Denver elects a new mayor in a week.. The race pits two politicians who differ more in style than substance. Both are Democrats, but their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Councilman Michael Hancock grew up amidst poverty and tragedy. Former State Senator Chris Romer comes from a well-to-do political family. We met Hancock previously. Now, CPR’s Ben Markus has this profile of Romer... who hopes to win the job with big ideas.
With the campaign for mayor entering the final weeks, Chris Romer is a busy man. On a recent day, his non-stop schedule included a speech at a local union hall.
Romer: I intend to put this city back to work. I intend to bring labor and business together to make sure that we have quality jobs.
Reporter: Another day he’s surrounded by Latino community leaders, as he accepts former candidate James Mejia’s endorsement.
Romer: And I continue to fight for this community as mayor because we are going to take this world-class city to the next level and we’re not leaving anyone behind.
Reporter: And...an evening debate at East High School finds him pushing for expansion of FasTracks and more bike lanes.
Romer: So I will work very hard to make sure that we don’t just have a car-dominated city, that we’re really going to do the things that make us mobility that give us mobility as we live.
Reporter: Romer is praised by supporters for his big thinking. Former Republican State Senator Josh Penry worked alongside the Democrat during Romer’s time in the statehouse.
Penry: He’s not a small ball guy, he’s not looking to show up and punch the clock. He wants to accomplish things and I think government desperately needs people like that.
Reporter: Penry says Romer has overcome personal adversity too. The candidate’s struggles with dyslexia didn’t stop him from doing well at Stanford or hinder a long career as an investment banker.
Republicans like Penry also praise his willingness to cross the aisle and work with the other party on controversial issues. Seth Masket is a political science professor at the University of Denver.
Masket: You know he actually distinguished himself on a couple of interesting hot-button issues for Colorado.
Reporter: He points specifically to a bill that reformed teacher tenure and evaluations.
Masket: He took a stance that did not exactly endear himself to the teacher’s unions but won some support, sort of, across the political spectrum. He was willing to work with Republicans on a number of issues.
Reporter: Romer also introduced a controversial bill, that became law, which set up a regulatory framework for medical marijuana. Law enforcement didn’t like it because it legitimized marijuana dispensaries. But it wasn’t popular with the dispensaries either, because it gave local governments the option of banning them.
Not everyone who worked with Romer liked his style. Terrance Carroll is the former speaker of the House and a Hancock supporter.
Carroll: Chris sometimes, and you got to love him because he’s always has an idea about something, but the follow through wasn’t always there. There wasn’t always the stick-to-itiveness that was necessary to make things happen.
Reporter: Like Romer’s proposed fixes of the I-70 corridor--one of which included turning the congested freeway into a toll road.
But Romer defends his record. Two-thirds of the bills he sponsored became law.
Romer: And sure there were five, six that got left on the cutting room floor. That’s what a good legislator with good ideas does.
With early polls giving Michael Hancock a small edge, Romer has stepped up attack ads targeting his opponent's support for city council raises.
[Sound of Ad]:..."Dozens of cops and firefighters could be laid off and libraries closed, yet Hancock votes himself a $5,000 raise. Michael Hancock, just politics as usual."
Reporter: The Denver Post rated the ad “Leans Deceptive.”
Romer has also attacked what he says is Hancock’s wavering support for abortion.
Romer: You know, look, this is about issues. Issues at an average kitchen table. And what I know is both of them are very relevant.
Reporter: For his part Hancock has pledged to run a positive campaign, believing that gives him the edge with voters sick of negative ads.
Romer, meanwhile, says his first order of business if he’s elected mayor is “jobs.” He says initially he can convince companies to come to Denver because he knows how the private sector operates. He says long term--once the city’s $100 million budget deficit is dealt with, he’ll get back to imagining a great city -- one people and businesses want to be a part of.
Romer: We’re going to be that special new American city, that great shining city on a hill. That’s going to be a place people talk about. That’s a global community that everybody’s going to want to be a part of.
But before that, Romer will be busy giving speeches, duking it out in debates and knocking on doors in his bid to become the 45th mayor of Denver.
[Photo Courtesy of Romer campaign]