Newly elected Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds won’t have to wait until he is sworn in on July 15 to bring about change at City Hall.
It’s already happening.
Hinds, who defeated incumbent Wayne New in a June 4 runoff election, believes he will be the first-ever city councilman who uses a wheelchair to get around.
In advance of his arrival as the representative of City Council District 10, Hinds said city employees are at work building a handicap-accessible ramp so that he can take his seat on the dais along with the other 12 council members.
“My strategy is to work within the system to create change,” Hinds said Monday during an interview with Colorado Politics.
“So, I don’t know if the chambers will be fully ADA compliant by July 15. But I feel comfortable and confident that there will be some sort of accommodation by then, and it does sound as if they are working to make changes so that it works long term,” he said.
“I hope that I’m not the last who serves our city in a wheelchair,” he added. “Happy to be the first.”
Hinds is one of five news council members who were part of what can reasonably be called a change election. All five made concerns about the rapid pace of growth and development in the city a part of their campaign, and three of them ousted incumbent council members.
He doesn’t have a ready reason for why voters also chose to give Mayor Michael Hancock a third and final third term despite the prominence of those same issues in the mayoral campaign.
But he does offer this explanation of the results in District 10, which spans a 4.5 mile swath of central Denver from the Cherry Creek Shopping Center to the Uptown neighborhood and North Capitol Hill, and also includes parts of Alamo Placita and Congress Park.
“People were concerned about runaway development and they felt like they weren’t getting heard, at least in District 10,” Hinds said.
He cited the problems caused by new construction for residents already living in those neighborhoods.
“Sidewalks were closed. Streets were closed. It seemed like developers could do what they want, when they want,” he said.
‘The city didn’t care about making sure that the people who live here today can still walk around the block, hold hands with their partner, walk their dog and get from A to B,” he added. “We all deserve the freedom to get from A to B.”
This election was Hinds’ first run for public office.
A native of rural Texas, Hinds said he grew up poor with a single mom, whom he described as a hippie.
“So how do you rebel against a hippie mom? You go into corporate America,” he recalled. “I was the first in my family to get a scholarship to go to college. I went to Southern Methodist in Dallas.” He obtained a computer science degree and later a master of business administration.
“Alex P. Keaton I quoted a few times,” he added, citing the Michael J. Fox character from the 1980’s television series “Family Ties.”
He came to Denver in January 2007 and found work in a finance job for a software company.
When the Democratic National Convention came to Denver in August 2008, Hinds had been returning from photographing the event when he was involved in a serious motor vehicle crash at East 18th Avenue and Logan Street. He suffered a spinal cord injury and could no longer move his legs.
“I was rushed to Denver Health. I woke up, obviously, a different person,” he recalled.
“After my injury I stopped climbing the corporate ladder and I started thinking, 'What can I do to leave this a better place than I found it?'” he said.
He started working as a disability rights activist, serving on the board of the local chapter of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, named after the actor who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident.
He found some success in that role. For example, he was able to push for passage of a law that closed a loophole on the fraudulent use of handicapped parking spaces. Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Chris Hinds Act into law.
Hinds said he sees housing and transportation as the two biggest issues facing the city. During his campaign, he also pushed for a concept called “20 minutes neighborhoods,” where all the things that a resident would need are within a 20-minute walk from their home.
"If you make sure that every neighborhood has access to the things that we need to survive and thrive like food, hopefully fresh and healthy food, then that also reduces the demand on our transit network,” he said.
“Having access to things outside of their cars, it’s good for the planet,” he added. “Hippie mom, right?”