You could call him the adult in the room sometimes, but at the very least Jolon Clark is tasked to be the peacemaker on the Denver City Council.
When the city’s 13-member governing body seated five new members bent on change this year, they didn’t see a need for a change in leadership. Clark got a second term as council president. No one even ran against the tall, bald gent from south-central Denver.
He succeeded Albus Brooks at the helm. In June, Brooks was replaced by one of the best-known insurgents on the newly constituted council, Candi CdeBaca, a self-described democratic socialist who has a meteoric career ahead of her, unless she’s tripped up by unforced errors.
It helps that Clark gets along well with everyone, and that’s partly because of his first rule. “I try to listen first,” he said.
That’s rare in the lawmaking dogfights that later can decide elections to powerful seats that pay within spitting distance of six figures.
“In this line of work, sometimes when you walk in a room to talk to somebody about something you’re passionate about, they’ve already got their mind made up before they’ve had a chance to decide what the right answer is,” he said. “That’s not me.”
The ride has been bumpy since the insurgents began to surge on the newly constituted council. Clark told me he was invigorated to see new members eager to do stuff, and not wait on the sideline.
The field is wide-open. This full council meets 42 Monday nights a year, and its agenda can routinely sport 50 items, each an opportunity to govern from the left or right, right or wrong, by either side’s partisans. Council committees are Petri dishes for change and controversy.
The progressives have pulled away from Mayor Michael Hancock, a more moderate Democrat, to steamroll ahead on their wish list. The got their jobs, after all, from the city’s most liberal bloc, voters who made Denver Pot City USA, decriminalized magic mushrooms and passed tax hikes with abandon in recent years.
Clark is the politico whose cat — named Kit; I’m not making this up — is perhaps more internet famous, since he took the feline along to a committee meeting two years ago as a prop to help him testify got a ban on declawing cats. Kit, and Clark, won the day — again, unanimously.
He might at some point have to ask members to pull back their talons and fangs on the large governing body he’s been elected to lead. But he’s not there yet.
Every election creates a new governing body with new personalities and objections, as Clark characterized it.
A few weeks ago, the council moved to end contracts with two private prison companies that operate most of the city’s halfway house beds, only to walk it back with temporary deals while the council explores options.
The council felt the weight of unintended consequences, including possibly sending people back to state prison beds occupied by someone else.
But now the issue is being worked on, and that’s progress, Clark suggested.
“We forced the conversation to be different around halfway houses,” Clark said.
The council also ran afoul of the mayor when it moved to put a pollution tax on businesses to drive them toward conserving energy and shifting to renewable sources.
Clark supported the green tax proposal, along with CdeBaca, fellow newcomers Amanda Sawyer and Chris Hinds, plus council veterans Paul Kashmann and Stacie Gilmore.
Ultimately, Hancock and the council agreed to delay the tax plan in a compromise over committing more money and resources to climate programs.
“On the pollution tax we pushed, and forced the conversation,” Clark said, “but at the end of the day we were able to come together with the mayor with a proposal that gets us action now and a clear pathway forward.”
Clark was elected to the council in 2015, and then served as president pro tem (basically, vice president) in 2017, before taking the gavel last year.