Carol Boigon: A Denver mayor's race profile

Categories: Politics

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Carol Boigon.
With John Hickenlooper having been elected Colorado's governor, we know Denver will have a new mayor next year, and the race promises to be wide open. To introduce you to the players, we're offering profiles of official candidates. Next up: Carol Boigon.

"I'm a person who never gives up," says Carol Boigon. "I work a problem until it's solved."

Boigon spent the early part of her career as a teacher in rough areas of cities like Detroit and Washington, D.C. Then, in 1973, this young mom moved to Denver with her husband, an attorney, and transitioned into journalism. After working as a reporter for the Sentinel newspapers, she was hired to write for Governor Roy Romer, working on projects like his children's initiative. "I was the only teacher on staff, so I had more hands-on knowledge of that world than other people had," she says.

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Carol Boigon outside the Tattered Cover.
In future years, Boigon helped her friend Joyce Foster win election to the city council, helping develop University Hills mall and address problems with traffic, tow trucks and more along the way. She subsequently joined Denver Mayor Wellington Webb's administration, playing a pivotal role in the launch of Denver Head Start, among other education-oriented initiatives. Then, in 2003, with Webb term-limited, she ran for the Denver City Council and won an at-large seat.

Among her proudest accomplishments during her time on the council: The part she played in transforming the long-vacant Lowenstein Theater on East Colfax into a vibrant complex that's home to the Tattered Cover, Twist & Shout and the Denver Film Society.

Why is she running for mayor? "I love this city," she says. "I've been working for it for a long time, and I feel like the next big challenge is one I want to be sure we address correctly."

The biggest problems in question are "jobs and the economy," she continues -- and she's had a front-row seat to the fallout from the fiscal downturn. "I sit on the state board of human services and the county welfare reform board for Denver, and I've watched food-stamp applications increase more than 30 percent. The number increases every month. People who were doing well, who were independent, who had their personal dignity, are now coming to us to get food stamps."

In her view, these issues need to be addressed on four fronts, two of which are already in place: "The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce has developed a blueprint for recruiting knowledge-based businesses to come to Denver and a very interesting job-retraining program through the community-college system. Companies say, 'We need people with these kinds of skills,' and very quickly, we can change the curriculum through the community-college system, so we can attract those businesses."

However, Boigon goes on, "their plan does not specifically address middle-income workers. So when I'm mayor, in the first ninety days, we will develop a game plan to make sure we are recruiting middle-income jobs in modern sectors of the economy that are growing, like clean tech and robotics. There's no reason we can't be doing that work here. And we need to make sure local businesses participate in all the activity we generate for the city. The business of government has to be available to local businesses. The city needs to be aggressively supporting all of that."

On the subject of the Denver Police Department, and concerns about excessive force complaints, Boigon isn't in favor of starting from scratch when it comes to oversight. She thinks reform implemented during Mayor John Hickenlooper's time in office, including the creation of a civilian monitor to oversee the workings of Internal Affairs, among other things, and the discipline matrix put together under the auspices of Al LaCabe, the former manager of safety, provide the right tools to deal with problems.

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Carol Boigon's city council portrait.
So why haven't they worked better? "In the middle of that, manager LaCabe retired and a new manager [Ron Perea] came in for a short time," she says. "He responded to some of these older cases as if the new discipline matrix hadn't been adopted. So, in my view, he weakened our position."

To strengthen it again, Boigon believes the folks in charge need to follow the new discipline matrix as designed -- and while she isn't averse to making changes in administration personnel, she isn't ready to point fingers at those who need to go. Indeed, she specifically cites Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman as "a big supporter of the matrix, and a supporter of his officers." At the same time, though, she stresses that "we are all committed to civil rights and the fair treatment of all our citizens. That's our mission. And when we have people who don't do that, they need to be disciplined -- and perhaps they need to leave us."

Education will also be a priority area for Boigon. "What needs to happen in Denver is that we need to end the fighting between the reformists and the teachers, because it's not the right fight," she says. "They really both want the same thing. So does that mean we take over the school system? I don't think that's necessary. But we need some practical changes, like longer school days and longer school years, and we need to infuse the classrooms with the ability to analyze children individually, and to customize the teaching where we need to."

One possibility: "We create mayor's schools -- three or four really low-performing schools, where we work with teachers and design a structure for each of them based on the models in countries where they've been most effective. We would test these various approaches to see what's the best fit -- the one that gets the quickest results for students. And I'm confident we can move these kids ahead two years if we take this approach."

The field of mayoral candidates is crowded, and Boigon stresses that "there are a lot of wonderful people in the race -- most of them folks I've worked with in partnership for many years. And I welcome dialogue with the people of Denver and with the other candidates. I welcome the opportunity to point Colorado and Denver in the direction I think we need to go, with a lot of aggressive energy around economic development and jobs."

As for how she'll stand out from the pack, she makes no mention of her status as the only female mayoral candidate to date. Rather, she talks about her no-nonsense effectiveness.

"My approach to problem-solving is always systemic," she says. "I look at all the things we need to be doing, what team we need to pull together, and how we keep ourselves going forward with single-minded focus, so we get the results we want. That's been my record... and there isn't time to wait. People need to get back to work.

"I think there's a moment in time when cities can capture the momentum or lose it to a competitor," she says. "And we don't want to miss that moment."

More from our Politics archive: "James Mejia: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Doug Linkhart: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Forrester: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Hancock: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Danny Lopez: A Denver mayor's race profile" and "Chris Romer: A Denver mayor's race profile."

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