Andy Rougeot said there was one moment near his Highland home, not long ago, that spurred him to run for Denver mayor.
“I’ve got my two year old in my arms – now two-and-a-half-year old – and she loves the swings, her smile will light up on them. But we keep on finding a man using it as a restroom. So, guy with his pants around his ankles. Call the police, won’t do anything about it. Call the non-emergency hotline, sit on hold for an hour and a half, do nothing about it,” he told us. “The city’s just being like, ‘That’s life living in Denver.’ That’s not acceptable.”
Rougeot announced his campaign this summer, and recently became the mayoral race’s top-raising candidate – for now, anyway – after he loaned himself $250,000. Soon, the city will dole out Fair Elections Fund money to his competitors, which will make a big impact on the fundraising picture.
But that fair elections spending is one indication that Denver’s priorities are misguided, Rougeot said, “throwing dollars after programs that don’t work” for “political reasons” instead of directly addressing crime, homelessness and housing. It’s why he opted out of the Fair Elections Fund. It’s also why he’s centering his background as a military intelligence officer and small business owner to show he has “a history of delivering” that would reshape Denver if he’s elected.
He’s hoping his ideas on how to deal with Denver’s thorniest issues will help him stand out in amid growing competition.
“I just want to highlight I’m the only person in favor of enforcing the camping ban in this race,” he told us, “which to me is mind-blowing.”
Rougeot said Denver needs to crack down on crime, addiction and homelessness.
While Denver does have a ban on camping within city limits, it’s been seldom enforced, especially after a county judge ruled it unconstitutional in 2019. Enforcing the ban would result in individual tickets for people who sleep in tents outside. The encampment “sweeps” people are probably more familiar with are actually done under the auspices of public health, which allows officials to clear out blocks of tents without citing anyone.
This status quo, Rougeot said, doesn’t work.
“It’s not helpful to just say we are going to intermittently sweep the city,” he told us. “It has to be a process where you’re getting these people into services. If you’re just moving them around, you’re not doing anything useful.”
Instead, he said he would push the city to lean on its camping ban and use the threat of penalty to coax people into shelters.
“We’re taking you to the Rescue Mission and we are watching you walk in the door and check in,” he said.
People caught with drugs like fentanyl should face a similar choice, he said, ideally a felony charge versus admission into treatment facilities.
“We’re doing a great job, I think, with having that handout, saying, ‘Here’s help, here’s help, here’s help.’ But we need something that says you’ve got to take that hand,” he said. “You either go [get] help voluntarily or we’re going to help involuntarily, because we want to connect you to your parents who you haven’t talked to you in two years. We want to get you into this mental health or drug addiction service. That is the compassionate thing to do. That’s the way to help someone. It’s not just to pretend they’re not there and step over them, which I think is ultimately what the city’s deciding to do.”
Former Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, who is also rumored to be considering a run at the mayor’s seat, voiced similar ideas regarding safety at Union Station. On the other hand, harm-reduction advocates argue that forcing people treatment is not helpful and will put them in cycles of addiction and incarceration.
Rougeot said he’d also take a direct and uncompromising stance on violent crime. In particular, he said statewide bail reforms have set the city back in terms of safety and, as an example of the fallout, cited a recent 9News investigation that found a man was released from two hospitals and a jail before murdering someone near Cheesman Park. Rougeot said the mayor’s “bully pulpit” should be used to call out Denver’s district attorney on individual cases and make sure people accused of violence aren’t released unnecessarily.
While he said he generally supports programs like STAR, which take police away from 911 calls that might be better served by social workers, he said he would not expand them at the expense of police department funding. Rougeot said the city needs at least 400 additional police officers.
Rougeot also said he’d take a “boots in backsides” approach to housing and city administration.
“Expanding” affordable housing is the third major policy bullet point on his website, which he said should be addressed in a couple of ways.
First, he told us, Denver’s backlogged permitting systems must be cleared out, which would speed development and allow our housing inventory to grow more quickly than it is now. His style of leadership would get that done, he told us: “We need a mayor, like me, who is going to go in there and put boots in backsides so we actually get things done.”
(He was wearing military style boots when he met with Denverite at a Highland coffee shop last week.)
Second, he told us Denver’s zoning rules need reform to make building more housing easier. He said building rules have been co-opted by moneyed interest groups and cited a City Council decision that barred self-storage facilities from being built near light rail stations as evidence. Rougeot’s business, RG Maintenance, fixes fencing and gates for self-storage businesses.
Last, he said zoning rules need to be expanded to allow for more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in backyards and apartment buildings where there are parking lots. He said the city is already making some decent progress on this point.
While he said it will take no-nonsense leadership to direct city departments, he added his approach to housing would be similar to his approach to business: incremental and kind of boring.
“When you’re making changes in a business, you’re not Steve Jobs – or most people are not Steve Jobs – arguing about this beautiful design. It’s incremental changes. It makes you a little bit more efficient. It makes you a little bit smarter in how you’re using your bodies,” he said. “There’s not enough money to throw at [the housing problem] to solve it. It’s gotta be letting us use the resources that we already have in the city.”