Chris Romer: A Denver mayor's race profile

With John Hickenlooper having been elected Colorado's governor, we know Denver will have a new mayor next year, and the race promises to be wide open. To introduce you to the players, we're offering profiles of official candidates. Next up: Chris Romer.

"I'm going to win this race the old-fashioned way," says Chris Romer. "I'm going to earn it."

Romer is the son of former Colorado governor Roy Romer -- a fact not mentioned in the biography featured on his campaign website. Instead, the overview spotlights his time as an East High student, his job managing budgets at Denver International Airport during its construction phase, his founding of the state's I Have a Dream Foundation, his stint as president of KIPP Schools, his time as state senator, and his family: wife Laurie and daughters Rachel, Paige and Grace.

What was the process that led to his candidacy?

"I've been thinking about this very hard for nine months, and I made the final decision at Thanksgiving," he says. "I love this city and decided my city really needs help getting back to work. We need a platform of financial security.

"The issues facing Denver are deeper than unemployment," he continues. "People are worried about losing their job, losing their health care, how to pay for college education, how to retire. The mayor has to provide financial security for the community, put people back to work and effectively plan for our future."

In Romer's view, these goals can only be achieved if government and business combine forces.

"I've spent 25 years working on city budgets and the financing of roads, airports and hospitals," he notes. "I've worked with mayors and city councils throughout the West about how to put people to work through public-private partnerships. And when the public sector works as a partner with the private sector, we can truly put people back to work, and that's my expertise."

He thinks city staffers can aid in this process.

"The first step is to make sure all the department heads and sub-department heads think out of the box about what they can do to put people back to work -- accelerating planning permits and establishing clear rules under which people can hire new employees," he says. "Then, after we get through that exercise, we need to look at ways we can accelerate the construction process for projects like Union Station, heavy rail to DIA and FasTracks."

As a senator, Romer has put a heavy emphasis on transportation issues, including his promotion of so-called "zipper lanes" to improve traffic flow on Interstate 70. He expects to do likewise as Denver's mayor.

"Mobility is critical to an economy," he maintains. "How we move is how we live. And mobility from the airport to the mountains is critical to our tourism economy. Many of the jobs in Denver are based on tourism, and the next mayor of Denver must let people know we can't let I-70 go to gridlock. Governor-elect Hickenlooper will be in charge of that conversation, but I'll be adding my voice that it matters -- that we need to fix I-70, because we need those tourism jobs in Denver."

He adds, "We are going to do zipper lanes. Working with the mountain communities, we'll get those done. For the first time in decades, we'll have a new solution to the problems with I-70, and I'm pleased to play a small role to bring that to our community."

What to do about the Denver Police Department, which has been hit with numerous high-profile excessive force complaints?

"It will be a top issue for the next mayor," Romer says. "We need to restore trust on both sides. Effective policing is a partnership between the public and the police department, and we need to have a thoughtful conversation about how to move forward on the path we were on. We can't let isolated incidents slow down the real partnership that allows us to effectively provide safe cities and safe streets."

Would he consider replacing some of the top cops?

"Absolutely," he responds. "There will be changes in personnel. I'm not going to be specific at this point in time, but we will have changes in personnel throughout my administration."

Denver is also home to a large and growing medical marijuana business -- and as arguably the highest-profile legislator behind measures to regulate the MMJ industry and clarify the relationship between doctors and patients, Romer remains a controversial figure among some advocates. But he's proud of the accomplishment.

"The key provision of the law we wrote last year is local control," he believes. "Each community in Colorado is finding their balance on medical marijuana, and as the law is completely implemented by July of 2011, Denver will have its opportunity to choose the appropriate balance, too. And I intend to have a voice for a common-sense approach to finding that balance."

In the meantime, he feels that "the most important issue to my grandchildren, and to the children who will inherit the city, is that we have a world-class education system that can compete for the best jobs anywhere in the world. For 22 years, I've worked on education reform -- and we need to define ourselves as the city that has the best-educated work force in the nation. We're currently ranked third on that metric, but unfortunately, we're ranked 48th in the nation for getting our low-income students into college. And as mayor of Denver, I will fight to change that paradox. We must make sure our children are capable of world-class educational attainment, and as mayor, I'll fight for education reform and more money for all of our schools -- and for affordable college degrees."

The mayor's contest is already crowded, and more hopefuls could announce in the near-future. So how will he stand out from the pack?

"This race will be won door-to-door, handshake by handshake, community meeting by community meeting, neighborhood by neighborhood," he says. "And I think the big field is healthy for Denver. It increases the richness of the dialogue, and I welcome everybody in this race.

"The road ahead for Denver is steep, and we're in a rough patch," he goes on. "But together with hard work and honesty, I know we can move Denver forward. Denver is a unique city with optimistic, energetic, independent people. And together, we can take Denver to an extraordinary place."

Look below to see Chris Romer's campaign-announcement video:

More from our Politics archive: "James Mejia: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Doug Linkhart: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Forrester: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Hancock: A Denver mayor's race profile," and "Danny Lopez: A Denver mayor's race profile."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts