James Mejia becomes first to jump in the pool for mayoral race

Before James Mejia even announced he was running, "James Mejia for Mayor" was a Facebook page with a thousand fans (and no personal affiliation with Mejia).

This morning, Mejia filed his formal candidacy for mayor of Denver, making him the first official candidate in the race, close to a year out from the election, which takes place in May 2011.

"I was asked this morning whether it was premature getting in the race," Mejia says. "I don't think so. I think it's high time we start talking about where we are as a city. We are the first ones out of the gate--and that's the kind of campaign I want to run. As a long-distance runner, you know, I want to apply the same principles: to get out there early and set the pace."

Mejia is currently the CEO of the Denver Preschool Program, which provides tuition credits for parents sending their kids to preschools in the program's network, which has increased its enrollment from 66 to about 5,700 since he took over in late 2007. Other entries on Mejia's extensive resume include project manager for the Denver Justice Center, manager of Parks and Recreation under Wellington Webb and four years on the board of education.

Aside from his professional background in education, Mejia has a family background in it as well: The ninth of a whopping thirteen kids, Mejia grew up with a father who was a Denver Public Schools teacher and a mother who ran a daycare out of the house. Education was strongly emphasized. "I have found that my experience is one that is not common," he says. "Graduating from Notre Dame four years after high school is not common, and there's no reason it shouldn't be."

That said, Mejia anticipates education reform being a hallmark of his campaign. "The model we're working with right now is not sustainable," he says. "We can't go on with a model where kids have a 50-50 chance of graduating from high school.

"When you come from a family with humble roots like mine, education can make all the difference. It can be the difference between owning a home and not owning a home. It can be the difference between being incarcerated and not being incarcerated."

As for what those reforms might be, Mejia says he wants to keep the discussion general for the time being, explaining that his campaign will define his platform over the next six months or so. "I will say that the mayor needs to have much tighter links to the K-12 system, both public and private," he adds. "We should also be looking at higher education, like the institutions on the Auraria Campus. How those institutions are serving kids is absolutely the business of the mayor."

In addition to education reform, alternative transportation will be a big issue for Mejia's campaign. "You need to have a highly efficient rail system for a successful metropolitan area," he notes.

But with FasTracks notoriously behind schedule and over-budget, it's going to be a huge problem to fix. To that end, cites the mixture of public and private investment on the DIA line. "I think the same thing should be done with other tracks," he says. "I don't think any tracks should be dropped."

Of course, the biggest question in this race is John Hickenlooper, who's running for governor. Mejia told the Denver Post last year he wouldn't run against Hick--so what happens if he loses his gubernatorial bid? "If he doesn't win, I think everyone reevaluates," Mejia says.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte