Sen. Romer launches Denver mayoral bid

Sets senate district vacancy in motion

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

State Sen. Chris Romer announced Tuesday he is joining a crowded field hoping to be Denver’s next mayor. The Democrat also said he will resign from the Legislature at the end of the year, creating a vacancy party officials plan to fill in coming weeks.

Surrounded by business owners and community leaders, Romer, 51, stressed his background forging public-private partnerships and said he’s got the experience to put Denver on sound economic footing.

“Part of what I believe is, when you get the ball moving again, when you get the economy moving again, how we define the road ahead is giving not only individuals but companies a sense of financial security and planning, both from government and from all sectors of our society so they can put people back to work,” he said after listening to a half dozen business owners describe how they’ve dealt with the recent recession.

Romer said his three priorities as mayor will be to put people back to work, balance the city’s budget — facing a shortfall that could be as high as $100 million next year — and “form public-private partnerships to create a world-class workforce.”

Romer announced his bid in a cramped conference room at a downtown Denver mortgage rating firm after conducting what his campaign said was the first of many planned business roundtable discussions. The candidate chose to launch his campaign at AllonHill, with the endorsement of its owner, Sue Allon, because a successful partnership with a local community college enabled the company to train prospective employees for an expansion instead of having to leave the state.

State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, says his 25 years of business and public-private partnership experience qualify him to be Denver’s next mayor at his campaign announcement Nov. 30 at a downtown business.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Sen. Chris Romer says his three priorities as Denver mayor will be to put people back to work, balance the city’s budget, and "form public-private partnerships to create a world-class workforce.”

Asked why he can do more for the community as mayor than as a state lawmaker, Romer replied, “Being in the state Senate, I represent 20 percent of the city. Being mayor, I’ll represent the entire city. The workforce issues that we’ve heard today, and the ability to partner with the private sector — which is what I specialize in, spent some 25 years putting together public-private partnerships — that’s really something that an executive or a mayor does, more than a legislator. That’s really what I’ve done and I’m really excited to do it.”

While he repeated several times his intention to be “brutally honest” about the city’s ongoing budget difficulties and noting that “we’re going to have to make some cuts,” Romer declined to talk specifics about possible budget fixes.

“This is not the day for that conversation,” he said. “But we’re going to be brutally honest about it.” He suggested that discussion will take place in a “March-April timeframe,” after current city officials have finished preliminary work on next year’s budget.

Noting that he is “disappointed with the amount of money we’re having to pay out in settlements” over brutality charges leveled against Denver police, Romer said that difficulties with “morale and the partnership between police and the public is something we’re clearly going to focus on.”

A pair of dedicated medical marijuana advocates staked out entrances to the office building where Romer made his announcement to protest the lawmaker, who spent much of the last legislative session forging sweeping changes to the state’s laws governing access to the drug. Asked whether he had anything to say to the protesters, Romer demurred with a chuckle.

“Not today,” he said. “But, as you know, I’m always up for a challenge, and I’ve been willing to take on some tough challenges, and I’m not afraid to make the tough decisions. That’s what I did in the Legislature, and that’s what I’ll do as mayor.”

In addition to his own four-year term in the Legislature — and decades of work with nonprofits and education initiatives — Romer brings one of the most celebrate names in Colorado politics into the mayoral race. The candidate’s father is former three-term Gov. Roy Romer, who also served as state treasurer and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The elder Romer’s political career began in the 1950s and included an eight-year stint in the Legislature and a failed run for the U.S. Senate.

It will be the first municipal election in eight years without an incumbent mayor. Democrat John Hickenlooper was elected governor last month and has said he plans to stay on as mayor until his inauguration Jan. 11, avoiding the expense of a special election if he stepped down sooner. Manager of Public Works and Deputy Mayor Bill Vidal takes over until voters pick a winner, either on May 3 or in a run-off the following month if none of the candidates clears 50 percent of the vote. Denver’s 13 City Council seats are also up for election, including two at-large seats.

In addition to Romer, 11 candidates have filed paperwork with the city to run for mayor. The ballot, however, won’t be set until March after petitions can be circulated.

The field already includes James Mejia, who runs the Denver Preschool Program and headed city departments for Hickenlooper and Wellington Webb, Denver’s previous mayor. Two-term at-large councilman and longtime state lawmaker Doug Linkhart announced his candidacy the day after Hickenlooper was elected governor. Councilman Michael Hancock, who represents the northeast Denver 11th District, kicked off his campaign two weeks ago.

Also running are Michael Forrester, Dwight Henson, Kenneth R. Simpson, Paul Noel Fiorino, Theresa Spahn, Thomas Andrew Wolf, Eric Jon Zinn, and Danny D. Lopez, a city employee who lost to Hickenlooper in 2007.

Other high-profile candidates are eyeing bids or preparing to launch campaigns. Two-term City Councilwoman Carol Boigon — elected along with Linkhart to one of Denver’s two at-large seats in 2003 — is almost certain to run and has said she plans to announce her intentions soon. Hotel developer Walter Isenberg is exploring a campaign and could announce plans after the first of the year. Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tamara Door and former Denver Fire Chief Rich Gonzales, currently head of the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration, are also weighing runs, according to Denver political operatives. Real estate developer Buzz Geller has said he’s considering whether to become a candidate.

Romer’s intention to run for mayor has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Denver this year. Five candidates, including a state representative and an official with the county Democratic Party, have been actively campaigning for the Senate District 32 vacancy since Romer easily won a second term a month ago with 66 percent of the vote.

Party officials said the roughly 150-member vacancy committee will meet in the next couple weeks, likely the week before Christmas. “I’d like to get someone in place sooner rather than later,” said Denver Democratic Party Chair Cindy Lowery. She said the challenge would be scheduling a meeting during the busy weeks surrounding the holiday during the period bracketed by state requirements for filling a legislative vacancy. After giving the required 10 days’ notice, the meeting can be held as many as 20 days before Romer’s Dec. 31 vacancy occurs and must be held within 30 days after that date or the governor is empowered with filling the seat.

Candidates pursuing the appointment include state Rep. Beth McCann, a Denver Democrat whose house district overlaps a narrow slice of Romer’s senate district at its northern corner; Owen Perkins, Denver Democratic Party secretary; physician and health care reform advocate Dr. Irene Aguilar; retired federal employee Jeffrey Hart; and environmental activist Matt Royster. The candidates have been attending local house district meetings and hosting meet-and-greets throughout the senate district. Lowery said the county party will likely schedule a debate for next week.

The odd-shaped Senate district is most densely populated in its northeastern leg, covering the Cheesman and Congress Park neighborhoods south of Colfax, south through Cherry Creek and East Washington Park, then veering to the west across the University of Denver, Platt Park and Ruby Hill. The district meanders to the southwest, encompassing Harvey Park, Bear Valley, Fort Logan and parts of Bow Mar, before darting farther west into a slice of Jefferson County near Southwest Plaza.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com