Only in the fantasy land otherwise known as the City and County of Denver could crime and homelessness magically disappear when a major national sports event comes to town.
Except it didn’t.
I was at a wedding party in downtown Denver during the weekend after the All-Star Game. Several of the attendees were from out of town but they were very familiar with the city having traveled here many times for social and business reasons. After going to a Rockies game the night before, just days after the All-Star Game, and maneuvering through the excrement and needles, they had one question for me: What happened to Denver?
City and state leaders declared downtown Denver as “a very safe environment” leading up to the All-Star Game and I’m sure it was for a few nights after aggressive sweeps of homeless encampments and a huge police deployment. Homeless advocates, quite justifiably, accused the city of increasing sweeps around Coors Field because of the game. Failing a laugh test, Mayor Michael Hancock denied it.
As reported by Michael Roberts of Westword, eight people were shot and one died in eight days in the areas of Lodo and the 16th Street Mall following the game. Roberts goes on to report there were nineteen shootings or stabbings in Denver during the first twenty days of July.
As inept as Mayor Hancock has been in dealing with crime and homelessness, it really did not start with him. You can trace it back to then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, who promised in 2005 he would end homelessness in ten years. It would be an understatement to say Hickenlooper fell short of this lofty goal.
Homelessness actually increased by 2015 despite Hickenlooper spending millions of dollars that the city auditor criticized as lacking accountability. Hancock was elected mayor in 2011 so he has been a worthy successor to the Hickenlooper fiasco.
One cannot help but wonder what Denver would look like today if one of Hancock’s opponents had been elected as mayor in 2019 when he won a third term. Former Democratic state legislator Penfield Tate is certainly not an outsider but he knew Denver was in decline and he had the policy chops to try to aggressively deal with it.
Business leader Jaime Giellis, who finished second in the initial round of voting but lost to Hancock in the runoff election, was a total neophyte in city politics, but as the president of Denver’s River North Art District she saw Denver’s decline up close. Unfortunately, the runoff election was not a serious debate about the future of Denver. It was dominated by the character assassination of Giellis who was defiled as some kind of closet racist.
Nothing dramatizes the increase of danger and the decline of public safety in Denver more than the above-the-fold headline in the July 5, 2021 Denver Post: “CITY HAS INTERNAL BLEEDING” with the subhead “HOMICIDES, SHOOTINGS ARE ON PACE TO EQUAL OR EXCEED LAST YEAR’S HISTORICALLY HIGH RATE.”
Amazingly, Mayor Hancock blames Denver’s increasing crime rates on violent criminals being released from jail too soon but he remained silent during this past legislative session when Democrats attempted to pass a “criminal justice reform” bill that would have done just that. Under this bill, someone who steals your car could not be arrested, they could only be given a ticket.
Mayor Hancock announced during his recent State of the City address that he is committing another $28 million of federal money to an “affordable housing fund” for the homeless. This comes on the heels of Denver voters approving a sales tax increase in 2020 to create a Homeless Resolution Fund that will spend $40 million a year. The city continues to buy old motels to house the homeless along with establishing authorized encampment sites.
He declared “we know what works,” but it certainly seems that despite lavish amounts of money the homeless problem is getting worse.
The All-Star Game might have given downtown Denver a brief reprieve, but it did nothing to remove the reality of the ongoing decline of Denver.
Dick Wadhams is a Republican political consultant and former Colorado Republican Party state chairman.