Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told a gathering of the region’s most powerful business leaders he intends to deliver a “better, faster and stronger” city in his first major speech, delivered on Aug. 17, just 30 days after he took office.
In a wide-ranging address before a crowd of 600 at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the City” luncheon in the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for Performing Arts, Hancock vowed to land a non-stop flight to Asia within a year and said he intends to push for Denver to host the Olympics before the decade is out. Hancock also said he joins with the business community in opposition to a city ballot measure that would require firms to offer paid sick leave to employees.
“We are going to deliver a world-class, 21st Century city that we can all be proud of,” Hancock said. “It will require tough, painful decisions, and we may not always agree, but I will always listen. You will always have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation.”
Long on vision, Hancock’s half-hour speech included repeated invitations to the business community to celebrate Denver’s triumphs — including next week’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge and next year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four — along with challenges to join with officials to solve transportation, education and fiscal problems.
“Next winter, my administration will facilitate an open, bold and transparent conversation with Denver residents about a comprehensive approach to restructuring the fiscal operations of the city, including decisions on libraries, parks and recreation, FasTracks, trash collection and other critical but valued services,” Hancock said. “It is simply time to have a family conversation.”
Hancock also renewed the pledge made by former Mayor John Hickenlooper — elected governor last year — to take on the problem of homelessness. Saying that his administration is working with the Downtown Denver Partnership and neighborhood groups, he noted, “We cannot arrest our way out of this. We are reenergizing our collaborative efforts with our non-profit partners to help provide services and increase safety.” He added that job training, mental health treatment and drug and alcohol rehabilitation will all be parts of the solution.
Reiterating his opposition to a municipal question that will appear on the November ballot, Hancock told business leaders he would work to defeat Initiative 300, which would require companies to offer paid sick leave to workers.
“I am going to stand with you to oppose the paid sick leave ballot measure,” Hancock said. “I understand and appreciate what the proponents are trying to do to help employees, but this measure at this time is the wrong approach.”
Minutes after his address, Hancock told The Colorado Statesman he thought the measure went too far compared with similar laws approved in other cities and would unfairly single out businesses in Denver. He added that he didn’t think this particular proposal would work statewide, either, but was especially concerned that the measure would strain businesses while the economy was still rocky.
Later that afternoon, Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door and other business owners opposed to Initiative 300 thanked Hancock for his public statement on the proposal. The problem, Door said, is that the Denver ballot measure is different from other sick-leave laws that have been adopted elsewhere.
“In other areas, exceptions were made so that small businesses are not unfairly burdened by the heavy costs of this proposal,” Door said in a statement. “This initiative missed the mark, targeting businesses of any size, and creating new costs for small businesses that are trying to recover from a recession. There is no question Initiative 300 would hurt job growth in Denver, so we appreciate Mayor Hancock’s support today.”
But Hancock’s remarks on the initiative were among the few that approached anything controversial. Mostly, he implored the business community to get behind his plans to jumpstart the local economy and make Denver a more attractive place for employers, including development of an “aerotropolis” in the area surrounding Denver International Airport. Hancock also mentioned efforts to develop a program called Denver Seeds, a plan to encourage local farming. (Hancock planned to launch a discussion on the urban farming proposal later this week, after press time.)
“We need to become a better partner with the private sector to retain, grow and attract companies in Denver,” he said. “We need to diversify our markets and create a more stable environment to grow jobs.”
Repeatedly, Hancock talked about the importance of community-wide involvement in fixing Denver’s public schools. “There is no more important action we can take as a city than to improve our education system,” he said, contending that the state of the city’s schools directly affects the economy, crime rate and “sustainability.”
“We need to become better partners with (Denver Public Schools), parents and other stakeholders to invest in our children,” he said. “There is nothing that the mayor touches that is not predicated on good schools and better education. Without a strong workforce, we will not be able to sustain a strong economy.”
He said he planned to name a co-chair from the private sector to serve along with himself and DPS Superintendant Tom Boasberg to formulate what he has termed the Denver Education Compact, a master plan to tackle persistent problems with public education in the city.
“You have helped to make our city what it is today,” Hancock told the crowd. “And together, we will we make this city better, faster and stronger for an even greater city for our children tomorrow.”
The luncheon also featured talks by Tameka Montgomery, executive director of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, on the role of small businesses; Christine Benero, president of the Mile High United Way, on the bustling non-profit sector; and by Bow Mar Mayor Rick Pilgrim, who used giant jars of jelly beans to demonstrate the importance of regional cooperation.
After his remarks, Hancock presented the Chamber’s fifth annual Monte Pascoe Civic Leadership Award to former Colorado First Lady Dottie Lamm. The award is named for the Denver attorney and civic leader who served on the Denver Water Board and headed the Colorado Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Roy Romer. Pascoe was instrumental in filing the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to desegregate Denver schools and later ran for mayor in 1983. His widow, Pat, children Sarah, Ted and William and grandson Max attended the event.