My family is my foundation. As I look back, all three of my children, just pre-teen and teenagers when this journey began, have now graduated from college and started their careers. My son has started his family – I’m now the proud G-Pops to Nia’Mya and Josiah. As I reflect on these blessings, my biggest inspiration has been with me the entire time. My mom Scharlyne, now 83 years young, has been my biggest booster and confidant no matter what. Momma, your unconditional love, strength and dedication has not only brought me here but inspired me through it all. Thank you for loving me – I love you!
Montbello holds a special place in my heart. I spent time growing up here. I represented this community on council. Now, delivering my final State of the City Address here in this gym, it reminds me why people choose to go into public service – why I chose to go into public service: to make a difference, to solve problems, to leave this great city of ours better than we found it. To ensure every child can access a recreation center for free, like we did with the groundbreaking My Denver Card; to support our children with more than a million healthy meals so no child has to go hungry; to ensure every resident lives within a 10-minute walk of a high-quality park; to pursue justice, in all its forms, for all people.
When I became Mayor, Denver was struggling to recover from the Great Recession. We rebuilt our economy, created new opportunities and reinvested in our neighborhoods. Denver not only came back, we roared back – becoming a leader by almost every metric. Then, as we all know, the global pandemic hit, taking away lives and livelihoods. Our amazing progress as a city was put on hold. But together, we steered an unprecedented course to protect public health. We made tough decisions: a stay-at-home order, difficult budget cuts and mandated vaccinations to name a few. These last years have tested us. A pandemic, economic crisis, historic unrest on our streets and even a failed insurrection in our nation’s capital. But we’ve made it, and with a renewed sense of purpose about who we want to be as a city, we are rebuilding yet again. Our recovery is strong. We’re moving forward – with our eyes set firmly on a city built on justice.
I say “justice” because that is a fundamental human value uniting all of us, and no one spoke more eloquently about it than Dr. Martin Luther King. In his famous letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote justice too long delayed is justice denied. Justice delayed is justice denied, whether it’s barriers to an affordable home or a job or a quality education. Justice delayed is justice denied, whether it’s underinvestment in communities or the disproportionate impacts of climate change. Justice delayed is justice denied, whether it’s poverty, homelessness or the right to vote.
Justice in all its forms has been delayed for far too long for far too many people. The pandemic laid those injustices bare – deep, terrible, societal wounds. Correcting those injustices has been the pursuit of my time in public life. That purpose has been met by our residents who have never faltered in the face of crisis, who demanded better of us, and who worked alongside us to achieve great things. The people of Denver are always the catalyst of our resurgence.
The state of our city, recognizing what we’ve come through, is a city in motion. A city in pursuit of justice and opportunity, a city determined to lift up all our residents. Leaning on those words from Dr. King, I know that if we continue to pursue justice, Denver will remain one of the best cities in America. I want to use this moment to speak candidly about what we can and must do to live up to the promise of justice for all, not just over the next year, but well into the future.
First: we must hold true to the values of Denver
Our biggest steps forward always come when we move together, after healthy debate, towards a shared purpose. That’s especially true when the aim of that purpose serves the value of justice.
But there is a divisive, pervasive rhetoric in society today. Voices that work to divide and distract us from the value that all people matter. That everyone deserves justice. From our youngest to our oldest, Denver must remain a city of justice and opportunity for all. Anyone who seeks, through hateful rhetoric, to divide our city – along social or economic lines, race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation – must be overcome by collective voices and acts of unity. We must remain a city that finds strength in our diversity, in the contributions of all residents. We must remain a city that is welcoming to all, a city that celebrates the contributions of our LGBTQ community. A city that champions women and their right to choose. We all were devastated by the Supreme Court’s unprecedented decision to roll back rights afforded under Roe v. Wade.
We should be proud to live in a state where the Governor and Legislature have reaffirmed a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. We all bear a responsibility to fight for our freedoms, to fight for our collective well-being. Our voices must be as unified and spirited as a Broncos or Avalanche championship parade. Our aim must stay fixed on that pursuit of justice, because we are all Denver, and we must remain united for the common good.
Second: we will continue to build an economy that is fair and rooted in justice, as well as competitive on the world stage.
Words matter. Words with action matter more. While attending a global summit, I heard one of the speakers say: “Equity without a budget is not equity at all. They’re just words.” We must continue to demonstrate our commitment to equity and justice by putting our money where our hearts lie. We’ve done just that when it comes to housing. When affordability is out of reach, that’s not justice. Housing justice is economic justice.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Walter Boyd when we announced an extension of our nationally recognized supportive housing initiative. Walter blessed us with the powerful story of his struggles and the hope he found from being connected to supportive housing through our Social Impact Bond program. Walter today is on the path to housing stability, and as I told him and those in the room that day – that was my brother speaking, that was your brother speaking.
We will not be satisfied until everyone is housed just like Walter was. Since I took office in 2011, we’ve rehoused more than 13,000 of our homeless neighbors. We’ve created or preserved nearly 9,000 affordable homes and delivered hundreds of permanent supportive housing units. We’ve expanded our shelter system to operate year-round. Tiny homes and safe outdoor spaces are now proven successful transition programs. More affordable housing is now required in new residential projects. And we are encouraging the conversion of vacant downtown office space into housing.
When it comes to encampments, we’re pursuing every strategy we can to address the injustice of people living on the streets – a problem made worse by COVID, the national housing crisis, the opioid crisis, untreated mental illness and years of neglect by the federal government. The solutions are not simple, and anyone who says they are fails to grasp the reality of the challenge. My vision – and I know you share this vision – is for a city where far fewer people live on our streets.
By using hotels and other properties as temporary bridges to something more permanent, we can do a better job moving people off the streets and into stable housing, and not just down the street to another encampment. Our outreach efforts will become more intensive, more focused on rehousing people living in the encampments that grew during the pandemic. This will remain a top priority for the coming year, because what we are seeing on our streets is an unjust humanitarian crisis.
Just as important as housing and shelter is a regular source of income for those experiencing homelessness. I will be presenting to City Council a proposal to invest $2 million in ARPA funds into the Denver Basic Income Project. This funding will provide more than 140 women and families currently in shelters with $1,000 a month for a year in direct cash assistance. This will help them move into stable housing, and provide support so they can stay housed, while opening space in our shelters to serve more people.
Homelessness is a complex issue. But at the end of the day, lasting solutions are built on a foundation of housing stability and supportive services. We’re now committing more than $240 million every year to resolve episodes of homelessness, to deliver more affordable housing and to put homeownership within reach for more and more families.
In May, we launched a down payment assistance program for people who lived in neighborhoods targeted by racist practices like redlining. We’re already seeing huge numbers of families being approved for forgivable loans to help them build wealth through homeownership. We can do even more – we can scale up this effort to address the wealth gap and help more families impacted by harmful historic practices to purchase a home.
Today, I’m pleased to announce we plan to expand this successful program to more families seeking to buy homes in Denver. Through this initiative, we will amplify existing funds and ensure impacted households can afford to buy and stay in Denver. I’m also directing city agencies to collaborate on next steps to help us bridge this gap so that race no longer predicts your housing outcome. For too long, communities of color have been excluded from the American Dream – cut off from the opportunity to invest in a home of their own, to grow wealth through equity, and to hand that wealth down to the next generation.
Justice is an economy that works for everyone – an economy where workers can thrive and the opportunity to build wealth is available to everyone. This year, we established the city’s first equity-focused business investment fund to level the playing field for minority- and women-owned small businesses. We’ve decided to name this fund after the late Herman Malone.
Herman was a friend and advisor to so many of us, and he spoke to me often about the barriers for minority businesses, the lack of access to capital and unequal practices in traditional lending. He was unbending in his belief that new approaches were needed. The Malone Fund will help these businesses access the capital and resources needed to realize their dreams to jump start or grow their businesses. We’re working now to partner with community organizations, banks and local businesses to help administer this fund, and with these partners, we will grow this fund to $50 million in the next five years. Ours will be a community-centered equity fund, focused on building generational wealth in Denver.
I’m also proud to announce today that we will be opening an innovation center focused on supporting entrepreneurs of color, located in northeast Park Hill. It will be another tool for economic justice and community wealth building, providing an ecosystem for local businesses to start and grow in their own community. Not only will these businesses have access to resources, but they will have a place they can gather, operate their business and learn from one another.
To support our local businesses, the pillars of our entire economy must remain strong. But right now, our nation’s economy is uncertain. One thing that is certain – rising costs for everything from groceries to gas are straining family budgets everywhere. Inflation is impacting all of us.
I’ve directed every department to identify additional ways we can lower costs to provide relief to those who are hurting the most. We will also do more to promote existing assistance programs, like rent and utility assistance, eviction assistance and property tax rebates.
In the long term, we should be proud that Denver is an economically competitive city. Our efforts to be more active and connected across the country and around the world are paying off. We’ve seen an increase in foreign direct investment, more major employers and overseas businesses have moved into the region, and international passengers traveling to our airport – thanks to 19 new direct international flights – have increased 88 percent since 2011. We must continue to aggressively strengthen and market Denver’s connections to the global economy. We must ensure that our city encourages investment and sees our business community not as an adversary, but as a partner. And we must remain forward thinking and visionary. Our city has a secret sauce: we build on the accomplishments of past leaders, and we have a propensity to skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.
We also must never lose sight of the people, the workers, who are the driving force of our economy. We must remain focused on attracting and preparing the most qualified, eager and innovative workforce in the country, ready and able to grow the economy of tomorrow.
Third: we must be committed to climate action rooted in climate justice
Humanity has reached a crisis point in the fight against climate change, and the people who will suffer the most are the families and neighborhoods that are already the most vulnerable. Every day, every hour, every minute we delay means we are sacrificing our children’s future. That is an unacceptable injustice – we can and must do better. Colorado ended 2021 with the most destructive wildfire ever. More than a thousand homes wiped out. Right after, Denver went through a snowless stretch we hadn’t experienced in over a century. The time to act is now.
Thanks to the people of Denver, our voter-approved Climate Protection Fund is working to reduce emissions, build resiliency in our communities and grow a climate action workforce.This fund has already shown its value through low-cost, community solar for schools and low-income families; 2,000 new trees in climate vulnerable neighborhoods; incentives to install sustainable electric heating systems; a micro-shuttle right here in Montbello; and a popular rebate program for e-bikes.
We’ve made a $200 million local commitment over the next five years to take climate action, with half of it focused on the vulnerable communities most at risk from climate change. This year, we also will begin to make the largest investment ever in the restoration of the South Platte River. This restoration will remove hundreds of homes from the floodplain, protecting them from more frequent, intense floods being fueled by climate change. And we will continue to preserve and add new park land in underserved neighborhoods – green spaces where children and families can play, but that also reduce heat islands and our carbon footprint.
It’s not an exaggeration to say this is a race to save our future. It’s a race we cannot afford to lose.
Fourth: public safety today and tomorrow is about better policing – expertly prepared, well trained and accountable law enforcement.
This shouldn’t be a debate over more or less policing. That’s a false choice. It’s about better policing. Better responses to different circumstances. And better community support to address the root causes of crime. Our residents should feel safe in their communities, and safe to interact with our officers. Too often we’ve called on law enforcement to address social problems better left to other systems of care.
Denver will continue to be a leader in changing that dynamic, in the pursuit of justice. The expectations of policing and public safety have fundamentally changed over the past decade, and rightfully so. As a strong and consistent advocate for reform, I also understand and support effective, appropriately resourced law enforcement.
I’m proud Denver has been a leader and innovator, requiring body-worn cameras, rewriting use-of-force policies and promoting de-escalation tactics. We all recognize the benefits of alternative responses that don’t require an armed police officer. We must continue to expand our nationally recognized STAR program and redirect police away from calls better handled by public health responders when someone needs help, not handcuffs. And in the coming months, we will open our Assessment, Intake and Diversion Center, providing an alternative to jail for issues better addressed by treatment and behavioral health resources.
Even when crime was low, my goal has always been to have the best trained, best resourced and most effective police department in the country. It’s a difficult job in the best of circumstances, but I can’t appreciate more or be prouder of the men and women who show up every day, put on the uniform, and work to keep everyone safe. I want them to be the best they can be.
The Denver Police Department has tripled the number of hours of continuing education over what is required. They’ve implemented new training to support de-escalation tactics. Both the Police and Sheriff departments have adopted enhanced peer intervention practices. And DPD has contracted with a nationally recognized civilian expert to review and elevate training courses.
Now, I want to update you on an initiative I announced in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd demonstrations – the Denver Institute of Racial Equity, Innovation and Reconciliation. This institute will promote research around racism, bias, inclusion, and practices of reconciliation, as well as the development of programs and trainings for law enforcement and the public, private and education sectors. I’m proud to announce the organization has officially been established, the board has been formed and stakeholder meetings are being conducted to further develop the program and funding strategies. I want to thank Metropolitan State University President Dr. Janine Davidson and MSU’s VP for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Michael Benitez, for their expert guidance in the development of the mission and objectives for the vision.
While we remain focused on making our law enforcement better, we cannot lose sight of their mandate. A dramatic spike in violent crime has damaged our city’s sense of safety. We’re going to continue to hire more police officers to keep our neighborhoods safe. Recently, through a data-driven, precision approach, DPD has reduced violent crime in four of the five areas where it had been occurring most often, and they’re now expanding this model to other hotspots.
What remains concerning is the prevalence of guns on our streets. DPD took nearly 2,100 guns off our streets last year, and more than 1,200 guns so far this year. We’re being held hostage by those who believe unrestrained access to guns is a good thing. The solution to gun violence isn’t more guns. That’s why we banned concealed carry in our parks and city buildings. It’s why we banned ghost guns. It’s also why I’m asking City Council to fund a new partnership with the U.S. Attorney to prosecute violent felons found with guns in violation of federal law. We’re going to bring greater resources to bear to prosecute individuals under harsher federal law to combat gun violence in our city.
Other communities in the metro area are acting as well. Congress, after so many tragedies, has finally passed legislation. It’s a good first step. It’s not far enough. There’s no reason why weapons of war should be available for sale in this country. No one should be able to buy a weapon that can be used to slaughter a classroom full of children, a grocery store full of people or those attending a Fourth of July parade. I urge Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
Now, we must be honest about how drugs, particularly fentanyl, have impacted our community. As I sat with families and listened to their stories of how their loved ones were taken by this poison, the reality of the situation was never clearer. Just since 2019, annual fentanyl deaths have quadrupled in Denver. It’s devastating families. It’s devastating our community.
New state legislation will help us hold drug dealers more accountable and provide more support for those suffering from addiction. While not perfect, this new law gives police and prosecutors additional tools to help disrupt the distribution of a poison that is killing more Denver residents than homicides and car crashes combined.
Over the next two years, Denver will receive its first $8 million from the national opioid settlement. I’m committed to seeing these dollars directed toward supporting service providers and improving capacity at treatment programs. Our public health officials are also preparing to help expand services, including counseling and medicated assisted treatment. We’re working to ensure a full continuum of care for people experiencing addiction, including covering costs of services when personal finances and insurance fall short, and expanding our mobile response teams to meet people where they are.
The Sheriff’s Department has also begun a new Medicated Assisted Treatment unit to provide addiction services for those in their care. And when someone is released, they aren’t released without support – they’re released with Narcan, test strips and treatment contacts.
Last month, Denver hosted a statewide fentanyl summit focused on law enforcement and criminal justice. Later this fall, we will be hosting a second summit focused on the public health side of this crisis. Through treatment, harm reduction and support, we can help those struggling with addiction get on and stay on the road to recovery.
Finally: we must never stop investing in our children.
Former Denver District Attorney Norm Early used to say, “I’d rather build up a child than repair an adult.” Norm understood the value and importance of early childhood investment. Since 2011, voters expanded the Denver Preschool Program and established the Prosperity Denver Fund, assisting every child who wants to attend college attain their dream. We opened our recreation centers to every child in Denver through the My Denver Card program, fed thousands of children through an after-school meals program, made record investments in summer youth employment programs, initiated the free summer RTD ride pass for youth, and joined former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper mentorship program.
Our first Youth Empowerment Center, provide our kids a safe, positive environment, is open – but we won’t stop at just this one. I’m proud to announce today that by 2024, Denver will have four additional youth empowerment centers. Our rec. centers and afterschool programs were safe havens for me growing up, just like they are for so many kids in our city today. Denver Public Schools has the responsibility of supporting Denver’s kids while they’re in the classroom. Outside of school doors, we all need to be there for every child. We must remain committed to that compact with DPS, so every child has everything they need to thrive. Justice for our children is a future full of possibilities.
The pursuit of justice is a noble one, and it has defined who we are as a city and as a community. Real progress is never settling for a city separated by haves and have nots. Everyone who calls our great city home deserves a fair shot and a fair opportunity at success and an affordable home. To enjoy clean air and clean water. To have a career that supports them and their family. To express themselves to the fullest.
There is a bright future ahead. When we welcomed the All-Star Game last July, it was a time to collectively see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel. When hundreds of thousands of us showed up in our burgundy and blue to celebrate the Avs, we experienced first-hand the power of unity over divisions. Next April, when we host the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas, we will demonstrate the ability of cities, like ours, to power progress.
As an administration accountable to the people we serve, we remain committed to justice. We remain committed to leaving this city better than we found it. And while this may be my final year as mayor, I pledge to you that I will bring the same energy, creativity and intention as if it were my first. A city is a constant work in progress. We build on the progress that came before us. We change. We re-invent. We try new things. And that work is never done. A year from now, I will hand these duties on to the next mayor. Every day until then is a new opportunity to improve the lives of every Denver resident.
I remain steadfast in that commitment. Our work is not done. We will not waver. And so, it’s time to get back to work. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the City and County of Denver