Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday said that the city is “thriving,” has fully rebounded from the recession and won’t leave residents or neighborhoods behind as the economy continues to improve during his third State of the City Address.
“Over the past three years, we marched out of the recession,” Hancock told a crowd of more than 700 elected officials, city workers and members of the public at the Denver Art Museum. “We eliminated the budget deficit, fostered a diverse economy and restored much needed services. Neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, family by family, we are emerging as a city of opportunity for all people.”
Since he took office in 2011, Hancock said, Denver has added more than 27,000 jobs and 1,500 businesses and seen its unemployment rate nearly cut in half. For the first year since the recession hit, he said, the city has been able to avoid cuts and is restoring services, including stepping up park maintenance, adding library hours and hiring more police.
“We strive to be more, to thrive under any circumstance, and — together — we have created a prosperous city that the world recognizes as a community that gets it right,” Hancock said.
Officials on stage with Hancock included city council members, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, and Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson, who drew cheers when Hancock praised her move last week to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Denver officials, Hancock said, “stood shoulder to shoulder” with Johnson on civil unions. To thunderous applause he added, “We are proud to stand with you on marriage equality now.”
City Council President Mary Beth Susman, who emceed the speech, was all smiles as officials and others made their way across 14th Avenue to Civic Center Park, where food trucks and musicians awaited to extend the celebration.
“It is a great time to be in Denver,” she said. “This city is vibrant, alive, thriving — everybody loves it.”
Hancock said he wants voters in November to reauthorize and expand the Denver Preschool Program, which has one of the highest participation rates in the country with some 70 percent of Denver 4-year-olds enrolled.
Also in the city’s future, the mayor said, are plans to protect more than 700 acres of parks and restore some 200 acres of protected habitat adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, part of a drive toward preserving 650 acres of open space in partnership with Commerce City and Adams County.
The city is sinking $25 million into parks and natural areas along the South Platte River, he added. “Imagine fishing, playgrounds and kayaking, as well as better trails all the way from Overland Park to Globeville, Elyria and Swansea,” Hancock said.
Those were just a few of the many neighborhoods the mayor name-checked during the 30-minute speech, which included references to developments in every corner of the city.
“The fact is, for too long, this part of town has been overlooked, but not anymore,” Hancock said. “I am excited to announce that we are going to create a town center on Morrison Road to bring food from farm to table, to create jobs and income that will lift up the Westwood community. To kick things off, next month we will open Cuatro Vientos, or Four Winds, the neighborhood’s first new park in 30 years.”
Councilman Paul Lopez beamed with satisfaction after the speech and gave a thumbs-up to efforts under way on the west side.
“There’s a lot going on,” Lopez said with a wide grin. “It’s been seven years of good, old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease that’s led up to a lot of progress, and we’re not done yet. It’s important we stand in the gap as a city and make sure no neighborhood is left behind.”
The city, said At-large Councilwoman Robin Kniech, is “at a crossroads” over struggles to maintain diversity by not pricing itself out of the market for life-long residents.
“As the city gets more dense and attracts more people, livability will be what attracts more people,” she said after the speech. “His emphasis on those who might be left behind and what our responsibilities are — that is our biggest focus for the next couple of years.” The economy in general, she added, “is taking care of itself. It’s important for us to continue to tweak as we can, but really, looking out for those the economy isn’t going to take care of on its own, is our priority.”
In an initiative that Kniech called “music to my ears,” Hancock said his administration plans to release the Denver Housing Plan in coming months, which he pledged will “provide a comprehensive path forward for the city’s housing policies and resource allocations” over the next five years and is aimed at “keeping Denver affordable.” In addition, the city has exceeded last year’s goal of rehabbing 600 affordable housing units annually for the next five years, Hancock noted. He also urged the General Assembly to fix the construction defects law in order to reverse the “chilling effect” it has on the municipal condominium market.
Along with keeping housing affordable, Hancock said it was paramount to “provide stable housing and support services to the city’s most vulnerable,” noting that just 300 homeless residents — afflicted with mental illness and addictions — cost taxpayers $11 million last year with thousands of arrests, nights in jail, visits to detox and emergency room visits.
“What are we fixing?” he asked. “It is time to break the cycle from streets, to emergency rooms, to jails and back to the streets. I have committed to a new program that will allow the city to pay only for outcomes and to transition away from costly, ineffective remedial services to proven preventive programs.”
Hancock won election three years ago this month in a runoff against former state Sen. Chris Romer and is limited to three terms in office. So far, Hancock doesn’t have an announced opponent for next spring’s municipal election. (Two of Denver’s three previous elected mayors faced tough bids for second terms — businessman Don Bain gave Federico Peña a scare, and Mary DeGroot made Wellington Webb work for his second term, though John Hickenlooper sailed to reelection before stepping down to win the governorship — but a Denver mayor hasn’t been rejected by voters since 1983, when Peña ousted incumbent Bill McNichols.)
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said he was pleased that the two largest cities in the metro area are “finding ways to cooperate,” particularly on challenges involving transportation, homelessness and water.
“What’s clear to us is we need to help define for everybody the different ways you can work together and the different definitions and the opportunities, then let each jurisdiction decide how they want to do it on their own,” Hogan said, adding that talks are ongoing between the two cities regarding opportunities surrounding DIA and the surrounding land. “That’s not saying we’re ready to make a deal,” Hogan said with a smile, “but we’re moving forward.”
Sue Horn, the mayor of Bennett and the vice chair of the 41-member Metro Mayors Caucus, was buzzing after Hancock’s speech.
“Every time I come in, I get ideas, even for a little town like Bennett,” she said. Her town, she said, has “some opportunities coming up” with its recreation center. “I love the idea of giving the kids a pass,” she said, referring to the MY Denver Card, which allows city youth access to recreation centers and pools. (Hancock said children can apply online for the cards before long and will soon be able to use them for entrance to museums, the Denver Zoo and other cultural institutions.)