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After winning his third term as mayor, Michael B. Hancock is taking on a new strategy: He wants to tackle equity in Denver and ensure growth in the city benefits all.
“A third term also presents an opportunity to be bold,” Hancock said.
One of those bold strategies is increasing wages for the people of Denver. Wages are one of the roots to the problem of the housing crisis, Hancock said.
“We’ve got to boost wages,” he said. “In workforce housing, without boosting wages, we are missing the whole formula.”
Going into the campaign for his third term, Hancock had a list of projects that are underway, such as development along Brighton Boulevard in River North, airport improvements, the redevelopment of the National Western Complex and more, which he had worked for since he was first elected.
“Those are things that in 2011, when I came into office, I was committed to completing,” he said.
But the campaign also alerted Hancock and his team that Denver residents were unaware of some of his work behind the scenes in programming for homelessness and affordable housing in Denver. “We’ve got to do a better job of building awareness,” he said of the city’s efforts on those fronts.
Hancock recently began focusing the Office of Economic Development in Denver more toward the housing crisis. Last year, he hired Britta Fisher as the city’s new chief of housing. This year, Hancock raised the housing budget to a record $50 million in an effort to fund more housing projects. Hancock also created a new office, the Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team, headed by former state senator Irene Aguilar. The office works with some of Denver’s most vulnerable populations to create programming to help people stay in their homes as prices and taxes rise.
“When we were able to talk about what we were doing, people got it,” Hancock said of working on the campaign trail. “We were able to change minds.”
The race for mayor was one of several that ended in a runoff. Hancock faced off against Jamie Giellis, a developer behind the growth in RiNo.
Hancock is no stranger to runoff elections. He won his first term in 2011 after a runoff election pitted him against Chris Romer. Before running for mayor, Hancock represented District 11 starting in 2003 on the Denver City Council.
But this particular runoff became a grueling one, as issues of race and sexual harassment were brought center stage. As an African American man, race has always been an important issue to him, Hancock said. But, he said, voters “needed to hear that I still care about those issues.”
In February 2018, Hancock was accused of sexual harassment by Leslie Branch-Wise, who worked as part of the mayor’s security detail in 2011-2012. She said the mayor made inappropriate comments, many through text messages to her while she worked for him. Those allegations came to the surface again as opponent Giellis said she wanted to fight a “culture of sexual harassment.”
Hancock publicly apologized for the text messages he sent. He added that after Branch-Wise came forward, he began to speak with survivors of sexual harassment and assault. Those talks, he said, “helped me to have a better posture” and acted as a lesson to him.
Moving into his third term as mayor, Hancock hopes Denver residents will remember him as someone who built up the city. Back in 2010, Denver was not a well-known city, he said. Now, it frequently makes lists for best place to raise a family, best place to build a start-up company and the like, Hancock said.
“We weren’t on those lists of top 100 cities,” he said. “We were able to move Denver forward as the most modern globally competitive city.”
Since starting as a city council member, Hancock has also worked on boosting children’s programming in Denver. The My Denver program gives free access to Denver children to museums, recreation centers and libraries to children. Last November, Denver voters also approved a scholarship fund for low-income students.
“We have completed the circle of care if you will, for young people of Denver,” Hancock said of his work with kids.
After eight years serving Denver, and living here for most of his life, Hancock says its people are still his favorite part about the city.
“Denver residents are some of the most engaging, open and honest,” he said. “They love good, frank conversation, even if they don’t agree with you.”
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