After a late night celebrating narrow victories, the two candidates headed for a runoff in Denver’s mayoral election got up early the next day and staked out sharply different approaches to running the city even as they agreed on virtually everything they want to accomplish.
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Former state Sen. Chris Romer and City Councilman Michael Hancock are both Democrats who have been elected twice by Denver voters, both come from large families, and both stand 5-foot-7 in their socks. The day after they emerged from a crowded field as finalists in the June 7 runoff election, both made nearly identical appeals to voters, down to repeating multiple phrases as they launched their five-week campaigns.
Romer promised to “hit the ground running.” So did Hancock. Want someone to make the “tough choices”? Take your pick. Both promised to do “more with less” as Denver struggles to get out from under persistent, massive budget deficits.
But one is running as a determined outsider and the other as the consummate insider. In campaign appearances soon after winning spots in the runoff, Romer portrayed Hancock as too tied to the way things have been done in the city, and Hancock portrayed Romer as too unfamiliar with the way the city operates.
“Simply put, I don’t need job training to become Denver’s next mayor,” Hancock said at a press conference at his headquarters on Wednesday.
“It’s a choice between defending the status quo and being an agent of change,” Romer said at a debate sponsored by the Downtown Denver Partnership on Thursday. Again and again, Romer suggested Hancock wouldn’t be able to say no when it comes to competing city interests. “If you can’t say no, you can’t have a process that controls expenses,” Romer said.
Romer finished 1,587 votes ahead of Hancock, who secured his spot in the runoff by winning 1,491 more votes than former school board member James Mejia — the gaps between each of them amounted to just over 1 percent of the vote. Seven other candidates were also on the ballot but trailed the top three by substantial margins.
Both runoff candidates have unveiled ambitious agendas they promise to launch immediately upon taking office. In a press conference at Civic Center Park on Wednesday, Romer laid out five initiatives he plans to get under way on his first day as mayor. A week earlier, Hancock announced what he intends to do during his first 100 days.
Romer said his first day would see a flurry of activity. He plans to establish a cabinet-level position aimed at creating jobs; begin to merge two health-related city departments; engage Denver Public Schools with businesses and philanthropists to bring the National Math and Science Initiative to every Denver high school; start a nationwide search for a new police chief; and get together metro-area mayors and business groups to speed the completion of the FasTracks rail system.
“I am the only candidate in this race prepared to hit the ground running on July 18 after taking the oath of office,” Hancock said on Wednesday. Recalling his plans for his first 100 days, he listed a job-recruitment strategy, establishing a broad partnership to improve Denver schools, delivering a balanced budget to City Council at the end of the summer, and “restoring trust” between the public and the police following a rash of brutality charges and large cash settlements paid out by the city over allegations police used excessive force against residents.
Asked what differentiates him from his rival, Romer answered, “I have had experience in the private sector, I’ve had experience in the state Senate. I’ve had 22 years working with nonprofits. Of the three legs of the stool, I’ve got all three of them covered. And I just think when you really compare that, I think I have a little more depth in each of those areas than Michael has.” He added that he thinks Hancock is a “great guy” and said he was “honored” to be in the runoff with him.
Summing up his take on the choice faced by voters, Hancock said, “The reality is this: We’re at a time in Denver’s history when we’re ready to launch and take our position on the global economic development stage. But we also need to make sure we have a mayor who understands this city and is not going to come in like a bull in a china store and be prepared to work on behalf of the people, with the people, to get this city back on track.”
By the next morning Romer had embraced Hancock’s characterization, repeatedly telling a crowd of downtown business people he intended to “break some china.” Romer’s continual references to shattered plates might have left the audience baffled, since Hancock’s description of his opponent didn’t get much attention on Wednesday.
“Yes, Michael, I might break some china,” Romer said, describing cuts to city budgets he would consider. Later, he described possible efficiency measures as “part of the process of choosing to break some china.”
At press time, four of the candidates Romer and Hancock defeated had endorsed one of the survivors and a fifth — Mejia — planned to weigh his decision over the weekend. (Councilwoman Carol Boigon withdrew from the race and threw her support to Hancock two weeks before votes were counted. She didn’t pull out in time to remove her name from the ballot and finished sixth in the field of 10 candidates with about 2 percent of the vote.)
Businessman Thomas Wolf kicked off the string of post-election endorsements when he appeared at Romer’s Civic Center press conference on Wednesday morning.
“Chris Romer is the second-best business person in the race, and I have to throw my support behind a business person so that the fiscal issues, which are the most important, get attacked,” said Wolf, who finished seventh in the field with just under 2 percent of the vote.
The next former candidate to make her preference known was one-time Judge Magistrate Theresa Spahn, who appeared at Romer campaign headquarters on Thursday afternoon at a hastily called press conference.
“Today Denver is at a crossroads, and I believe we need new leadership at city hall,” said Spahn, who finished fifth in the race with about 3 percent of the vote. “I believe (Romer) has the ability to bring a new vision to our city that will create good jobs, restore confidence in the Denver Police Department and would create the much-needed efficiencies within the city agencies.” She also lauded Romer’s history “walking the walk” when it comes to women’s reproductive health issues.
“As the father of three daughters, what I’m particularly pleased about is the role model you gave to my daughters and to this community,” Romer told Spahn. “You combined a gravitas, passion and feminism that, altogether, is the real deal.”
He credited Spahn with pushing the notion of conducting a nation-wide search for a new police chief during the campaign, something Romer said he would initiate immediately upon taking office.
Councilman Doug Linkhart, who finished fourth in the race with around 9 percent of the vote, added his name to the list of Hancock supporters at a press conference Friday afternoon in Washington Park.
“His passions are the city’s passions,” Linkhart said, “and he’s going to lead this city in the same direction that I would take it, which is to create better opportunities for young people, spend our money more wisely, bring community into government, and make Denver the greenest city in the country.”
A smiling Hancock returned the praise. “In all the conversations I’ve had in the last 72 hours about endorsements, the conversation I had with Councilman Linkhart is probably the most comfortable one I had,” he said. The two talked about sustainability and making city government work better for children and found themselves in agreement.
Candidate Danny Lopez, a city employee who ran eighth in the voting with about 1 percent of the vote, also endorsed Hancock. It was Lopez’ second run for mayor, following a challenge four years ago to then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, who was seeking his second term.
Mejia planned to meet one-on-one with both finalists over the weekend before making a decision whether to endorse one of them.