Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was in his element Monday morning in the political pulpit of Denver’s newest recreation center. His seventh State of the City address presaged his third and final run for mayor next year, in the heart of a contentious mid-term election this year.
In a key political moment of his 42-minute address, Hancock turned his rhetorical guns on Republican candidates running for state office, presumably GOP gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton, who has embraced President Donald Trump on several policies and said he’d welcome the president to campaign with him in Colorado.
“If anyone running for office this November thinks we should be following the White House’s example here in Colorado – quite frankly, they don’t deserve to lead our great state,” Hancock said at the Carla Madison Recreation Center next to East High School.
Stapleton’s campaign hit back Monday afternoon in a statement: “From construction defects legislation to providing quality education for our kids, Walker looks forward to finding common ground with Mayor Hancock and anyone else who wants to make Colorado a better place.”
Stapleton’s team referred to resolving construction-related problems before they wind up in court, which some builders and contractors have said is driving up their insurance rates and making them uninterested in building affordable housing.
Many thought Hancock might be a contender for the governor’s office this year, but he choose to stay at work in Denver’s City and County Building, rather than climb the hill up Colfax Avenue to the state Capitol.
Hancock hasn’t yet made his announcement, but he’s been raising money for the race and is all bur certain to seek a third term.
Monday morning’s address felt like a political rally with four benedictions, two prayers before, two prayers after, 13-year-old Raquel Garcia singing “Imagine,” and a jazz band playing people out of the venue. Outside, city departments handed out lemonade, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and flying discs with the city logo.
In his speech, Hancock addressed the city’s biggest challenges. He announced a new Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team, or NEST, to push back against gentrification. The issue blew up last November in Five Points, where older residents and small businesses are being pushed out by higher costs of living and wealthy chain retailers and restaurants.
“Many neighborhoods today are facing what Five Points has faced for decades,” Hancock said. “We should never stop investing in our neighborhoods or making the improvements that raise residents’ quality of life. But we should also have strategies to keep families who want to stay in their neighborhoods from being displaced.”
He spoke of addressing Denver’s challenges with transportation, affordable housing, race relations and moving the city toward all renewable energy by 2030. He said the city would put down 125 miles of bike lanes in the next five years, and he plans to go after drugmakers for the high cost of opioid addition.
Hancock cautioned that his speech was full of “bold aspirational goals.”
He basked in Denver’s reputation as a sanctuary city, though he never uttered those words. Republicans running for governor this year has criticized Denver, as well as Aurora and Boulder, for refusing to help federal immigration orders, as Trump has called out sanctuary cities saying they lead to more crime.
“Yes, we will be a city that welcomes immigrants and refugees to our great city,” Hancock bellowed in a broader point about respecting human rights. “If they want to work for it, if they want a chance, an opportunity to pursue the American dream, you have a place in Denver, Colorado.”
Politics seemed ever-present in the speech, as a galaxy of local and state politicians filled the rec center gym, including former mayor and current Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as former Mayor Wellington Webb, one of the state’s elder Democratic statesmen (interviewed in this week’s Colorado Politics print edition).
Hancock’s political star was personally diminished in February when he conceded he had sent inappropriate text messages to a female security officer, as the #MeToo movement was ending political careers on the state and national level.
The mayor admitted his inappropriate remarks in the texts without excuses, and to Julianna Ramos, 29, who attended Monday’s State of the City address, that was enough.
“He apologized and people moved on,” she said, trying on a blue slap bracelet handed out by uniformed police officer. “He said some things he shouldn’t have to this one woman, but then there was nothing else. With our president and the mess he’s in, nobody is thinking about the mayor’s flirting on a text message.”
Hancock addressed the texts Monday only in a passing reference, as he spoke of his love and devotion to his family at length.
“There is only one Hancock who has sought public office and the scrutiny that comes with it,” he said. “My family has borne the brunt of that decision, especially over the past six months. Mary Louise, Jordan, Janae and Mama, I love you all very much. You’re my rock.”
If there was any question whether Hancock was a politician standing on two sturdy legs as he prepares for another campaign, his ending thundered with an answer.
“We will keep working every day to make the state of our city stronger, the state of our people even better – all people,” he bellowed rising to a close. “We, the people, all of Denver’s people and neighborhoods, will rise … together.