When Denver was selected over New York City to be the host city for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, it was as if the city was finally being recognized as sophisticated and full of potential. The West itself has been emerging as a significant force in national elections, and the “Mile High City” is positioned as the hub of this relatively new political power region.
A lot has changed in the 100 years since Denver last hosted a Democratic National Convention in 1908, but then again, not so much. Back then, civic leaders and citizens were eager to show the world just how cosmopolitan the “Queen City” was.
Never mind that the state, and many surrounding Western states, have long been conservative strongholds; Colorado’s governors and Denver’s mayors have alternated between Republicans and Democrats.
Denver’s first mayor was John C. Moore (1859–1861), back when Denver was part of the Jefferson Territory. Charles A. Cook was elected mayor in 1861 after the area became Colorado Territory. As the city grew, some mayors were more effective and memorable than others at improving local services and infrastructure. In 1904 Robert W. Speer was elected mayor for the first time (he was elected again in 1916) and established the City Beautiful programs, the beginning of transforming an often dirty and rough town that had caused at least one visitor to remark that it was more “plain than Queenly” (in reference to the city’s nickname, Queen City of the Plains). Speer’s beautification efforts remain some of the city’s jewels today—-the tree-lined Cherry Creek, Civic Center Park, improved city parks, and increased acreage of the parks.
A rather unseemly period in Denver’s mayoral past was during the connection between Benjamin F. Stapleton, who was elected to his first term in 1923, and the Ku Klux Klan. At the time, many prominent citizens were affiliated with the Klan and Stapleton aligned himself with them to gain votes. Stapleton’s popularity outlived the prominence of the Klan, though, and he was reelected many times, even after abandoning the group’s leaders.
In the 1980s Denver was hit hard by the oil bust, and then some setbacks for high-tech companies. In the 1990s, Denver began to pull itself back up by the bootstraps and find its niche, thanks in part to the vision of its mayors.
Denver’s first Latino mayor, Federico Pena, was sworn in to office in 1983. Pena not only weathered the fiscal storms of the era, but also found ways to reinvest in the city and initiated the new Denver International Airport plans and a major league baseball team. Wellington Webb became Denver’s first African American mayor in 1991 and he further shaped the city into what it is today, with expansion of the park system and completion of the airport.
As old warehouses became lofts and art galleries, historic buildings were transformed into charming blocks of sophisticated shops and restaurants and Coors Field was built for the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Denver became more appealing and growth soared.
As lower downtown (LoDo) was on the cusp of becoming a draw, one-time geologist John W. Hickenlooper co-founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company across from Union Station. Years later he raised his public profile when he fought over the naming of the new football stadium, insisting that “Mile High” remain part of the name even when naming rights were sold to the highest bidder. He became Denver’s 43rd mayor in 2003, and was part of bringing the Democratic National Convention to the city in 2008.
© Mindy Sink from Moon Denver, 1st Edition