Common sense decisions.
That’s what Rita Lewis is hoping to make as she throws her hat in the District 8 City Council seat race, which covers northeast Denver.
Lewis is an immigration attorney, running her firm RLimmigration P.C. She’s the former president of the Denver Branch of the NAACP, former board member of the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center and the former commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. She graduated from Spelman College before earning her law degree at the University of Colorado School of Law. She’s also an Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“I want to bring some common-sense decision making to city council,” Lewis said. “People might say we’re doing that already but I just don’t see it. I think I have some lofty goals but I don’t think those lofty goals are unattainable. I’m also passionate about what happens in my community. I’ve lived in District 8 for a long time and Park Hill is the historic neighborhood in District 8. So, when it comes to any planning or improvements I would definitely like to see more done in Park Hill. That goes for East Colfax and Montbello.”
Lewis has lived in Park Hill on and off for most of her life, moving there when she was three years old after the neighborhood was integrated. Lewis remembers Colorado Boulevard was a “color line” and Black Denverites couldn’t live east of the corridor.
She also remembers the Black community that thrived in Park Hill on blocks like Holly, Dahlia, Fairfax and Oneida. Lewis said those hubs and the community were ultimately displaced because of gentrification. She added that with the creation of Central Park, the other neighborhoods in the district sometimes don’t get as much love in terms of attention and policy efforts.
“Central Park is beautiful but it’s a man-made metropolis smackdab in the middle of East Denver,” Lewis said. “Growing up, there was no Central Park. That was Stapleton Airport. I’m glad they made use of that land but with that metropolis, I think areas like Park Hill and the portion of Colfax and Montbello are overlooked.”
Lewis said she’d like to see more services brought to the smaller neighborhoods in her district, such as more recreation centers and, most importantly, more transportation routes.
Lewis recalled riding RTD from her home in Park Hill to the old Cinderella City Mall in Englewood. But since her youth, she says, RTD has cut out essential stops in the area.
Lewis would also like to see the minority businesses and the minority population increase in the neighborhood but to do that, Lewis said, it needs affordable housing. She added that keeping people in Denver at a low cost could allow them to create small businesses, which in turn ensures the new generation of Denverites has some generational wealth.
“We’ve been displaced and those Black businesses were displaced,” Lewis said. “African Americans don’t have that generational wealth that we used to have years ago. The same thing is happening on the west and Northside. Those same Latino families have been displaced and so have the businesses. Denver is just too expensive. Too expensive to run a business and too expensive to live.”
Lewis said one way to create that affordable housing is through “reasonable rent control.” She said rent prices need to be capped, especially for Denverites living in apartments run by corporate landlords. However, she said, the city should also take into consideration the strain strict rent restraints could put on mom and pop landlords.
Lewis added that another means to affordable housing is making sure it’s attainable, meaning housing restrictions should include wider income ranges so all Denverites can afford a home and later purchase one, which ties back to the goal of having generational wealth.
“My mom told me you better not ever sell our property and I won’t,” Lewis laughed. “You don’t sell off your generational wealth.”
As current Councilmember Chris Herndon terms out, the northeast Denver seat will be unoccupied come April 2023. Lewis is currently running against Brad Revare, Tyler Drum, Christian Steward, Leslie Twarogowski and Shontel Lewis
Lewis said while her goals are to improve her whole district, she’s looking to give the historically marginalized neighborhood some additional attention. But ultimately, Lewis said the city’s issues with housing, transportation and crime affect everyone and it’s time leaders find better, common sense, solutions.
“I’m no genius. I’m no engineer. But I have common sense,” Lewis said. “Some things we’re doing now are not working. I’m concerned about all the neighbors in District 8. We’ve got a lot of good things going. We’ve got a lot of bad things going. I just want to be the person that represents the people.”