This is the second in a series of profiles of Denver mayoral candidates.
Jamie Giellis may have one of the most diverse backgrounds of any of the candidates running for Denver mayor.
She grew up on an Iowa farm.
She covered the 2000 Iowa primary as a local television reporter.
At age 26, she helped with the revitalization of downtown, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
She has done urban consulting work in Britain and Singapore.
And until she entered the mayoral race, she was president of the fast-growing River North Arts District.
LISTEN to John C. Ensslin's interview with Jamie Giellis below.
Compared to the other candidates, however, she is a relative newcomer to Denver.
She arrived in the city in 2006 to take a job and pursue her education at the University of Colorado Denver.
And this is her first run for political office.
Giellis doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.
“I came to Denver for the same reasons that I think a lot of other people came to Denver,” she told Colorado Politics. “The quality of life, the incredible welcoming nature of this city and the ability to really make a difference here.”
She sees her experience outside of Colorado as an advantage.
“I’ve worked across the country. I’ve worked around the world,” she said. “And so, I’ve seen and been inspired by so many different things that you get the best of both when you have that certain knowledge of the city but also the ability to be inspired by things that are being done elsewhere.”
And for this point in time in the city’s history, when the city is trying to absorb unprecedented growth and development in just a few years, Giellis contends she has a skill set that makes her uniquely qualified for the job.
“I’ve spent an entire career working on those issues and I’m doing it right now in Denver,” she said. “And I think that is what makes me uniquely qualified at the moment in Denver’s evolution.”
Rural roots, urban growth
Giellis’ introduction to politics – like her mayoral rivals – began at an early age.
Her parents were both active in local government in their small Iowa town. Her father served as mayor for 13 years. Her mom was a member of the city council. Her mother was a social worker for the state of Iowa for 35 years.
“It was interesting. You were surrounded by family. Community came first. And I told people it was a little bit of Mayberry,” Giellis said. “But it was a really wonderful childhood and working on a farm certainly taught us a lot of discipline.”
After coming to Denver to get her degree in public administration, Giellis began working on projects that took her overseas.
For example, she worked in Britain for a Labour Party committee on an effort to revitalize “High Streets,” the British term for downtown business districts.
When she returned to Colorado, Giellis said she did some work for the state to help implement the creative districts legislation that had been signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2011.
That in turn led her to the job of serving as president of the River North Art District.
Giellis described the arts district as a microcosm of what was happening to the city as a whole, as new housing development filled formerly vacant lots.
“We were forced in RiNo to deal with a lot of things very fast and tried to do them as nimbly and creatively and thoughtfully as we could, pushing, working with the city, to try to do things better,” she said.
She has been critical of how development has proceeded in other parts of the city. She cites some projects where the developers built big “blocky” structures that went up the property line.
The result, she said, are blocks where you feel more like you’re walking through a canyon rather than a neighborhood.
As for why she’s running now, Giellis said, “Because I don’t think we can wait.”
“I don’t think that we can wait another four years to keep doing things the way we’re doing things,” she said. “I think Denver needs a shakeup. It needs a fresh approach where we’re a modern urban version of this city. And we can’t keep behaving or acting like we have. Like we’re something else.”
On the ballot issues
On Initiative 300 – the ballot referendum that would repeal Denver’s urban camping ban -- Giellis said she opposes the measure.
“I think it’s the wrong move. I understand where it’s coming from and what it’s motivated by,” she said. “And I don’t think that the urban camping ordinance that was passed in 2012 was the right thing to do. This essentially repeals that, but it takes it way further.”
“Yes, it gives people the right to be homeless on the street, but it repeals park curfews and it allows people to set up camp in our open spaces,” she added. “And those are public spaces that are meant to serve everybody, families that don’t have backyards and things like that.”
Instead, Giellis said she favors projects like the tiny-home villages as an alternative form of temporary housing for homeless people. She also mentioned the possibility of having sanctioned and supervised outdoor camps for homeless people with support services.
“We need solutions that give people dignity and get people to help,” she said. “That’s what we can and should be doing. Not one of these ordinances that say we’re turning over the city wholesale.”
On Initiative 301, the other ballot referendum that would make possession of small amounts of psilocybin or so-called magic mushrooms the lowest law enforcement priority, Giellis said she’s OK with it if Denver voters approve the measure.
“There’s much more important things to focus on,” she said. “That’s fine if the voters feel it’s fine.”