Doug Linkhart: 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 wild and wide open. To introduce you to the players, we're offering profiles of official candidates. Next up: Doug Linkhart.

"I want to be a grassroots candidate, as opposed to someone who just raises money and buys commercials," Doug Linkhart says.

Linkhart is hardly a newcomer to electoral politics. He served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1994-1995 and the state senate from 1995 until 2003, at which point he was elected as one of Denver City Council's two at-large reps. His résumé includes work on the council's safety and economic development committees -- but he also notes that "fourteen years before I went into public office, I was a business economist, working with venture capitalists and international banks to help them look at different cities around the country to decide where was the best place to make long-term investments."

He adds that "I've lived here since 1980. I love the city, and I know the city, because I've served the whole city as a councilman for eight years. I feel like I've got the background and the citywide connections and the ideas to bring people together and help create economic prosperity for the city. And once you do that, a lot of other problems get solved."

While mayoral candidate James Mejia is focusing a lot of his attention on the city budget, which he sees as a major area of concern, Linkhart is more optimistic. "At the city, I think we have enough money to do what we need to do," he says. "We just need to move the money around to be more effective. If we spend more effectively, we can accomplish all the goals we're after, and I'm after, when it comes to improving services for the city."

An example? "When we built the Justice Center, we set aside $3 million a year to fund alternatives in prevention -- and by spending that money, we saved jail beds. In a couple of years, we spent $2.3 million and saved 227 jail beds per day. That's the size of an entire jail building. So, essentially, by spending money up-front, we saved the city money long-term -- and now, those people are able to be out with their families, working in the community."

He'd like Denver police "to work more at the community level, too -- to develop trust system-wide." That's important in his view, given several high-profile cases in which DPD officers appeared to use excessive force yet managed to hang onto their jobs. For his part, Linkhart believes any officer who's found to have lied in reports about such incidents should be fired, pure and simple. "I believe 99 percent of the officers on the force do the right thing each time," he adds. "But for us as citizens to have trust in the police department, there have to be consequences when there is inappropriate behavior.

"We have to have the courage to use the discipline system we have now, and I'm hoping our new manager of safety will show that courage to discipline officers when there are problems. I also believe the discipline system itself needs a few tweaks. But most important is to put in place more of a community policing model."

On the fiscal front, Linkhart feels "we need to be investing more in entrepreneurship and job-training programs for people, so we can help them thrive in the global economy we have now." He cites a Littleton program called Economic Gardening "that's been copied around the world. They've worked with entrepreneurs and small business locally to help them grow, and in doing so, they've doubled the number of jobs in the city and tripled their sales tax revenue in twenty years -- and during that time, their population only went up by 23 percent, so those increases weren't just from growth. By really focusing on local entrepreneurs and helping small businesses to expanding -- counseling them, giving them all kinds of assistance -- we can really make progress.

"We do a little of that. We opened up an Economic Prosperity Center in the Five Points-Curtis Park area a couple of months ago -- a one-stop location for getting everything you need to know about making and managing money in Denver, starting a business, getting a job, getting a better job, getting help with taxes, financial education workshops. But we need more of those centers, and we need to make that information available on the Internet as well, so we can help people live better in Denver."

Considering the current state of the economy, are ambitious plans like these within reach?

"You need to have a realistic vision," Linkhart allows. "It shouldn't be pie in the sky. But I do think Denver is in reach of being the greenest city in the country, and we can be a place where local entrepreneurs and businesses thrive -- and that doesn't take more tax money. What it takes is aiming the money we spend a little differently. We spend $29 million a year on Xcel energy bills. We could save a lot of that money by investing in energy conservation -- and that's just in city buildings.

"Investing up-front doesn't necessarily take bond issues. I'm not talking about going out and borrowing money. There are ways to do things with public-private partnerships, with getting citizens involved. The community needs to be more engaged. And I don't think we use volunteers like we could."

To illustrate this view, Linkhart shares an anecdote.

"There was a homeless person lying in the park across from my house," he recalls. "One of the neighbors called 9-1-1, and we had a fire truck, a police car and a paramedic all show up, wake this person up, and move him along. That's clearly overkill -- and the kind of issue we could deal with at the neighborhood level. If someone is uncomfortable nudging this person, I'll come out and nudge this person.

"We need to get back to the barn-raising tradition, where we don't expect government to do everything for us -- because government often uses the wrong tools. Remember the Paul Childs shooting?," he asks, referring to the police killing of a mentally disabled fifteen-year old waving a knife back in 2003. "That family had called the city over sixty times about difficulties with their son, and we sent the police each time. If we'd sent a mental health worker, we might have been able to resolve the situation and help the family move on -- and help Paul Childs live. We can blame the police for what happened at the end, but we have to blame ourselves for sending the wrong tool to deal with that situation. If you put money in mental health, you keep people out of jail. You keep them from committing crimes and help them get jobs. One of the silver bullets we have is mental health services, and they save money later."

A personal reason for his mayoral run? "I have three teenagers," he says. "They were all born here, they all grew up here, and they all want to live here -- and I'm scared to death they're not going to have good job opportunities or a good quality of life. So I'm going to do everything I can to create better opportunities for them, and for the other 150,000 kids we have in this city."

Look below to see a video of Linkhart's campaign announcement:

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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