Mary Beth Susman’s first visit to Denver came in 1960 when her dad drove his three kids on a road trip from Omaha to Colorado in a pink 1957 Chevrolet Station Wagon.
Susman remembers how they rode along Colfax Avenue that day until checking into one of the many tourist motels that lined the road back then.
An Army brat, her family had lived in many towns across the U.S. before Susman decided to move to Denver for good in 1969.
Susman reflected on that early trip on Wednesday in an interview with the Colorado Politics Podcast while talking about her two terms as a Denver city councilwoman.
Her time on the council representing District 5 in East Denver is coming to an end as a result of her losing a June 4 runoff election to challenger Amanda Sawyer.
“I am going to miss it. I have loved doing the stewarding of the city,” Susman said.
“When I got to Denver (in 1969), I felt this is going to be my hometown,” she added. “So, the feeling of taking care of it is just very meaningful.”
Earlier this week, several of her council colleagues and city employees held a farewell gathering for the five departing city council members, including the three incumbents who lost their re-election bids.
It’s unusual in Denver for an incumbent to be unseated in Denver, let alone three. Susman said the reason for the changeover is clear.
“I think there’s just been a big reaction to our phenomenal growth in Denver,” she said. “And it’s unsettling to a lot of folks.”
“We’ve also seen so much building going on in the city,“ she continued. “And people are kind of wanting the old days back when they were a sleepy little town and they just felt if they had new leadership, they could maybe halt the change.”
Susman was a political ally of Mayor Michael Hancock, who said after the election that he regretted seeing both her and Councilman Albus Brooks lose their runoffs.
Meanwhile, Hancock defeated challenger Jamie Giellis by more than 12 points even though some of the same issues of growth and development figured in the mayoral race as well.
“I think Jamie Giellis lost the race,” Susman said. “There was the same sentiment in that race. This growth is going too fast.”
But in the end, she said Hancock also benefited from Denver’s booming economy.
Susman ran for city council after retiring as vice president of the Colorado Community College system. She also founded three state-wide online colleges in Colorado, Kentucky and Louisiana.
During her time on the council, she served two terms as council president.
As she leaves office, Susman said she believes the two biggest challenges facing Denver are transportation within the city and the lack of affordable housing.
“We need to think about the inner city,” she said.
“Light rail is great for bringing people for bringing people into the city and out of the city, but if you live in the middle of the city, light rail doesn’t go anywhere that you need to go,” she added.
She said that without more affordable housing, employers in Denver will have a hard time finding help, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality business.
And while the city’s growth may have sealed the fate of her campaign, Susman considers efforts by cities to limit growth -- such as the 1% annual cap on residential development passed by Lakewood voters on July 2 – as “economic suicide.”
In Denver's Council District 5, which has one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods (Hilltop) and one of the poorest (East Colfax), she hopes more can be done to revive the road where she first caught a glimpse of Denver from the back of her family’s station wagon.
“We need to bring back its glory,” she said of East Colfax. “We don’t want to lose its funkiness. We need to encourage that and encourage neighborhood serving businesses.”
As for her own plans, Susman said she doesn’t have anything immediate in mind.
“I thought I’d give myself a couple of months to figure out what the next chapter is going to be.”