Penfield Tate: Why You Should Elect Me Mayor of Denver

Penfield Tate is a former state senator and city official.
Penfield Tate is a former state senator and city official. tatefordenver.com
This May, Denver will choose a mayor to lead the city for the next four years. But where do candidates stand on the issues? And how do they plan to earn your vote?

As part of our mayor's race coverage, we asked each of them. Below, find out what one of the hopefuls, former state senator and city official Penfield Tate, had to say.

Although election day, May 7, is still months away, an important deadline is looming. Candidates have until March 13 to submit a verified petition comprising at least 300 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

At this writing, ten people have filed paperwork with the Denver Elections Division to run for mayor: Lisa Calderón, Stephan Evans (also known as Chairman Seku), Marcus Giavanni, Jamie Giellis, current mayor Michael Hancock, Kaylyn Heffernan, Danny Lopez, Leatha Scott, Ken Simpson and Tate. We invited all of them to share their take on important matters facing Denver. The questions were the same for every candidate, and we set no word limit on answers.

EVans, Scott and Lopez have not responded to our outreach thus far, though the latter spoke to us for a previous mayoral run in 2011. In addition, Giavanni declined to participate by way of a memorable reply. The other six took part.

Continue to learn more about Tate and his positions on the subjects that are front and center in Denver right now.

Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for mayor?

Penfield Tate: I am a longtime Colorado resident, raised my family in Denver and have been a community activist in Denver for decades. I worked in Mayor Peña’s administration, served on Governor Romer’s cabinet and served the state of Colorado as a state representative and state senator. I’ve also been a small-business owner, operating as an attorney in a private practice. I’m running for mayor to lead Denver’s future. The time for real change is now.

Like many of us in Denver, I recognize that we will continue to grow and become more dense in our development as a result of the continued influx of people. But I believe the city has a responsibility to the people to make sure that we grow in a fair and equitable manner and in a way that is compatible and harmonious with our vibrant and diverse Denver neighborhoods. To accomplish that, growth has to be designed, planned, directed and managed in a way that works for and with our neighborhoods, and not just done to us. Development must also include a range of attainable housing options, for sale and for rent.

As a community, we must do a better job addressing the plight of the homeless in our city. Our current situation is unacceptable, both for the homeless and for our residents.

We live in the city to enjoy a certain quality of life, in large measure created by the convenience of being close to shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues. The congestion on our roads diminishes our quality of life because it is simply too difficult to get from one part of the city to another. This must change through a comprehensive approach to planning and development.

Finally, everything we do must be mindful of its impact on our planet so that we’re behaving in an environmentally responsible way, and that the city is encouraging the ability of the people of Denver to do the same.

From my conversations with residents and organizations across the city, it is clear that our current administration is not available and is not listening. We deserve a mayor who will lead this city in an open, transparent, accountable and ethical way, where all voices in Denver are truly given a seat at the table. As mayor, I will be accessible, accountable and ethical in the ways I make decisions that lead our city into a bright future.

How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?

Given our affordable-housing crisis, we need to be creative in our solutions. Our efforts must be focused on both the rental market and homebuyers. As mayor, I will expand the ability of more people to qualify for existing programs for affordable housing. I also will explore buying closed school buildings to develop them as affordable and transitional housing units, as well as approving tiny home villages. I’ll work with both affordable-housing and traditional developers to ensure they incorporate affordable units in all their developments. City waivers, variances and incentives will be reserved for projects incorporating affordable and attainable housing. Just as important as promoting affordable housing is ensuring that the housing that is developed is dispersed throughout our city. It is not enough to build affordable units in only one area of the city. We must preserve the ability for people of different incomes to locate and live in all of Denver’s neighborhoods.

Would you be in favor of using city land for affordable housing?

Yes, I will find ways to use city land to increase the inventory of affordable housing — both for rent and for purchase. We have let the issues of gentrification and skyrocketing housing prices continue for far too long, and now we are at a crisis point. Gentrification has been studied by the city since 2015, and there are still no significant or effective measures in place to address the situation. Once again, our administration was slow to recognize the issue and even slower to begin to effectively respond. Our city needs to immediately explore all options and do whatever is necessary if we hope to remain the vibrant, diverse city we have been in the past.

Would you require affordable housing in every housing development? If so, why? If not, why not?

Yes, with very few exceptions. It is important that Denver residents have the option and freedom to live in a variety of neighborhoods regardless of their financial circumstances. It is this diversity in our neighborhoods that makes Denver the unique city it is. One of the most important pieces to solving our affordable-housing crisis will be requiring affordable units in all new development, and enforcing that requirement — particularly where development is requesting waivers, variances and financial subsidies or assistance. My administration will not allow developers to buy their way out of providing affordable units in their projects any longer.

Do you support rent control in Denver?

Yes. As a legislator, I introduced legislation to make it possible for municipalities to institute rent-control policies. As mayor, I will assemble a broad cross-section of neighborhoods and the business community to discuss the rent-control policies that will be most effective for Denver in maintaining affordability for renters across the city. These conversations will include renters, landlords, advocates and developers. My administration will always be focused on bringing everyone to the table to create the best solutions for our city. I will always be mindful of the fact that rent control is simply one tool, not the complete solution, to address affordability in Denver.

Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?

I would support and expand tiny home villages. I would do so by initially meeting with current tiny homes developers and any others interested in beginning such projects in their communities. It is clear that our current administration does not support building tiny home villages, given how difficult it has been for them to get approval. I would work with private landowners to find suitable land for these projects, as well as evaluate what city land could be used to expand tiny home villages in our city. I will also look at current zoning laws to incorporate the option for homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units on their property.

How would you address homelessness in Denver?

As I have stated publicly many times, as mayor I am committed to helping all homeless Denver residents to get off the streets in my first 100 days in office. We need a leader with the political will to tackle this issue head on. Through my conversations with advocates and service providers, it’s clear that Denver needs to be creative in finding solutions for those who are living on the streets, and all options need to be on the table. As mayor, I will explore buying and redeveloping empty school buildings from DPS to create transitional housing, approving and expanding the tiny homes program and setting up safe, covered encampments with access to restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and medical and human services to help our homeless out of being forced to live on the streets.

What's your position on the Right to Rest bill?

I support the Right to Rest bill and its goals, but my plan for dealing with homelessness in the first 100 days of my administration will hopefully make the measure irrelevant.

Is development in Denver being done responsibly?

No, it is not. I do not believe that all the blame for irresponsible development should be placed on developers. Our current administration in Denver has intentionally let development run rampant in our city without any meaningful input from those who live in the neighborhoods where these developments are being built.

What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?

As mayor, I won’t think about creating a department of transportation within my administration, but I will actually make it happen and have the citizens of Denver ratify a cabinet position to address these challenges and craft creative solutions. Over time, I believe RTD’s focus has shifted from helping Denver address its transit needs within the city to an emphasis on suburban commuters. Denver needs its own mobility solutions driven by the city, its businesses and neighborhoods. Our public transportation situation has become so acute that we cannot afford to simply rely on RTD and hope they focus more on transit within the city. Our Denver-centric mobility solutions must be compatible with and complement RTD’s efforts, but we need to begin to implement Denver-based solutions now.

Would you support RTD fare increases? If so, why? If not, why not?

No, I would not. RTD already has some of the highest fares in the country, and ridership is decreasing. I do not believe that RTD will be any healthier if they continue to raise fares and lose ridership, mainly among working-class people who can no longer afford the transportation they need. As mayor, I would welcome an opportunity to sit down with RTD and discuss their plans and get a fuller understanding of the reasons behind proposed rate increases. I want to be a strategic partner with RTD to craft transportation solutions in the city of Denver.

Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?

Working with Denver Streets Partnership, I will explore ways to expand the bicycle and pedestrian network of our city in a way that is compatible with other modes of transportation. I will evaluate Denver’s street-design standards so that they reflect and accommodate walking, biking and other modes of transit. Building sidewalks where none exist, expanding and improving bicycle lanes and exploring new transit options that are compatible with the existing and future bicycle network should all be pursued.

What should be done to deal with Denver's opioid crisis?

Opioid use and abuse is a local and national crisis. Addressing the situation is made more difficult by the fact that the initial prescriptions of opioids are made by doctors for legitimate medical needs. In 2016, after conceding that opioid abuse was a growing crisis in Denver, the city’s administration convened a group to study the crisis and make recommendations. The result was the late 2018 release of the Denver Opioid Response Plan after more than eight months of study. The primary objectives are to prevent substance abuse, improve treatment access and retention and reduce harm. Since the effort is so new, as mayor, I will continue with the implementation of the plan, evaluate its effectiveness, and solicit input from the community and stakeholders to determine if changes in the approach and goals of the plan are necessary.

What's your position on supervised use sites?

If the Colorado General Assembly passes a bill allowing their operation, I will support Denver’s proposed pilot project. However, if the data does not demonstrate that the site is reducing the level of intravenous drug use and reducing drug-overdose deaths, I will close the site.

Where do you stand on social consumption venues?

The operation of the sites has been voter-approved. As a result, I believe that as mayor I have an obligation to quickly develop and implement a regulatory structure, with industry and community input, to make way for implementation. Marijuana is legal in Colorado, and we should take steps to allow consumption in venues other than openly in public spaces.

What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?

I believe law enforcement is most effective when assisted by those it serves and protects. Often, the public coming into contact with law enforcement is not simply because a crime has been committed. Officers also offer assistance, education, protection and community service. In a well-functioning relationship, residents are able to know the officers in their neighborhood personally and have open lines of communication. Too often in our city, though, residents do not trust police officers or feel safe interacting with them. It is also the case that officers sometimes feel uncomfortable in certain communities.

Community policing is a critical piece to solving the breakdowns in trust and communication between law enforcement and residents. Through mounted horse patrols in our larger parks, enhanced foot and bicycle law enforcement presence, neighborhood events to get to know the law enforcement working in their communities, and facilitating open and honest dialogue between residents and law enforcement about their needs, concerns and fears, Denver can become safer both for residents and law enforcement.

We need to build trust first, and as mayor I will work with law enforcement and with our neighborhoods to build bridges to facilitate that trust. I will increase recruitment efforts of officers from communities of color. Strengthening the role of the Independent Monitor is also an important component of building greater trust between communities and law enforcement.

Do you believe reforms in the Denver Sheriff Department and the Denver Police Department have gone far enough, or are there additional measures you would institute? If so, what are they?

Denver Sheriff’s use-of-force policies were updated in 2016, and many of the recommendations listed in the Top to Bottom Review of the Denver Sheriff Department had due dates that have now passed. Denver police followed suit in 2017. The Denver police use-of-force policy has been noted by experts to be too vague in some instances, which can lead to confusion among officers and a lack of real accountability.

I will require a complete briefing on the status of implementing sheriff’s department review recommendations and the Denver police use-of-force review in my first thirty days in office. That briefing will include representatives of the Sheriff’s Department, Police Department, community and the Independent Monitor. Anything requiring immediate action will be identified and undertaken at that time. Thereafter, I think it advisable for the city to review and revise these policies and recommendations, their effectiveness and the status of their implementation in 2020 to ensure that our sheriff and police departments are functioning in a way that benefits the city and its residents, enhances public safety, protects those in custody and respects the rights of all who come into contact with law enforcement.

My office will instate weekly written reports from both our Sheriff’s Department and Denver Police on arrests, number of residents in custody, why they are being held, what charges they are facing, and if they are detained pre-trial for not being able to afford bail. The mayor’s office needs to take an active role in building relationships between law enforcement and our communities, and that will require open lines of communication and a willingness to make changes to law enforcement practices when the community will benefit.

Do you believe the Office of the Independent Monitor should have greater investigatory powers over law enforcement leadership?

Yes. I co-chaired the community committee that established the Office of the Independent Monitor. The intention was to establish a civilian oversight post that provided the community and law enforcement with an independent process to investigate community allegations of police misconduct. Enhanced investigatory powers, like subpoena powers, will enhance those efforts. According to the city’s own website, stated reforms involving this office are past due. The office and a broader array of powers should be housed in Denver’s charter.

Should the City of Denver create a mechanism that would hold the mayor more accountable?

The people of Denver deserve a city government, and a mayor’s office, that is open, transparent, responsive and ethical. The tone and standard for ethical behavior starts at the top, with the mayor’s office, and must be modeled in both personal behavior and in holding all city employees, and contractors, to the same standards. I will establish a code of ethics that applies to all of city government, including the mayor’s office. As I have heard during the campaign, the people of Denver have lost faith in the actions of the mayor and the inability to maintain a standard of ethical behavior as illustrated in the current convention-center scandal and investigation.

Do you plan to live in Cableland as mayor, and if not, what should the city do with the property?

I have not given it any thought and have not toured the residential quarters in years. I do believe that its continued use for community and nonprofit organizations is important and should be continued.

Are there other major issues we haven't mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?

I support the city’s 80x50 plan, but as mayor I will go much further. I have publicly committed to moving the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. It is a bold goal, but the time for moderate action to protect our climate is long past. In my administration, we will transition all city vehicles to electric motors as soon as is feasible. We will be aggressive in building more charging stations for vehicles across the city to further incentivize electric vehicle ownership. Most important, we need to build strong partnerships between environmental and labor organizations, like the BlueGreen Alliance, to ensure full buy-in for a just and equitable transition to renewable energy. If we seek to meet our bold goals by 2030, we need to have the full support of workers, environmental groups, and the city at large to change our practices quickly to protect our planet.
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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