|Candidate Profile: Linkhart|
|Tuesday, 26 April 2011 08:24|
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Denver Daily News is interviewing top candidates to get their perspectives on city issues. The order in which candidate profiles appear in the paper is based on when interviews were scheduled, which was chosen at random. Mayoral candidate profiles will appear on Mondays.
Doug Linkhart isn’t joking when he says he moved to Denver because of John Denver.
“I looked for him all around the city, but I couldn’t find him,” jokes the mayoral candidate and at-large city councilman.
Linkhart half jokes about moving to Denver in pursuit of John Denver, but he has purpose in his recollection. He notes how so many Denverites have been lured to the city in pursuit of a better life Ń a life surrounded by proud mountains and a progressive lifestyle.
Doug Linkhart, with more than 17 years of public service behind him, believes he is the progressive candidate to lead the community towards a better life.
“I don’t see Denver as having all these problems, what I see is potential,” a white-haired, lanky 55-year-old Linkhart says smoothly at his campaign headquarters near Curtis Park. “I love this city too much to watch it not reach its full potential. It’s kind of like watching a kid who is a genius play video games all their life É I just see so much potential in this city.”
A self-described “political science geek,” Linkhart’s journey through public service heated up in 1994 when he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. He quickly moved over to the Senate only a year-and-a-half later, serving for eight years.
Throughout his tenure as a public servant, Linkhart has always committed himself to progressive issues. When former Mayor John Hickenlooper and city officials were touting a $378 million new jail facility, Linkhart was pushing for 1 percent of that to be spent on alternative treatments, including mental health counseling and drug treatment.
Linkhart’s out-of-the-box ideas have earned him headlines, like in 2009 when he spoke to the Denver Daily News of his idea to privatize and sell off the city’s $9 million annual revenue from parking meters for a lump sum. He has not given up on the idea, including it in his campaign’s $100 million budget-balancing plan for the city.
Some have considered Linkhart’s ideas to be quirky and simple-minded, but the city councilman sticks to his viewpoints, bringing much of his progressiveness to the mayoral election.
Police and safety
While Linkhart doesn’t find himself worked up about many things Ń it seems like the majority of the time, Linkhart is cool and collected Ń he does find himself frustrated over the course of the city’s safety management system.
When discussing back in March how two Denver police officers were fired for beating a man in LoDo, Linkhart responded, “Two, that’s a start.”
He says the city needs a new police chief, and likely new leadership in the Manager of Safety’s office as well. But his drive is changing how the city prioritizes its safety management.
Linkhart doesn’t believe jails are the answer. He says the answer is community policing, rehabilitation, counseling and training.
“We’ve trained the cops in crisis intervention, which is helpful so that they can deal with situations like that,” says Linkhart. “But now they know what to do, but there’s still no one to call.”
Linkhart says the city’s social services resources are strained. He would like to see the city redirect some of its investments towards alternatives.
But he acknowledges that much of the issue rests with the police department itself and its management. The city councilman says the city needs a police chief who is ready to make unpopular decisions Ń decisions that stray from the status quo.
“[Police Chief Gerald] Whitman is careful to count his words so as to not offend people in the bottom ranks,” Linkhart says. “And I’ve seen chiefs in other cities É where they’ve been successful because they go into their roles as a chief and say, ‘This is what we’re doing and your pay raises depend on it É’”
“When you make it not just a fluffy extra, but you make it a core part of their job, then you drive people out of their cars to walk their beats, then it stops this ‘us versus them’ situation that we have now,” Linkhart continues.
He envisions a city where when a police officer sees a group of kids drinking, he stops them by name and counsels them on their behavior.
Linkhart says it also takes a manager of safety to provide that direction.
“You need someone who’s a big thinker in that position, who can see the overall picture of safety and figure out how do we coordinate the departments in a way that provides the best outcomes,” said Linkhart. “Secondly, you need somebody who will implement the discipline matrix in a fair manner and an expedient manner.”
Keeping with his reinvestment line of thinking, Linkhart has a plan to tackle the city’s $100 million budget shortfall through long-term investments and revenues.
He isn’t shy about calling for “additional revenues,” including charging fees for fire alarm calls and selling concessions at recreation centers and parks. That amounts to about $10 million.
But the majority of his balancing plan comes through $30 million in general fund expenditure cuts, $25 million in delays to capital improvements, and $25 million through a parking revenue privatization program.
Another $10 million would come from a “green for green” program, in which fees would be charged for waste collection, but lower fees would be charged to those who recycle and compost.
“The reason the budget has this structural issue is twofold: One is that revenues are not going up as fast as they should,” says Linkhart. “But the other is that our expenses É are going up because of our lack of investment.”
Linkhart notes how the city’s jail population continues to grow as crime decreases.
“Yet we’re still putting more and more people in there,” says a visibly irritated Linkhart. “We’ve got more homeless É the social fabric is crumbling, which means more dropouts, more child welfare, and we’re just spiraling upwards in terms of our costs. Unless we continually reduce costs, we’ll cut every year and still not keep up.”
Unlike some other candidates, Linkhart’s focus is on growing Denver from within. He does not place much of a focus on attracting large corporations from out of state.
“Economic development is growing locally, it’s building from the bottom up, making sure people have the skills, the education, to get good jobs, and helping entrepreneurs get started, helping small business grow,” said Linkhart.
Linkhart says it’s much more difficult to attract a Fortune 500 company to Denver than it is to start a simple economic gardening program. While it may seem unconventional to grow the city’s economy by incentivizing grocery stores to buy produce farmed by the residents of Denver, Linkhart believes it is unconventional ideas that will save the city’s economy.
But beyond the out-of-the-box ideas, Linkhart is also thinking traditionally, wanting to assist small businesses with seed capital to start and gap financing to help with payroll during the tough times.
Linkhart also says it’s about starting with vocational training, and moving away from the notion that there are better jobs than others out there.
“Young people don’t want to get their hands dirty É” said Linkhart. “We can’t force kids to take those jobs, but we can show them a way to get there.”
In addition to reinvesting the city’s resources, Linkhart would also like to see the city make wiser spending decisions. He says when asking voters for money for infrastructure projects, less should be spent on interest and more should be spent on the actual projects themselves. Part of the answer is in temporary mill levies, says Linkhart.
“What we’re [currently] doing is like you and me borrowing for clothes,” said Linkhart.
He says simply being wiser with the city’s dollars would be enough to grow the city’s economy, beyond attracting out-of-state businesses.
“I don’t believe Denver has to keep growing to be a good quality place,” said Linkhart. “There are other ways to cut long-term.”
As with other issues, Linkhart believes in a community approach to improving the city’s education system. He does not believe a mayor should have control over the city’s schools and school board, but he does believe a mayor can help facilitate greater coordination between the executive office and the schools.
“I don’t want to meddle in board activities as far as their inter-workings go, or who’s on the board,” said Linkhart. “That’s not my area anymore than I should get involved with who’s on the RTD board, or how they get along. But we can certainly collaborate É”
For Linkhart, the issue is not about whether a neighborhood has a charter school or a traditional public school. For Linkhart, the issue is about how involved the community is with that school.
“I don’t think it’s a question of whether a kid’s in a charter school, or a magnet school, or a private school É those differences are tiny compared to the difference that we can make by helping the kids and the families,” he said.
Linkhart envisions a neighborhood in which everyone rallies behind their local school.
He wants to see the city reward citizens for volunteering at the schools, for mentoring students, and for training parents.
“It needs to come from both directions. From the school direction and from the neighborhood direction É” said Linkhart. “We need to be creating a village around each school that takes us back to the olden days of the community supporting the school and being more like a small town, whereas if the school wins a championship in anything, the whole town shows up.”
Linkhart is one of the few candidates who has earned the love and respect of the medical marijuana community in Denver.
Linkhart not only wants to decrease regulations on the industry Ń he would like to see a full legalization of the drug. For the councilman who chaired the Safety Committee in which Denver crafted the most comprehensive medical marijuana regulations in the nation, Linkhart views medical marijuana centers as a small business like any other.
“I look at it from a very practical standpoint, that here’s a business and it’s legal because of the state constitution, and what does it bring in terms of positives and negatives, and how do we control the negatives and enhance the positives?” said Linkhart.
Unlike other candidates who are hesitant to legitimize the industry, Linkhart sees 4,000 jobs and $3 million in taxes per year. He sees $200 million in investments made since the industry launched, and 600 once-vacant buildings being utilized.
“Let’s regulate the effects like we do with any other business,” said Linkhart. “If they’re having a negative effect, we’ve got to get in there and control it É If there needs to be new laws, or somebody needs to regulate whether they have women in bikinis outside with twirling signs, or something like that, they can put that law into place.”
“But it’s a business, and we’re protecting schools and neighborhoods as best we can,” the councilman concluded.
Linkhart is hesitant to change anything about the city’s ban on pit bulls, not without more money for animal control to increase enforcement.
“It would cost money and there would be a lot of hoops to jump through,” Linkhart says of any legalization of pit bulls.
Linkhart said for him to support reversing the city’s ban on pit bulls, he would require insurance and secure fencing, to name a couple of his suggestions.
“I do think that this breed is different from a regular dog,” he said.