State Of The City Speech Skims Past Controversies, Including #MeToo Outrage, City Park and Park Hill Golf Course Projects
Story and photos by Cara DeGette
In his July State of the City address, Mayor Michael B. Hancock declared it a “transformational moment” in Denver’s history.
In his annual speech, Hancock did not highlight several controversies that have rattled city hall over the past 12 months. Rather he took the opportunity to lay the groundwork for what will undoubtedly be a run for a third term in May.
Hancock delivered this year’s speech on Monday, July 16 to a crowd of several hundred city and state dignitaries, appointed and elected officials, employees, supporters and critics at the newly built Carla Madison Recreation Center next to East High School.
“We should be proud of how far we’ve come,” the mayor said during a speech that lasted about 40 minutes. “We are a city on the rise, and our clarion call is to seize the moment and set Denver and everyone who lives here on an equitable path of prosperity for the next 100 years.”
Among Hancock’s highlights: Denver’s strong economy, low unemployment, as well as early childhood education, after-school programs and access to cultural and recreational programs. He also gave nods to last year’s $1 billion voter-approved bond measure and expansion projects underway at DIA and the Stock Show.
The mayor rolled out several initiatives, including addressing homelessness in Denver, the ongoing gentrification of many of its neighborhoods, and plans to build more bike lanes and affordable housing using marijuana tax revenues. (In its coverage, Channel 9 News noted that Hancock’s speech largely mirrored last year’s address, which was held at Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center in Park Hill.)
Scattered throughout the audience of hundreds were several dozen people wearing matching bright green T-shirts displayed with a large white “F-.” At the end of the speech, the green shirt brigade stood up and politely walked out en masse. The group’s spokesman, Mark Thompson, said the “F-” represents their grade for Hancock’s refusal to agree to implement programs to establish apprenticeships and internships for young people seeking skills post-graduation.
“The mayor is failing our youth,” said Thompson.
Over the past year the mayor and his administration have also been criticized over the treatment of people who are homeless in Denver – including efforts to ban them from city parks. Hancock has also been criticized – along with some members of the city council – for continuing to bow to developers’ interests rather than that of neighborhoods, including in Park Hill.
And, the mayor and his administration have faced criticism over the handling of several high-profile projects – including the city’s near-approval to buy the Park Hill Golf Course land when it, in fact, was up for a lease renewal by a Texas-based company that also holds a first right of refusal to purchase the land.
Another high-profile controversy is the City Park Golf Course project. The golf course is currently closed and being redesigned to incorporate stormwater detention that officials say is needed to prevent future flooding downstream, and also to benefit the state’s I-70 widening project between Colorado Boulevard and Brighton Boulevard. Denver cut down nearly 200 mature trees on the existing golf course as part of the redesign.
Earlier this year, Hancock came under fire when officer Leslie Branch-Wise released a series of sexually suggestive tweets the mayor had sent her while she was serving as part of his security detail in 2012, during his first year in office. In on-air interviews, Branch-Wise told television reporter Tony Kovaleski that she had felt sexually harassed by the mayor.
Hancock subsequently apologized publicly to Branch-Wise. But the fact that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars had been used earlier to settle related claims enraged some. And the timing – coinciding with this year’s #MeToo movement – led to critics calling for the mayor’s resignation. The scandal also resulted in new workplace conduct guidelines at city hall, though the new rules don’t apply to the mayor.
In his state of the city address, Hancock made a brief reference to the scandal, and thanked his wife and children for being his “rock.”
After the speech, Hancock and his administration treated those in attendance with a picnic lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs, chips, lemonade and iced tea, outside in the esplanade. Around the perimeter, protesters in their green “F-” T-shirts held a banner that read “Denver in Distress” and walked with protest signs.
Hancock is up for reelection next May, and a spokeswoman confirmed the mayor intends to run for a third term. Despite the recent controversies, Hancock’s only announced opponent so far is Kayvan Khalatbari, a marijuana entrepreneur and the owner of Denver’s Sexy Pizza restaurant chain.
Shortly after Hancock finished with his speech, Khalatbari gathered with a small group of his supporters in the lobby of the Sie FilmCenter, across the street. There, he delivered a Facebook Live “response” to Hancock’s speech.
The full script of Hancock’s speech can be read online at denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/mayors-office/newsroom/2018/mayor-hancock-delivers-2018-state-of-the-city-address.html