By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Not surprisingly, Denver mayoral candidate James Mejia believes education is the key to the city’s success.
The Denver native and chief executive of the Denver Preschool Program launched his campaign yesterday with several campaign stops around town, addressing audiences on challenges facing the city and how to solve those problems.
The fastest way to create jobs and solve the city’s $100 million budget shortfall is to attract companies and businesses to Denver — but that can’t be done without first creating a high quality education system, said Mejia.
“When we look at this future of our city, and we look at what it takes to make the workforce of tomorrow, and what it takes to make sure that when companies are looking at Denver and growing in Denver, that they’re saying, ‘This is a place where I would be proud to send my children to school, and this is a place where I can find my future workforce,’” Mejia said yesterday to a small audience at Rosa Linda’s Mexican Cafe in the Highlands.
Mejia, a Democrat, faces a tough battle before the May 2011 municipal election, competing in a large pool of formidable candidates, including State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, as well as at-large City Councilman Doug Linkhart and City Councilman Michael Hancock — both Democrats. Councilwoman Carol Boigon, also a Democrat, is expected to announce her intentions to run for mayor on Thursday.
All candidates have filed their exploratory paperwork, but are not considered official mayoral candidates until they are certified for the May ballot.
Education and jobs won’t be the only concerns facing voters at the polls — much of the community is also concerned with the police and sheriff’s departments following a string of internal arrests and brutality incidents.
Mejia says it’s time for police Chief Gerald Whitman to be replaced.
“A new mayor has an opportunity to bring in a new police chief. That’s an important step because I think that the police chief has a great deal of latitude in terms of addressing issues before they become problems,” said Mejia.
Concerns over Manager of Safety’s office
Mejia also raised concerns over the Manager of Safety’s office. Manager of Safety Ron Perea resigned in August after outrage erupted over his not firing two Denver police officers caught on tape beating a 23-year-old gay man in downtown Denver.
Mayor John Hickenlooper has asked the FBI to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged beating. Denver police have also re-opened their investigation into the incident. The FBI supposedly has not looked into the case since DPD is conducting another investigation.
The city has paid nearly $6.2 million since 2004 to settle lawsuits involving police officers, according to a recent report by the city attorney’s office. Almost all of the lawsuits involved allegations of police brutality.
Mejia yesterday also stressed a focus on hiring local companies and individuals for public projects.
“Keep it local,” he says.
The next mayor of Denver will replace the extremely popular current Mayor Hickenlooper, who will head across Civic Center Park to the Statehouse where he will become the next governor of Colorado.
Hickenlooper will hold his position until his Jan. 11 inauguration when Deputy Mayor Bill Vidal will then become acting mayor until the municipal election in May.
A crowded field
Others who have filed paperwork to explore a run for mayor are Danny Lopez, a city employee who lost to Hickenlooper in the 2007 mayoral race, as well as Dwight Henson, Michael Forrester, Kenneth Simpson, Paul Noel Fiorino, Theresa Spahn, Thomas Andrew Wolf, and Eric Jon Zinn.
In addition to his work founding the Denver Preschool Program, Mejia headed up the Department of Parks and Recreation under former Mayor Wellington Webb, he has served on the Denver Public Schools board, and was selected by Hickenlooper to lead the development of the $425 million Denver Justice Center bond project.