Angie Rivera-Malpiede made history Tuesday night when she was elected to chair the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors, becoming the first Latina to serve in the top seat.
She was chosen to succeed Doug Tisdale by RTD’s directors, who elect officers each year to the board’s executive committee. Joining her at the helm in 2020 will be First Vice Chair Peggy Catlin, Second Vice Chair Shelley Cook, Treasurer Lynn Guissinger and Secretary Vince Buzek.
“It feels surreal,” said Rivera-Malpiede. “I am so excited and so terrified at the same time.”
The native Denverite, a Democrat, was publicly elected to the 15-member board in 2018 to represent northwest Denver (District C) and served as second vice chair last year. It’s not her first time as an RTD director, however. She previously served on the board from 2010 to 2014, after then-Denver mayor and now U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper appointed her.
At that time, the transit agency was flourishing. ”RTD was voted year after year as the best transit agency in the country,” she recalled.
A decade later, RTD is floundering. From staff shortages and service cuts to low ridership and budget slashes, the agency faces immense challenges. These, on top of the board’s need to replace outgoing General Manager and CEO Dave Genova.
But Rivera-Malpiede — who is quick to point out that she raised two daughters and put them through college as a single mother — isn’t deterred by the challenges. She’s driven by them.
“What excites me the most is the opportunity to make a positive impact of change that needs to happen for this agency,” she said. “I want to take RTD back to that [top] place.”
Her crux is establishing an “open, transparent, communicative” process that develops and deepens relationships with RTD’s riders, staff, elected officials, school administrators and municipalities.
She wants to be a catalyst for connection and collaboration.
“We’re here to work together. We’re going to roll up our sleeves,” she said. “But it’s going to take all of us to pull this together, because transportation is one of the key issues that builds a society into a successful model.”
Rivera-Malpiede said she wouldn’t have run again in 2018 without the encouragement of Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega.
“I was looking for someone else to run because I thought we needed a stronger voice at the table, but Debbie Ortega said to me, ‘You need to run.’”
Ortega told Colorado Politics she’s “excited” about Rivera-Malpiede’s new position and confident she brings the experience, knowledge and ability to build relationships with colleagues that could “catapult the organization forward” in a way that meaningfully addresses mobility issues.
Some of her past experience includes overseeing the opening of the new Denver Union Station and the expansion of the FasTracks public transit program. She also was appointed in 2013 to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Hispanic Transportation Council.
Currently, Rivera-Malpiede is the vice president of the Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities, which advocates for alternative modes of transportation. She also is the head of Northeast Transportation Connections, a nonprofit that provides sustainable transportation solutions to residents in northeast Denver.
Sustainability is at the heart of RTD too, she said. “Its mission is really about getting people out of their cars and making sure that we’re cleaning our environment so that our kids and our families can breathe easier.”
For the Latino community, Ortega said Rivera-Malpiede sitting in the board’s top leadership role is meaningful and motivating because they “see themselves” serving in these positions.
Her new position signifies that “with hard work, passionate advocacy, being organized and building coalitions, it doesn’t matter what your background is,” she said. “We all have contributions to make.”
In her year as chair, Rivera-Malpiede said she will “home into my roots and my ancestors and stay grounded.”
Above all, she said, “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”