The CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation on urban politics, getting the Colorado Rockies, and race in Denver. Interview by Katy Neusteter
Nice to meet you.
I assume you get this question all the time, but why in the hell would anyone find me interesting?
I’ll try to make this painless. Let’s start with how you made your way to Denver.
I was born in Minne-so-ta. I never dated a brunette until I went to co-llege. I was a Luthe-ran.
Yah! Actually, I started out as a political organizer in Chicago.
Any Windy City run-ins?
In 1974, I was running a campaign against the Richard J. Daley Sr. political machine. The day our candidate was kicking off her campaign, she walked in with both arms in casts. She said she couldn’t be our candidate because she had fallen. Actually, the goons had broken her arms to keep her from running. That was my introduction to Chicago politics. The politics in Colorado are played with a small “d” and a small “r.” The view of opportunity is strikingly different here. In Chicago, the mindset is, “If you win something, I lose.” Colorado is more about sharing great opportunities.
So what’s on your highlight reel from the past 20 years?
Of course, getting the Rockies was the most fun. I still have the original major league application. But I think, obviously, the biggest win was DIA. None of us could have ever really imagined this, but it turned out to be the best, most extraordinary invention since the Moffat Tunnel more than 100 years ago.
How long has the Denver-Tokyo flight been in the works?
Roy Romer and I first met with Japan Airlines in 1986, and our host fell asleep during our presentation. Shows you the level of interest they had in Colorado.
Demographics are already shaping state politics. What will age, in particular, mean for Denver’s economic development?
Everyone is worried about the baby boomers retiring and not having anybody to replace them. But younger folks are moving here in droves. That will differentiate Denver from the Midwest and large portions of the Northeast and South. Plus, younger people tend to be tech-savvy, more liberal, and more oriented to public transit. That’s going to change us dramatically.
We have a long heritage of Hispanic citizens and leadership. When you’re trying to compete globally, you need a diversity of people living in your metropolitan area. If you’re all looking like skim milk on a January day, it’s not a good thing. With this impending shortage of labor nationwide, it will be very important that we find a way to move first-generation kids into the middle class by adulthood.