This is the first in a series of profiles of Denver mayoral candidates.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is the presumptive front-runner in the municipal election that ends May 7, having raised more campaign funds than all five of his opponents combined through March.
But despite that advantage and the natural competitive edge of being the incumbent, Hancock said recently that it was not a “given” that he would decide to run for his third and final four-year term as mayor.
“You know, many people will say it was an easy or automatic or a given. But it really wasn’t,” Hancock told Colorado Politics.
“First and foremost, I wanted to make sure that I could bring value to the city. “I love the city and this is not be about me and it should not be about any individual in the city,” he added.
“I wanted to make sure that if I’m going to serve a third term that I’m not just hanging in there. Being in the office. Occupying the office. I want to bring value to address the challenges of the city,” he said.
LISTEN to John C. Ensslin's interview with Michael Hancock below.
He said a lot of thought, prayer and discussion with his family went into the decision before he declared himself a candidate again late last year.
That said, Hancock is facing a far more challenging re-election bid than four years ago when he breezed past six less-well known challengers with over 80 percent of the vote and avoided a June run-off election.
This year, he faces a set of better-known challengers who have tapped into an undercurrent of concern among voters over the pace and scale of growth and development and traffic congestion in the city over the last 8 years.
He is also running in an election where the issue of homelessness has moved to the forefront thanks to Initiative 300, the so-called “Right to Survive” measure that would end the city’s ban on urban camping. He opposes the initiative, saying it’s not humane for homeless people to live on the streets.
And he is running in a campaign season that has seen an unusually high number of candidates – 52 – in several competitive races for city council and city clerk.
His challengers – while accepting the city’s growth as inevitable and a good thing – have criticized Hancock for not doing a better job of extracting commitments for more affordable housing and more parking from developers.
Hancock’s response: It’s easy to play the role of critic.
“Listen, I’ll be the first to say we could have been bolder in what we requested,” Hancock said, citing the speed with which development happened. “It amazed every one of us.”
“So, as we were trying to respond and development’s taking off, it did take a minute for us to realize, hey wait, we’ve got to negotiate this differently with developers,” he added. “We’re doing it now. And so, the easiest seat in the room is always the critic.”
“But the reality is instead of just speaking to it with platitudes, once we kind of gathered ourselves from being stunned with the growth, the city began to move forward with an action plan to require developers to bring more affordable housing to the market,” Hancock added.
Hancock also pointed to the Denveright plan currently pending before the city council, the city’s first comprehensive plan since 2002. He also reminded people that he used to work on comprehensive plans when he worked for the National Civic League in places like Fresno and Kansas City.
Learning from a mistake
Hancock also has dealt with criticism raised by his opponent Penfield Tate III over provocative texts that the mayor sent to a female detective then serving on is security detail.
Asked if that was a valid campaign issue, Hancock responded: “Absolutely. I think character matters.”
He also noted that he has apologized for the incident to the detective, his family and the community.
“I believe that I also have to learn from the mistake. And learn and grow from it. And that’s what I’ve been aiming to do,” Hancock said.
“We changed the policies in the city. You know, there will be people who will never let that go,” he added. “But you know, I also believe that people make mistakes and I don’t know of anyone who is perfect, except my Lord and Savior. And the reality is, I had to come to terms with that as well in my life, and again, I apologize to everyone.”
“What about us?”
Hancock said the thing he is most proud of over the last four years is working with the city council to remove the requirement that children pay a $30 annual fee for use of the city’s recreation centers. That resulted in the number of children registered going from 700 to over 100,000, he said.
He cited other accomplishments such as bringing 8,100 new companies to the city, 100,000 new jobs and 12 more direct international flights out of Denver International Airport.
But despite the city’s robust economy, Hancock said he was caught off guard recently by an impromptu conversation he had with a young man on the 16th Street Mall.
“He said ‘Mayor, the city is doing well, but what about us?’
And I said, ‘What do you mean what about us?’
And he said, ‘Those of us who aren’t benefiting from the economy. Those of us who don’t get those jobs. Those of us who have not been brought along. What about us? Some of us are struggling out here.’”
“And it just makes you stop and you know what? If we’ve got folks who have been left behind, we’ve got to find a way to go back and get them,” Hancock said.
If re-elected, Hancock said he hopes to work on spending the $300 million the city has earmarked for affordable housing. And he wants to diversify who the city’s homeless shelters can accept.
And he plans to remember that conversation on the mall.
“We’ve got to be proud of the economy. But we’ve got to recognize that not everybody benefits in the same way. We’ve got to find a way to create those opportunities for people,” he added.