(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)
Attention. Attention. Now hear this.
Denver is operating under a Declaration of Emergency!
Mayor Michael Johnston has invoked his constitutional authority to declare a state of disaster emergency.
In doing so, he has granted himself extraordinary officious authority to circumvent normal checks and balances of due process to address the crisis for the safety of the people of the city.
The crisis? Thousands of homeless infesting our streets. The action he’s taking? Doubling down on the policies that have created the problem in the first place.
First, the usual disclaimer. Johnston is a remarkably affable, likable individual who’s starting a very difficult job. And I do wish him all the best in the many challenges in his new role.
That said, declaring a state of emergency on your first day in office could have been a way to signal there’s a new sheriff in town. Instead, Johnston used it to signal the same kind of sucker is in town but with a bigger wallet.
Those of us who remember New York City in its big decline also remember a young mayor named Rudy Giuliani who fixed it. There are some lessons for Denver’s young mayor there.
Before Giuliani lost his status representing Trump post-Jan. 6, he earned the reputation as “America’s mayor” for his steadfast handling of the Sept. 11 attacks, and how he cleaned up a crime-infested city.
He too wanted to do something on day one of his administration to show he took the crime situation seriously. Instead of creating more ways to give criminals even more goodies, as Johnston is doing right now, Giuliani decided to take them off the streets.
His first small target was the “squeegee men.” These were the guys who would clean your car windshield at stop lights, and if you didn’t give them a dollar, they might just break off your wiper blade.
He started arresting them. And surprise, surprise nearly all of them had outstanding warrants for a variety of other crimes, which Giuliani was happy to see landed them in jail.
This began the rapid cleanup of New York City, which changed it from a crime-ridden city to a revitalized, safe destination again.
Johnston’s emergency plan has nothing to do with fighting crime. It has nothing to do with arresting and jailing criminals. It has nothing to do with forcibly removing people who are injuring innocent Denverites.
Mayor Johnston’s emergency orders only gives more incentives and more services to people to be homeless just like Denver has been doing since Mayor John Hickenlooper’s foolish 2005 “Road home” project to end homelessness permanently by 2015.
As Denver and Colorado have been doing with crime for nearly two decades, it is all carrot and no stick.
Denver’s problem is not that there aren’t enough beds for the homeless. It’s that transients, addicts, and mentally unstable people don’t want to stay in them. Yet Johnston’s plan is all about providing more for them such as:
- Expedite permitting and construction timelines for homelessness and affordable housing projects;
- Develop city-owned and private land for supportive housing, microcommunities, and navigation centers;
- Take immediate action to improve life for those living on the streets, as well as the businesses and neighborhoods surrounding them, by deploying trash, hygiene, and care services to encampments.
Johnston’s action is another feeding frenzy for the homeless industrial complex and another slap in the face to Denverites who are tired of criminals being treated like hotel guests on our streets instead of guests in our jails.
If the definition of insanity is doing more of the same and expecting a different result, then Mayor Johnston’s inaugural effort is insane.
Johnston is a smart man. On some level, I suspect he understands that throwing more money to provide more services will only entice more homeless and more crime to Denver.
He has one eye on higher office, so he’s scared to do what is necessary to clean up the streets of Denver because it will anger the identity-politics, victim-celebrating, police-hating, socialist progressives in his party whom he feels he needs for higher office.
He’s made clear in his first week in office he cares more about appeasing them than the safety of his constituents.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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