Michael Hancock: 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: Michael Hancock.

"It's not about control," says Michael Hancock. "It's about collaboration. It's about partnerships."

Hancock says his background as former president of the Denver's Urban League and current District 11 city councilman with two terms as council president behind him helped inspire his mayoral run.

"Serving on the council for seven-and-a-half years, and my past work with mayors Peña and Hickenlooper, has given me firsthand experience about how the city is run, and good insight into decisions the mayor is asked to make every day," he says.

He came to his conclusion after "getting out into the community, conducting house chats, business round tables, listening to people who live in the city as to what the priorities ought to be -- and, of course, spending some time with my family, my wife and three children. And when my wife said, 'I want you to do this, I support you,' and I was comfortable with the game plan for moving forward, I made the decision: 'I have the fire. I want to do this.'"

Job one for Denver's mayor in his view is "growing jobs, without question. Everything we do will be about the sustainability of jobs in this city. Nothing's more important or creates a bigger systemic impact than making sure people who live in the city have an opportunity to support their families. So we're going to make sure jobs are growing in the city by focusing on small business expansion, but also by being a facilitator -- bringing together the venture capital community and other stakeholders and figuring out the best way to grow the economic ecosystem. Cities that have figured out how to grow their own businesses often find those businesses becoming Fortune 500 companies, and we need to make sure that's happening in Denver.

"The city doesn't have to be the only player and be all things to all people in this," he continues. "The mayor has a lot of influence -- and if the mayor asks venture capitalists and entrepreneurs and others to show up and start something, they're going to show up. And if we're really focused, if we say, 'This is our mission, and we're going to stick to it,' we can really make a difference."

Another priority for Hancock is dealing with the controversy stirred by recent excessive-force complaints against the Denver Police Department -- and he argues in favor of a clean-slate approach.

"Nothing is more important than the covenant of trust between the public and its police department, which is charged with serving and protecting us," he maintains. "And if we have a breach in that covenant, we tend to have chaos. So I believe the next step is to bring about change through a change of leadership in the police department. I think the police administration has to be seriously evaluated and new energy, new vision and maybe some new eyes and new thoughts need to be brought forward.

"I also think expectations from the mayor down need to be made very clear now only about the police, but also about how the public should respond to the police, and vice-versa. We need to hold everyone accountable. The discipline matrix everyone talks about was developed in partnership with the community and the police department, and we need to hold true to the matrix and implement it with the care the people asked us to. I think if we can do this, I think we can begin to turn this around and repair this breach of trust."

Hancock stresses that he has no interest in making Denver's current police chief, Gerald Whitman, a scapegoat for every negative police incident in recent years.

"We're talking about the entire administration, because they're appointees of the chief," he says. "I believe there needs to be a change in vision -- and under my administration, my plan will be that every officer understands exactly what's expected of them, and that we can hopefully unleash some of their creative talent to come up with ways to serve and protect the public better. I want to bring a leadership team together that can empower officers to be a part of creating the best police department in the country."

How would he tackle the challenges of the city budget?

"For two years in a row now, I've called for a fiscal sustainability commission that would allow policy makers, select members of the public and budgetary public-finance experts to really take a look at the budget and find areas of redundancy, areas for management efficiencies that will help the city save money. But we also need to stop moving the chips around to cover the budget for another twelve months -- and we need to be honest with ourselves and the public.

"The economic landscape has changed. We've just gone through the worst recession in generations, and we have to adjust, we have to change the way we do business. If we don't do that, we're going to keep playing the same game. We have to take a practical approach to making this work, and we have to do it substantively instead of just throwing darts at it."

Big changes won't be easy, as he acknowledges.

"What typically happens is, if there's the slightest push-back from the public, the idea gets dropped. So you have to take a thoughtful approach and get the public engaged in helping us figure things out. If we do that, it shortens the sell-time. And we've proven in Denver that when it's time to sit down and establish priorities, we'll do that."

As mayor, Hancock would also find ways to expand lessons learned in his district to the city as a whole. "We can drive economic growth by collaboration across district boundaries," he stresses. "You can see that with the Anschutz campus and Stapleton and DIA, which should be a focus for economic development going forward for this entire region over the next 25 or thirty years. And you can see that with FasTracks. Not doing FasTracks isn't an option, in my opinion. We have to do it -- and we have to make education a priority. Whether you're a superintendent or a member of a school board of a city council member or the mayor, there should be nothing that gets in the way of our efforts to bring quality schools to every neighborhood in this city."

Of course, the mayor doesn't have direct control over many of these matters -- but when the person in this position speaks, Hancock believes, people will listen.

"If you think about things like FasTracks, we wouldn't have had that if the mayor hadn't said, 'I'm going to use my bully pulpit.' And that's something I intend to do. It's about using the influence of the office so we can make a positive impact in this city."

Look below to see a video of Hancock's mayoral-run announcement:

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