Though he grew up in New Jersey, Councilman Paul Kashmann is a Denverite through-and-through, falling in love with the city during a cross-country trip and eventually moving his family to Denver in the 1970s.
Soon after moving to Denver, Kashmann began what would become nearly 40 years of serving his Washington Park neighborhood through his work with the Washington Park Profile newspaper. In 2015, he decided to run for City Council to make sure the city remained one he was proud to call home.
Now, Kashmann is halfway through his second term as City Council representative for District 6, serving on the safety committee, crime prevention and control commission, housing and homelessness working group, executive committee for Youth Violence Prevention Action Table and more.
Kashmann talked to The Denver Gazette about his experience representing District 6 — comprised of the Washington Park, Virginia Village, Cory-Merrill, Rosedale, University, Washington Virginia Vale and Windsor neighborhoods.
What made you want to become your district’s city council representative?
I spent the better part of four decades covering city issues and school issues and all the things that effect our day-to-day life in Denver. Over the years, I had gone back and forth thinking about running for office someday. Things just came together. I was ready to move on from the paper, my predecessor was term-limited and the idea of serving as an elected official sounded real good to me. So, I ran for office, and I was fortunate enough to be elected.
I don’t know that I wanted to change a heck of a lot. While we certainly have some rough edges and not everybody is participating equally in Denver’s financial boom, by and large, District 6 has some very healthy neighborhoods. We’ve got good housing stock, tree-lined streets, an embarrassment of parks, great retail and service businesses. It was more about preserving and enhancing what we have as far as the district itself.
How has your experience as a council member been so far?
It’s a great job, it’s a fascinating job, it’s beyond challenging. You better bring your A-game every day or you’re going to fall behind. We just happen to be the 13 people elected to council to try to solve issues like getting our unhoused residents off the street and dealing with social justice issues brewing since our country was founded. I feel fully capable of participating in those discussions, but finding the solutions to some of these issues is daunting to say the least. … The fact that we have problems dealing with these large, impactful issues doesn’t reflect on the dedication or commitment or skills of the people trying to solve them. The issues just happen to be very challenging.
We’ve done some really good things. We started the city’s first affordable housing fund to begin to address that Denver’s becoming a more expensive place to live. We’ve begun the work of retrofitting our environment for the new wave of people, like looking at new traffic solutions and trying to rebuild our sidewalk structure. We’ve been looking at how to modernize the way we police our city, adding an Office of the Independent Monitor, the Citizen’s Oversight Board, our Co-Responder Program and new STAR Program. We’re trying to create a bicycle system. We’ve created our Office of Climate Action Sustainability and Resiliency.
When I came onto council, there was no opportunity for general public comment. There was no opportunity for a citizen to address council on matters of their concern. I was able to get a rule change passed so we’d start with 30 minutes of public comment before the first meeting of the month, then we beefed it up to the first and third meetings of the month, and now we have 30 minutes of public comment before every meeting. I’m real excited about that. I’m also pleased that I was able to get sidewalks on the radar of our Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
If there’s lows, the main low has got to be that we haven’t done a great job getting our unhoused residents off the street. That, for me, is the big disappointment. There’s other things — there’s development built in recent years that’s not the quality or style that we would like, our streets are more and more crowded — but the one issue that I lose sleep over is that we’ve got a whole lot of people who don’t have a permanent residence.
As a council member, what are your priorities for the future?
Get people off the street. There are a lot of people who think people don’t want to live inside, they’d rather live on the street. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe there’s a lot of people who don’t want to be in a shelter. Put yourself in a room with 50 to 200 people, 18 inches apart with mental health issues, hygiene issues, you can’t bring your belongings with you, can’t stay with your couple, families or pets. I believe firmly if you give them a place with a door that locks and a place to stash their belongings, they want to be inside. The vast majority are just looking for a safe place to lay down at night. That needs to be a priority.
As far as this coming year, a whole lot of priority needs to be on getting things back on track as we emerge from the pandemic. How do we get our people back to work, our businesses back to flourishing, keep people in their homes when eviction moratoriums fall away.
Right now, we’re working on reducing the speed limit on residential streets to 20 miles per hour. I was able to get $350,000 in the budget for a study of speed limits in the city. So, trying to increase safety in the neighborhoods. Youth violence has also hit an epidemic level across the county and in Denver. In the past two years and a few months, we’ve had 50 people die under the age of 25, and when you look at the cause of death, it’s almost all handguns. We need to really focus on that. Our number one job as elected officials is to create a safe environment for our people. The goal has got to be that, regardless of your zip code, you experience public safety the same.
I would hope that the city’s better than it was in any number of ways (when I leave council). That it’s a great place to live, that people are still thrilled to say that they live in Denver. One thing that I did say when I was running for office is that I wanted to reinvigorate people’s belief in their government. I hope that when I leave office, more people are voting than when I came into office.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read previous profiles of Denver City Councilmembers here.