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Hancock renews promise of schools focus

Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock Wednesday reaffirmed he’ll be paying close attention to the relationship between city hall and Denver Public Schools.

And a prominent Hancock supporter hinted where the new mayor’s sympathies might lie in the November DPS board elections, viewed by many as pivotal to the district’s future.

Hancock, who said during his campaign that he would name a special liaison to DPS, elaborated on his plans during a post-election news conference at Civic Center Park.

Referring to the city’s Office for Education and Children, Hancock said, “We’re going to modify it to manager of children’s affairs, and that individual is going to work with me to create more of a comprehensive approach to children’s issues and education issues – break down silos, but also be my liaison with Denver Public Schools.”

Noting the school board is elected separately, Hancock said, “It’s not about having them answer to me, but it’s about creating a collaborative environment … where they know they have someone in the city who works directly for the mayor to come to.”

During a debate with opponent Chris Romer on May 31, Hancock indicated he would likely make endorsements in DPS races.

“I can’t answer that right now,” said Hancock, asked about the matter on Wednesday. “We’ll wait to see how the candidates shape up, but let’s be clear; we’re looking for candidates that are strong, we’re looking for folks who are collaborative and want to continue the efforts around the Denver Plan.”

Hancock backer Terrance Carroll, former speaker of the Colorado House, said in an interview, “I don’t want to talk about who Mayor-elect Hancock may support or not support for school board, but I do think there are very strong reform-minded candidates who are already out there – Anne Bye Rowe, Jennifer Draper Carson, just to name two. So, I think we have a strong field of candidates who really want to see Denver move forward on the education front and not be tied to the status quo.

“It’s clear from Michael’s campaign … that moving ahead with reform is going to be a central part of his platform as mayor,” said Carroll.

Three DPS seats will be contested in the Nov. 1 election. Theresa Pena is term limited in her at-large seat, as is Bruce Hoyt in southeast Denver’s District. Arturo Jimenez is running for a second term in District 5, representing the city’s northwest. Rowe is in District 1, while Carson is running in District 5.

Carroll also was asked about possible Hancock support for former Denver City Council member Happy Haynes, who resigned as DPS’ chief community engagement officer last month to run for the at-large seat. “Happy’s definitely not status quo,” was his reply.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s reform initiatives generally have the support of a 4-3 majority on the board, so this year’s election is viewed as pivotal for its potential to preserve or erase that majority – and possibly affect Boasberg’s future.

Tom Boasberg / File photo
Tom Boasberg

The superintendent said Hancock “has been an extraordinarily strong supporter and a very personal and dedicated supporter of the Denver Public Schools, and we look forward to having a very collaborative working relationship with him. … He has experienced personally for himself, and now for his children, the need for reform and change in the status quo in our schools, particularly ones in areas such as Montbello.”

Boasberg continued, “His deep personal experience … is what has made him such an effective advocate for reform.”

Hancock and Carroll both said they hope the DPS contests will be free of negative campaigning. Hancock was the target of negative mailings sponsored by a 527 group supported in part by the Colorado Education Association’s political committee.

Indicating that his victory shows Denver voters reject negative campaigning, Hancock said, “I think it’s a clarion call, a very clear message to all potential candidates going forward.”

Carroll agreed, saying, “I think the voters of Denver have set another standard. … We want to have campaigns where people actually talk about the issues and not make ridiculous attacks, attacks without any substance to them whatsoever.”

DPS board member Mary Seawell agreed, saying, “I think since the CEA funded the 527 that attacked Michael, and that backfired, people want clean campaigns, and so that’s my hope that everyone gets that message.”

Commenting on potential mayoral endorsements, Seawell said, “I think you will see Michael make endorsements that reflect his views on education, and that will likely be more reform-minded candidates. … I know he has a long relationship with Happy Haynes, and has done a lot of work around education with Happy.” Seawell contributed $325 to the Hancock campaign.

Michael Hancock and John Huggins
Michael Hancock and John Huggins

Asked about Hancock’s future relationship with DPS, Seawell said, “I think there is going to be a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to start that up, and I would love to be part of that discussion, regardless of who fills it.” Asked if she might be interested in that job, Seawell said, “I haven’t actually seen a real job description for it. My first priority is for the school board, so I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt or impact my ability to be on the school board.”

Hancock discussed a wide range of issues at his new conference. The first order of business was the introduction of John Huggins as head of the transition team. Huggins, former economic development chief for the city, also handled mayoral and gubernatorial transitions for John Hickenlooper.

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