After 12 years, Denver has a new mayor and a new administration. Brew pub owner John Hickenlooper, 51, was sworn in at noon Monday as Denver's 43rd mayor.
He acknowledged that the city is facing a huge fiscal crisis -- a $50 million shortfall -- but with the work of his administration, city employees, and the public, he was optimistic that a solution to the economic slump could be found.
"We must do everything we can to create more good jobs. We must say to the world -- in a loud and unified voice -- if you want to bring your convention here, if you want to expand your company here, if you want to build affordable housing here, Denver is open for business," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper, Denver's first white mayor in 20 years, was sworn
in to thunderous applause along with a new auditor and 10 new City
Council members at Boettcher Concert Hall.
He called outgoing Mayor Wellington Webb one of "our greatest mayors" and echoed the platform that led to his overwhelming victory in June. As a political newcomer running against much more experienced politicians, Hickenlooper said the city is in need of a change.
"We must fundamentally re-examine the manner in which city government does business, not only to save money, but to find innovative new ideas, to provide the best services of any city in this country, to empower our dedicated city employees, and to give them the tools they need to better serve our city," Hickenlooper said Monday. "There is a palpable hunger for change."
On the eve of his inauguration, he toured Denver to meet his supporters and to announce changes in several of the city's leadership positions.
Hickenlooper announced the appointment of Larry Trujillo will be the city's fire chief and also introduced the new public safety manager, Alvin LaCabe. Hickenlooper chose not to announce a new police chief, leaving Chief Gerald Whitman to continue to lead the force until Hickenlooper makes a decision. Whitman is a candidate for the position and said it will hurt the department if Hickenlooper stalls for too long.
"I think the mystery needs to go away. He gets sworn in Monday and people need to know who's in charge in each agency so we can continue to do our jobs," Whitman said.
The Police Department has recently been criticized for use of excessive force, sparked by the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old mentally disabled black teen.
Hickenlooper said public safety is one of the most important issues for
city residents and will be an important focus for him.
"I am not going to come in and be a dictator to
the Police Department," but he plans to find ways to make police
officers' jobs easier and safer while making sure "our citizens
have the maximum protection and least risk."
On Sunday, Hickenlooper planted a tree in a city park and proclaimed that he was ready.
"The first six or 12 months are going to be tough," he said. "When does the honeymoon start?"
Hickenlooper has been criticized by
business interests for holding a reception for environmentalists. He goes from managing 1,000 employees to taking over a city bureaucracy with nearly 10,000 employees. Job cuts may be necessary due to the recession but he said he wanted to work with city employees to see if they can come up with a solution.
"I can't come in and fix it. It's really going to be city workers who say how are we going to fix this together," Hickenlooper said.
His election is part of a sweeping change for Denver after 12 years of Webb, who is stepping down due to term
Denver's new mayor was born in Narberth, Pa., and came to Colorado in 1981 as an exploration geologist with Buckhorn Petroleum. He was laid off in the oil bust five years later and so turned his interests to business. He owns seven restaurants, including Wynkoop Brewing Co. He, his wife, Helen Thorpe, and their young son, Teddy, live in lower downtown.
Hickenlooper was expected to round out his
appointments shortly after taking office. The mayor-elect on Sunday also announced Wayne Vaden, chairman of the city's Public
Safety Review Commission, as the clerk and recorder. Margaret Brown
will remain as finance director; and Cheryl Cohen-Vader, named
deputy mayor, will continue to serve as manager of revenue.