Dwight Henson: A Denver mayor's race profile

With John Hickenlooper having taken office as Colorado's governor, we know Denver will have a new mayor this year, and the race is wide open. To introduce you to the players, we're offering profiles of official candidates. Next up: Dwight Henson.

"A lot of people say, 'Don't judge me unless you've walked a mile in my shoes,'" Dwight Henson notes. "Well, I've done that."

Henson's initial run for Denver mayor took place in 2003, when the former ranch worker was homeless. (He also made a bid to become mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan "about twenty years ago.") He has since become a homeless advocate, with access to people in power. He laughingly maintains that "I've probably been in John Hickenlooper's office more than his wife."

His recommendations didn't always strike a chord with Hickenlooper during those visits.

"We shook hands in public, but behind closed doors, we fought like cats and dogs," Henson says.

This time around, Henson ranks "economy and jobs" as the top issues, and he's got an idea how to deal with both.

"I want to bring casinos into town," he says. "I believe that will trickle down to other businesses, like restaurants, hotels, retail spaces and all that stuff. I get tired of watching the buses come down here from Black Hawk, load up with people and then go up there so they can spend their money. They wouldn't have to get on buses to gamble if they could spend their money right here in Denver."

In addition, Henson would like to "eliminate or reduce residential property taxes. They're way too high." As for the potential loss in revenue if such a move was made, he believes "gambling's going to cover that." Indeed, he thinks revenues would be so sizable "that we could restore some of the services that have been cut." But if forced to eliminate expenditures, he suggests "taking the flowers out of the parks and putting that money toward something else that's more pressing."

Regarding the rash of excessive-force complaints directed at the Denver Police Department, including cases involving Michael DeHerrera, Alexander Landau and Nick Lynch, Henson believes there's a lot of blame to go around.

"If they had speakers on those cameras, we'd know what was said," he allows. "People talk about freedom of speech, but sometimes they can abuse that situation. And I can't make any comments until I actually know what was said. You've heard the saying, 'Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you'? That's not true. That's like a verbal assault. I have some friends in the police department, but I'm sure there are a few bad apples. So I say go forward, and if anything comes up, we'll investigate it then."

Given his background, it's only natural that homelessness would be an important issue for him as well. But he's not one to throw money at the problem.

"The ten-year plan to end homelessness is a little bit flawed," he allows. "I had a hand in writing it, but there were a few things I didn't have a hand in writing, and they're not putting their foot down with people coming to town. Ever since the plan was announced, everybody wants to come to Denver, because they're looking for free housing. Denver's the number-one stop for homeless people, because we're so liberal. But I don't think we need a kid-glove approach to homelessness. We need more of a hard-handler approach."

Indeed, Hanson likes a plan employed by Philadelphia, which he describes as "getting old buildings, fixing them up and making apartments out of them, and then going to homeless people and saying, 'We've got a place for you to live' -- but if they don't take the apartments, they have to leave Philadelphia or go to jail. It's called forced housing, and don't see anything wrong with it if we get people off the streets."

In regard to his chances of success in the mayor's race, he acknowledges the presence of candidates with many more resources than he has at his disposal. For instance, he had no campaign website. So Henson hopes one-on-one communication with voters will help him stand out. To that end, he asks that we publish his phone number -- 303-764-2218 -- and encourage people to reach out to him.

"A lot of these other guys, they have staffers you have to go through to get to them," he says. "But if you've got a question for me, call and you'll get. Just ask me, and I'll answer the best I can. That's one way I'm different."

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," "Danny Lopez: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Chris Romer: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Carol Boigon: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Thomas Andrew Wolf: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Eric Zinn, mayoral hopeful, wants Denver to lose a million pounds," "Gerald Styron, Denver mayor candidate, once threatened to bring a gun to Westword," and "Paul Noel Fiorino: A Denver mayor's race profile."

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