"I'm the only businessperson running for mayor," says Thomas Andrew Wolf. "I understand budgets and what needs to be done."
Although he was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wolf got to know Colorado from an early age thanks to family skiing vacations. Years later, he notes, "I spent a season in Aspen and taught as a ski instructor, along with doing construction and bartending jobs." In addition, he earned an MBA in finance at the University of Denver, where he met his wife, a native of Oslo, Norway who he describes as a "fiercely proud socialist."
His own political leanings are far different. He calls himself a "free-market capitalist," and he feels his ideology has been strengthened by the challenge offered by the views with which his wife was raised.
After graduating from DU, Wolf stayed in the area for a couple of years before relocating to London, "where I worked for a couple of large U.S. investment banks." Six years later, with his second daughter on the way, he and his wife decided it was time for a return to the states, and after weighing a wide variety of potential locales, they settled on a return to Denver. They've been back since 1999, and Wolf currently heads his own firm, which specializes in structuring and raising capital for private securities and alternative funds.
While his run for Denver mayor represents his first effort as a candidate, he's dipped his toe into political waters in the past, running a campaign for a state-treasurer hopeful in Pennsylvania in the '80s and doing some petition-related election work in New York. He says he decided to step forward in 2011 because of a desire to serve the public that was instilled in him by his parents, as well as the sense that his particular skill set is precisely what Denver needs right now.
"I'm a devout believer in the social experiment that is America -- an experiment that's about competing," he maintains. "Government's role within that is to be an investor as opposed to an employer, and as someone who lives here, I want to make sure there's a fair playing field.
"The conversation in Denver has been about where the city budget is," he continues. "Expenses have been ahead of revenues three years in a row now, so it's been a tricky balancing act to get that in on budget. We've been fortunate to have someone as mayor from a business background who understood how to do that" -- John Hickenlooper. "And I think we still need a businessperson in that role. It's the perfect opportunity for someone like me, who can make the tough decisions and creatively figure out how to innovate and come up with more or at least the same amount of services with less budget."
When asked for a specific example, Wolf notes that "most of the career politicians or city council folks who make up the bulk of the field I'm competing against don't want to throw out anything concrete. But I've tried to depart from that -- and I have an idea that shows what can be done.
"I office downtown and use the 16th Street Mall a fair amount as a transportation hub, and I think it was fabulous urban renewal project thirty years ago or whatever it was. But as the immediate neighborhood around it has changed and turned into an urban lifestyle of living and working for people in the proximity, I think the mall is held hostage by those buses. They do a terrific job as people movers, but they destroy the vibe. So the simple solution is to take one of the lanes out to use for bikes, B-cycles, foot traffic and so on, and use the existing fleet to do some connecting to 14th, 16th and 18th. Instead of stopping every block, they'd stop every four blocks, so customers would always be dropped off within two blocks of their destination. So it would offer more service with the same expense -- and hopefully, you would start to evolve the mall in a significant way, so that people would spend more time in front of different retailers and restaurants. That would fill a municipal need and cause more benefits to bloom."
Regarding the Denver Police Department, which has been beset with a series of controversies over excessive-force complaints, Wolf says, "My basic mentality is that these guys have a very unique job -- and I've got to think they're all good people who are just trying to make a living for their family like everyone else. So I think you need to approach things in a dollars-and-cents way." He suggests that elevation to higher pay grades be dictated by a combination of metrics "driven by seniority and service and other traits. And if officers are shut out of the opportunity to make more money because of their behavior -- if their ability to advance in their livelihood is removed unless they conduct themselves in the way the city has lined up -- i think the problem is going to be solved."
Wolf also has strong ideas about bringing a more business-oriented approach to education and health care, and he hopes that creating an efficient city government system will serve as a model that can be emulated in those areas.
Many of Wolf's opponents in the mayor's race are much better financed. But he feels serving as a "free candidate" -- one willing to pose for a photo dressed as a blue bear to get attention -- will pay dividends in a number of different ways.
"The guy who goes around kissing the rings in order to get a million-dollar war chest, he owes people things," he stresses. "Now, people may say, 'You get what you pay for' -- and I should be on the ropes about that. But you need to counter-punch and say, 'The other candidates are bought. They're owned. The votes they get have a taint to them.' Whereas the votes I get will bring us back to equity and parity and what our founders were looking for."
Besides, making do without a lot of money "is exactly what the next mayor is going to be asked to do. He'll need to cleverly figure out how to get things done. And that's what I'm trying to demonstrate with my campaign -- that I can compete with all these folks with more dollars. And when I succeed at that, you can rest assured I can do that inside the mayor's office."
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Another unusual element of Wolf's campaign? His use of animated videos posted on his Wolf For Mayor website to advance his cause. Watch them below:
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," and "Carol Boigon: A Denver mayor's race profile."