Education was at the forefront in the Denver mayoral race Thursday as the Denver Classroom Teachers Association officially threw its support behind candidate James Mejia.
“We strongly and affirmatively believe that, basically, he knows, through his own experience, the importance of having a strong public education system and strong structure of support for teachers,” said Henry Roman, president of the DCTA, which boasts about 3,000 members.
Roman said the union’s active support of Mejia will be “up to individual members, and their availability of time. We’ll be providing them with the opportunity to support James, whether it’s making calls and walking, and so forth.”
He did not discuss plans for DCTA financial backing, other than to say individual members of the union, who will be subject to the maximum individual donor limit of $3,000, will make their own decisions about financial support of Mejia. The DCTA’s main political committee reported a balance of $231,574 in its most recent campaign filing Wednesday.
Mejia is a former member of the Denver school board, on which he served four years as an at-large member, and the founding CEO of the Denver Preschool Program.
At a wind-blown press conference in Denver’s Viking Park, with North High School as a backdrop, Mejia welcomed DCTA support. Roman said it was the union’s first mayoral endorsement in at least ten years.
“I am very pleased today to stand here with members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, and I believe very strongly that it will take all members of our community to rebuild our education system to ensure that every child in Denver receives the very best education possible,” Mejia said.
“And when you think about great cities, every great city has a great education system, and I look forward to working with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association in making that great system.”
Candidates focus on K-12 education
The Mejia campaign web site features his education policy, in which he seeks to distinguish himself among the candidates by emphasizing his opposition to the concept of mayoral control of the public schools. It also features a video titled “United for Education.”
Mejia – like the rest of the mayoral field in Denver – is trailing front-runner Chris Romer in the polls and in fundraising, but has positioned himself in the top tier of candidates for the May 3 election. Mail ballots went out to voters Thursday.
If no candidate among the 10 on the ballot garners more than 50 percent of the vote when totals are tallied next month, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will take place June 7.
Romer’s first 30-second television ad, “Take Off,” which had its debut March 21, focused on education, highlighting its importance in ensuring Denver’s future status as a “world-class economy.”
The Romer campaign Thursday sought to counter the Mejia-DCTA announcement with a press release highlighting Romer’s education resume – he founded the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation and served as president of KIPP schools in Colorado – and promoting a long list of Romer endorsements from figures in the education field.
“Chris is proud of the strong support that he has from the education community of Denver and is committed to making the improvement of our schools one of his priorities as Denver’s mayor,” said Zach Knaus, Romer’s deputy campaign manager.
“Chris is going to work with all interested parties to bring people together to do what is best for students.”
‘No neighborhood should be left behind’
Michael Hancock, also in the top tier of candidates and running closely with Mejia in both polling and fundraising, started running a television ad April 7 focusing on education, titled “18 Miles.”
In the spot, Hancock says “I love my son. Every morning, we drive 18 miles across town to East High School, because our neighborhood school is one of many across Denver that are failing.”
Some have panned the spot, criticizing Hancock for opting to send his son far from the family’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood to East High School – as opposed to Montbello High School – and saying he should be more focused on improving schools closer to home.
Hancock campaign spokeswoman Amber Miller is aware of such comments.
“This was a very difficult decision for Michael and his family to make, and one that they would prefer not to have had to make, and that is the message,” she said. “What Michael is portraying in his commercial is that every neighborhood should have a good school, and no neighborhood should be left behind.”
In conversations across the city, Miller added, Hancock “has heard the same story that he and his family are experiencing – in the southwest, in the southeast … it’s not just in northeast Denver.
“Michael believes we need to give urgency and accountability to improve our children’s education, and if it has to include reform and change, then he will work with our communities to achieve that.”
Mejia used his endorsement announcement to speak out against what he said has been “too divisive” a conversation in the DPS community over what is best – charter schools or neighborhood schools.
“If you pick one side, you can’t be associated with the other side,” he said. “And I’m here to say that it’s time for all sides to work together for the benefit of children. And the side that I’m on is the side of high-quality education and high achievement for Denver kids.”