By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Denver City Councilman Rick Garcia has been appointed as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region 8 director, which oversees the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah.
“Clearly I am honored that the president of the United States identified me as leader in this arena to work with his administration in a very challenging time in our nation’s history,” said Garcia. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m very honored to have been selected.”
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced Obama’s appointment of Garcia on Jan. 29. In his new role, Garcia will serve as HUD’s liaison to mayors and local officials in the Rocky Mountain region to ensure the delivery of federal programs and services.
Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Democrats Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, recommended Garcia for the appointment. In a joint statement they said it was “based on his long-standing advocacy on behalf of Colorado residents and his distinguished background in public policy and economic development.”
Garcia said that he also received help in obtaining the appointment from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter, D-CD 7, and John Salazar, D-CD 3, and Garcia’s long time friend, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“This is great news for Councilman Garcia and a testament to his commitment to public service,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with Councilman Garcia in his new role and building on our already strong relationship.”
Garcia said that his interest in the position piqued during the presidential campaign when Obama put more emphasis on urban areas. According to Garcia, it was these urban areas that helped get the president elected.
“The infrastructure of urban communities around the country has been wading through a lack of focus during the last [Bush’s] administration,” said Garcia. “My background, interest and experiences in both community and economic development, transportation and housing was natural in wanting to help this region, if not the nation, be on the forefront of merging all the needs of these urban centers.”
Garcia received a phone call from HUD Deputy Sectary Ron Sims late in the afternoon of Jan. 28. He was still in his office when Sims asked him if he was still interested in the position. Garcia said that the call came as a welcomed relief.
“Presidential appointments are pretty exciting,” said Garcia. “The process is one that is not very defined. I have been in contention for almost a year and was starting to grow weary of the process, to say the least.”
Garcia has not yet visited his new office in the 1670 Broadway building in downtown Denver, which serves as the regional HUD headquarters, but knows several people there because of past business from his days on city council.
Garcia said that collaboration and an understanding of the human predicament that drives policy directions are the most valuable tools he will take away from his seven years on city council.
His goals as HUD’s regional director are to ensure that local communities and cities understand how HUD programs can benefit them and to make sure these programs are used as effectively as possible.
Unemployment, according to Garcia, is the Rocky Mountain region’s top problem. He said that people cannot afford to make their mortgage payments, and he hopes that that the loan modification process can stabilize them until they return to work. Garcia said the steep foreclosure rate leads to crime and high-school dropout rates in the depressed economies in metro areas across the region.
Before Garcia’s 2003 election to Denver’s city council, he served on the RTD Board where his work led to the FasTracks initiative. Garcia also founded the Denver Enterprise Center, a small business incubator, and was state director of small business development for former Colorado Governor Roy Romer.
Garcia focused on business growth, neighborhood revitalization and transit projects during his time with the city council and has been active in expanding Denver’s affordable housing programs.
However, Garcia said his proudest moment in public office came when he helped acquire a six-acre parcel in northeast Denver through a conservation easement. The Campfire Girl’s property was on the market and Garcia said he was sure private developers would snatch it up. The property is now dedicated to open space after city officials, along with Outdoors Colorado and Denver’s parks department, raised enough money to purchase the land, despite a down economy.
“It was a fine accomplishment and something I take a lot of pride in,” said Garcia.
“When we look to improve communities, this administration is focused on addressing housing, transportation, education and energy together,” Donovan said in a Jan. 29 statement. “Rick Garcia understands and embraces the sustainable community concept. When you combine that with his extensive work on the affordable housing front and foreclosures, he became the ideal candidate for this position.”
State Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, announced her bid to fill Garcia’s council seat. Garcia’s last day on the city council will be Feb. 22, at which time the council will have 60 days to fill the vacancy.
HUD announced three regional directors last week and still has seven regional director spots to fill.