Race for the Cure

In the special election for a new District 8 City Councilman, the field is wide open -- just like all those empty lots.

The federal Hope 6 grant totals $25.7 million, but officials hope that the money will be able to leverage $84 million, adding in tax credits and private development funds. So far, though, no tax credits have been sold, no developer has been chosen, and there are no final plans for the new project.

DHA executive director Sal Carpio says the project may look pie-in-the-sky but that ground should start breaking next summer. While he promises that anyone who lived in the neighborhood before will be able to do so again, drab co-ops such as Williams's look to be a strong deterrent to bringing middle-class families into the area.

Candidate Zel Head sees two economies operating in Denver: One is prosperous, and the other is more like a Third World economy, where residents are financially depressed but "don't have the chance to bootstrap themselves up."

Elbra Wedgeworth has acknowledged Mayor Webb's support for her candidacy.
Brett Amole
Elbra Wedgeworth has acknowledged Mayor Webb's support for her candidacy.

Like all of the candidates, Head talks about affordable housing, adding that "I'm the only one with real and practical experience as a developer. I build affordable housing." He says he supports tools like tax credits and fixed empowerment zones; he also supports partnerships between public and private enterprises to "encourage an infusion of capital into purportedly depressed areas." He supports the Hope 6 redevelopment -- which is one such partnership -- as long, he says, as the City of Denver commits resources to the project without trying to micromanage it. "I think they're commendable projects."

"We have to make sure developers are really committed to building affordable housing, because I'm not sure they are," adds Wedgeworth. "I support Hope 6, but I want to make sure those poor people aren't pushed out of that project."

Candidate McGee believes Hope 6 "will be a beautiful community when they get done. We will have moneys out there; people will be coming in, and they won't be leaving. I think that development will work with the community."

But the redevelopment symbolizes one of the concerns many in the neighborhood have: Poor people will be pushed out, rich people will be lured in. Gentrification brings the promise of new and improved services to many neighborhoods -- and the threat of pricing out longtime residents who will never have the chance to enjoy them. "By the time poor people realize they're losing their neighborhoods, they're gone," says Jeff X.

Belinda Watkins works as a youth coordinator at the Curtis Park Community Center. Single and well-educated, she gave up the corporate world for a nonprofit job helping kids. Now she can't afford a home in the neighborhood where she works. "The reason I live in Aurora is I can't afford to live in Denver."

Watkins says there are black professionals who can afford to get into the neighborhood but choose not to, and she worries that the window of opportunity will close quickly as housing prices soar. She makes a comparison between Curtis Park and Washington, D.C.'s elegant Georgetown neighborhood: Back in the Forties and Fifties, she says, Georgetown was mostly black; now it is an exclusive and largely white enclave. Watkins wonders if someday the same will be said of Curtis Park. "This where we used to live," she says. "This is prime land. Watch in five years -- we're gonna want to get back in here."

If Jerry Duran is unable to capitalize on the new demographics, John Bailey is one of three black candidates most likely to prevail. He grew up in Virginia and New Jersey, spent several years playing for the Indiana Pacers and the Virginia Squires in the now-defunct American Basketball Association, and then came to Colorado. Bailey has done community work with kids for years, most notably staging annual basketball tournaments. In the early Nineties he left Colorado and went to Trenton, New Jersey, to run the Weed and Seed program, the prototype of the federal program designed to beef up community policing and expand community services in troubled neighborhoods. In 1994 he started the nonprofit 100 Black Men of Denver, a mentoring organization, and from 1995 to 1997 served as a consultant to the organization. Now he owns a consulting firm that specializes in outreach to corporations.

Bailey, who is fifty, ran for an at-large seat on the city council last spring but was soundly defeated by incumbents Susan Barnes-Gelt and Cathy Reynolds. However, the exposure of that race will help him now. More than the other candidates, Bailey conducts himself with the smooth manner of one who thinks the race is already won. "I'm not that arrogant," he says, "but am I self-assured? Yes. I want these folks to feel me."

Bailey has the support of old-time politicians from northeast Denver like Caldwell and Groff, state senator Gloria Tanner and current state representative Penfield Tate. He'll need it, because one of his opponents, Elbra Wedgeworth, has the support of the mayor.

"I've always been supportive of the mayor," Wedgeworth says. "We have similar goals." Early in the race, she sounded uncomfortable being pegged as the mayor's candidate, pointing out that Webb had not endorsed her and saying that the race was about "me representing the district, not me being the mayor's person in the district. I feel I've paid my dues the last ten years." At last week's candidates' forum, though, she announced with enthusiasm that Webb was behind her and said afterward that the mayor "believes in my leadership."

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