged outdoor lifestyle.
Soon after moving to Colorado, Hinds was in an accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. This event threw Hinds into the world of advocacy, and he eventually found himself as an “unwitting protagonist” who entered into public office to help represent and fulfill the needs of the disability community.
In 2019, Hinds defeated his incumbent rival in the District 10 City Council election and became Denver’s first elected official who uses a wheelchair for mobility.
Halfway through his first term, Hinds talked to The Denver Gazette about his time serving District 10 – comprised of the Belcaro, Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Cherry Creek, Civic Center, Congress Park, Country Club, Golden Triangle, North Capitol Hill and Speer neighborhoods.
What made you want to become your district’s city council representative?
I was climbing the corporate ladder when the Democratic National Convention came to Denver in 2008. The Tuesday night of the DNC, I was in a crash on a bike. I was rushed to Denver Health and when I woke up, it turned out I had a spinal cord injury. So, I’m paralyzed, basically, from the chest down. At that point, I stopped thinking about climbing the corporate ladder and started thinking about what I can do to make this world a better place than I found it.
I started advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. I did a little bit on the federal level and then I started working on the state level with the Colorado General Assembly, House of Representatives and State Senate. I ended up working on a bill in 2014 where I was the lead advocate and that bill ended up becoming law, changing the way parking for people with disabilities works in Colorado. I advocated for a few more bills and then in May of 2018, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Chris Hinds Act into law. They actually named a law after me. And I thought, “Well geez, if I get laws named after me as a private citizen, imagine what I could do as an elected official.” So, I put my hat in the ring and here I am, the first elected official in Denver’s history who uses a wheelchair for mobility.
I feel very honored that people of District 10 felt that I was qualified enough to represent them and represent the disability community at the same time. This is an amazing platform to be part of conversations where people like me have never been at the table, ever. And isn’t our democracy stronger when we all participate and when it’s representative of all the people?
How has your experience as a council member been so far?
It has been a whirlwind. First, I had to figure out basic logistics, we didn’t even have desks the first day I was inaugurated. So, we had to get basic supplies. After that, it was budget season. After that, it was the December holidays. Then, when I thought I was finally starting to hit the groove, COVID-19 came. It’s been an amazing and difficult time to lead. It has been the experience of my life.
It’s thrilling that I have had the opportunity to guide Denver in such an inflection point in our future. ... But there’s perception and there’s reality. What I perceived this job was as a private citizen is not what the job is, necessarily. I was hoping to come in and make a lot of decisions. But the power of this job is as a body, not as an individual and, in some way, I was hoping to just be an individual and get everything accomplished on my own. That is a bit of my own naiveite, but sometimes we have expectations about a job but when we’re actually in the role, we realize we can’t just wave a wand and change things.
I would like for things to happen a little faster, but I have a better understanding now of why government decisions take as long as they do. Like, why can’t we just fix the homelessness epidemic, why can’t we just do that now? Just as it wasn’t created overnight, it can’t be solved overnight.
As a council member, what are your priorities for the future?
My background is in transportation, and I’m very interested in how we can dig deeper in breaking Denver’s dependence on cars and how we can all achieve freedom of mobility. I believe we all deserve the freedom to get from A to B safely, no matter how we choose to get there. I campaigned on the idea that a neighborhood should have everything you need to survive or thrive within a 20-minute walk. We’re developing that and, in some places, we have achieved that.
I’m interested in further working on our broken sidewalks in District 10 and city-wide. I’m interested in giving us broad and inviting pedestrian experiences. We’re working on a plan for Golden Triangle that will be in front of the full council in July. That plan will further highlight the pedestrian experience in the Golden Triangle. For new developments, there are set back and step back requirements for the sidewalks and buildings. It also talks about open space, historic preservation and just making the experience for a pedestrian even more full and inviting. I think that’s really important for us to continue to grow as a city. It’s important for the planet to get from A to B without having to use a car and, if we can spend less time sitting in traffic and more time with friends and family, that’s even better.
If I had one thing that I could do, if I could wave my magic wand, I have one project I really care about. It’s called the 5280 Trail. It’s a 5.280-mile pedestrian cyclist loop around the urban core. The idea of transportation is there, the broad pedestrian experience, breaking dependence on cars. It calls for additional trees and grass, so, more urban canopy. It would give us the opportunity to have parks, too, if we could close off part or all of the street for pedestrians and cyclists. Having an opportunity to bring nature and the planet to us, would be great. And if we connected the trail with the city’s shared streets, we would have a citywide network for people to safely get from A to B as a pedestrian or cyclist.
We’re currently coming up with paint and signage to mark the trail. There is a project along 21st Street in District 9 right now that gave $700,000 for improvements that is part of the 5280 Trail. It’s something that would be amazing for people to get out and form community and talk to each other, something you can’t do in cars. On a pedestrian trail, it’s far easier to say hello. And what is a city but its people?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.