Hickenlooper tuned out

Unauthorized version of anthem creates speech's only fireworks

By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In his fifth “State of the City” address on Tuesday, July 1, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ran off a laundry list of accomplishments and named 25 “practical, down-to-earth programs and enterprises” he hopes will come to fruition in the coming year.

There weren’t many surprises in the mayor’s remarks — especially compared with the completely unexpected rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that preceded them.

Jazz singer René Marie sent a murmur of confusion through the crowd as she substituted the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” for the familiar “O say, can you see” to the tune of the national anthem. “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” known by some as the “Black National Anthem,” garnered some shock, some mild applause and later some controversy when the event’s master of ceremonies, Denver City Council President Michael Hancock, received hate mail denouncing the substitution.

Hickenlooper, like nearly everyone but Marie, was taken by surprise.

“As I listened to her sing, I assumed she would eventually move into the traditional ‘Star Spangled Banner,’” Hickenlooper explained in a later statement, adding that he was “disappointed” that the matter has drawn attention away from his message.

Marie has expressed no regrets about her decision.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper’s overwhelmingly positive speech offered neither controversy, nor any of the ambitious, pie-in-the-sky goals that have been a feature of previous Hickenlooper “State of the City” speeches. Nor was there any mention of the Denver Host Committee’s $11 million fundraising shortfall for the rapidly approaching Democratic National Convention.

“I think it was more a day to list accomplishments and to celebrate them,” said District 2 Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, the lone GOP member on the 13-member Denver City Council.

Hickenlooper issued his strongest challenge regarding crime, following — most recently — a June 22 LoDo gunfight that killed one man and critically wounded another after both allegedly fired a shotgun at police early the previous Sunday morning.

“This community will not tolerate violence. We will not tolerate crimes against property. We will not tolerate criminal activity in any Denver neighborhood or community,” said Hickenlooper, noting that the city’s crime rate has fallen by 21 percent over the past two years. “We will continue the steady, determined progress to reduce crime and arrest and incarcerate those who steal opportunity from others by breaking the law.”

Hickenlooper said the Metro Denver Gang Coalition would embark on a “second year of an assertive, comprehensive and community-based strategy to reduce gang involvement and violence.” He noted that the Denver City Council’s number one priority is reducing graffiti crime.

He also touted the city’s use of DNA technology to solve cold cases and boost successful prosecution of such property crimes as serial burglaries, stating Denver “leads the nation” in the use of such scientific developments.

Hickenlooper also discussed the guidelines for using the $550 million in bond revenue resulting from a capital-improvement measure approved by voters last November.

“Much of this investment is in mobility and cultural infrastructure,” he said. “Our goal is to build the Better Denver projects in the most efficient manner possible — delivering the more than 200 projects in five years.”

Hickenlooper wore an open collar shirt with no tie or jacket during the speech, and joked about the mugginess pervading the lobby of the Wellington Webb building. As men and women in suits surrounded him and city employees watched from walkways above him, Hickenlooper joked that even though he supports green initiatives, the building could have used a little more air conditioning on a hot July morning.

Hickenlooper then spoke about city efforts to conserve energy through the Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by implementing new “green” standards for construction, lighting and recycling. Hickenlooper also touted business-city partnerships through Denver’s “environmentally friendly initiatives.”

“Sustainability has come to mean the strategies that promote economic development while also protecting our environment and improving our quality of life,” he said. “Some would suggest that these goals are in conflict. In truth, they are inseparable, providing in combination perhaps the single greatest opportunity for economic prosperity in our city’s history.”

Hickenlooper briefly mentioned one of the city’s biggest upcoming projects — the remodeling of Union Station, which has been redesigned as “one of the finest, most vibrant multiuse transit hubs in America.”

The method of final financing for the project is still undetermined, however, and Faatz said she was concerned that taxpayers would eventually foot the bill.

“I want to be sure we live within our means and make sure we don’t plan initiatives that put us further in debt,” said the City Council’s token member of the GOP.

Implementation may have to sit for a while, however. The City Council lists its top five priorities for the year, from first to fifth, as graffiti removal and prevention; neighborhood maintenance and enhancement; economic development; bike, pedestrian and transit connectivity; and attracting and retaining families and children.

As for the Democratic National Convention — only eight weeks away — there was nothing but optimism from Hickenlooper, who deemed it the “most important gathering” in Denver history. And Hickenlooper saw parallels in the difficult economic times during Denver’s first Democratic National Convention in 1908 and those created by today’s mortgage crisis and high gasoline prices.

“Then, as now, national leaders saw value and inspiration in Denver’s accomplishments,” Hickenlooper said. “Isolated by geography and topography, sound planning and self-sufficiency were the only options. Only through the sheer determination, creativity and the collective will of its founders did the Mile High City survive and thrive.”