Would-be Denver mayor Romer talks immigration, education, budget

In his bid to become the next mayor of Denver, State senator Chris Romer is selling his 25 years experience as a banker who specialized in municipal finance issues. He says Denver has achieved great things in lean times in the past and he would look to do the same now, zeroing in on keeping the FasTracks light rail project on track.

“We need to have a brutally honest conversation about the budget,” he said, adding that the next mayor of Denver needs to be able to lead not just city government, but also lead the private sector out of the recession.

“We are a bold and optimistic people in Denver. In a similar time period when we struggled, we built Denver International Airport. Now we are building FasTracks, which is a very bold move. I intend to complete that and participate with the other mayors to do it. I think a mayor can play a substantive role in not just putting people back to work but setting a tone where the private sector will put people back to work.

“Let me assure you that in my career, I’ve probably done at least two to three billion dollars worth of transportation financing, so I think that will be a strength of mine,” he said.

The May election to fill governor-elect John Hickenlooper’s seat at the mayor’s office may not yet be set, but with State Senator Chris Romer entering the field this week, it is getting close to full.

In addition to Romer, Michael Hancock, Doug Linkhart, and James Mejia have all announced. Hancock and Linkhart are Denver City Council members, and Mejia runs the city’s preschool program. Many expect City Council member Carol Boigon to jump in, but so far that hasn’t happened.

In announcing his bid for mayor, Romer has also resigned his seat in the State Senate.

The Colorado Independent met with Romer Wednesday. For the most part, he played it close to the vest in terms of discussing specific issues and policies, preferring to keep the conversation “high level” for now.

Still, he was clear and frank on a number of fronts. In addition to speaking about the budget, he talked about immigration and transportation and education, among other topics.

In the legislature, Romer supported lawsthat would have enabled some undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition while attending state colleges, and says his support for programs like that has not changed. He said Denver is not and has not been a sanctuary city.

“There are clear laws that the city follows. I believe Denver needs to stay focused on working together with the police force so that any felons or convicted violent offenders are turned over to ICE for deportation, but I would dispute that we are a sanctuary city. I think we are a balanced city that has set our priorities appropriately.”

He is passionate about education, and says he has spent more than 20 years working as a board member or an executive with various educational institutions.

He praised Hickenlooper for his work in education and said one thing that needs to be done now relates to workforce readiness, so that future high school graduates are prepared for the workplace.

“We need to make sure that instead of importing talent we will actually grow our own talent. That is why I am so passionate about concurrent enrollment which allows students to get high school diplomas and college degrees at the same time. You’ll see me continue to work through that,” he said.

“Those of us who out-educate our competition today will out-compete our competition tomorrow and in the long-term our standard of living will be determined by the quality of our education,” he said.

Romer said the race is just beginning and that he isn’t sure yet who the major players will be.

“The race is yet to form up. I think the voters are going to have lots of good options in this race. My strength is working for 25 years in the private sector and 22 years in education, and working with the legislature. I bring a fresh set of eyes to problems that have been going on for awhile.”

Romer once supported charging a toll on I-70 during heavy ski traffic times. He wouldn’t comment specifically on that, but said, “We need a funding mechanism for I-70. It is a major artery of both the summer and winter tourism economy. At some point we need to be creative to fund I-70. We have a multi-billion dollar problem, but it is not a city priority, as much as a state priority.”

He has worked with the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which works to relieve hunger among Colorado children.

“We can and should support legislation to relieve hunger. In the city context, the safety net has got to take into effect that the childhood poverty rate is rising at an alarming rate and we need to be thoughtful as we put forth the budget as a moral document to make sure we take into account those who are most vulnerable,” he said.

“I think this race will be run the old-fashioned way. I have to earn it door by door. The great thing about a mayor’s race is there is a lot of opportunity to listen and participate in retail politics. What I commit to you is that we are going to have a robust and brutally honest conversation about the road ahead, and that is what the race should be about–our future,” he said.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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