Denver voters make a decision next week important to all of Colorado, choosing the winner of a Tuesday runoff between Mayor Michael Hancock and challenger Jamie Giellis.
If voters want to jeopardize Colorado’s image, stifle progress and move their city backward, they will choose Giellis. If they want to continue Denver’s trajectory as a nationwide leader in economic and cultural success, they will reelect Hancock.
With almost no qualifications for the job, Giellis seeks to oversee 14,600 employees and a $2.5 billion budget. The former president of the RiNo Art District, of the River North neighborhood, she has never served on the City Council or as leader of anything similar to Denver’s massive government.
Aside from the practical concerns regarding her lack of credentials, Giellis would bring a record of ethnic and racial insensitivity into the executive office of an increasingly diverse city.
Giellis displayed her ignorance of a major civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, when she could not explain the acronym “NAACP” on a Denver online talk show.
Not long after that blunder, Giellis promoted a campaign fundraiser. The location was a Mexican restaurant, so she billed it as a gathering of “tacos and lowriders.” The leader of an upscale gentrification movement, Giellis apparently lacks knowledge that only bigots use the words “tacos” and “lowriders” in reference to Hispanic culture.
Then emerged an old tweet in which Giellis insulted the Asian community, asking “Why do so many cities feel it necessary to have a ‘Chinatown?’ ”
More than 30 leaders of Colorado’s Asian American communities issued a public statement of “grave concerns” about the Giellis tweet. It explained the comment was “particularly disturbing in light of the tragic event that happened 149 years ago in the core of our downtown and the racial divisiveness unfolding in our country today.” The “tragic event” refers to a deadly white mob that destroyed Denver’s former Chinatown on Wazee Street.
One can only imagine the routine gaffes and cringe-worthy statements Giellis would make as mayor of a major city, providing regular content for late-night comedians making fun of the rubes in Colorado.
It would not bother Giellis much, as she concedes having little concern for Denver’s image.
“There is no perception problem,” Giellis declared during a recent 9 News debate when discussing the city’s growing image as the capital of recreational drug use. “We have to worry about the welfare of our community before we worry about the image.”
Said like a true amateur who does not understand the need to protect Denver’s reputation as a city suitable for tourists, conventions and expos from around the world.
“An assessment by Visit Denver late last year concluded that safety concerns — and perceptions of safety problems — on the mall cost the city convention business,” says a 2016 Colorado Public Radio report. “Complaints include panhandling and marijuana smoke. And videos have surfaced recently showing assaults and other violence.”
Hancock gets it and wants to protect the city from becoming a cautionary tale. He knows this month’s decriminalization of hallucinogenic mushrooms increases the challenge. Hancock traveled to Amsterdam and met with the mayor of the city known best for recreational drugs.
The Amsterdam mayor told him to “fight like hell to protect the image of your city,” Hancock said. “You can implement these laws, but if you become known as the drug or marijuana or mushroom capital of the world, that’s an image that you’ll never get back in terms of who Denver really is. My role as mayor has always been that we protect the Denver that we know and love.”
Under the direction of Giellis, we could expect people living in tents, boxes and sleeping bags to define the 16th Street Mall, city parks and rights of way. Her far-out-of-the-mainstream platform includes opposition to the city’s camping ban. Eighty-three percent of voters this month trounced a proposal to overturn that law, marginalizing Giellis to the point she recently tried to fib about her position on the issue.
“We find nothing compassionate about encouraging people to sleep outside,” Hancock said during the 9 News debate. “It is unhealthy, it is unsafe, it is unsanitary. It is our goal to move people forward.”
Although Colorado Springs will outgrow Denver proper’s population within 15 years, the Mile High City will long remain the cultural and economic hub of the region. What is good for Denver is good for Colorado, and vice versa.
One city’s voters Tuesday will make a decision critical to Colorado’s future. They can continue an unprecedented cultural and economic renaissance under Hancock’s direction, or they can elect a racially insensitive radical with an obvious lack of preparation for the job. We hope they choose continued success, by reelecting Hancock.