Jul 1, 2021 - Business

Denver airport CEO nominee advances in confirmation process

A Zoom screen of the council committee members

Screenshot via Denver 8 TV

Phillip Washington passed his first test in the confirmation process to become Denver International Airport's new CEO.

Driving the news: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's nominee met publicly for the first time Wednesday with a City Council committee to discuss his vision for the airport and the "elephant in the room" — criminal allegations tied to his time leading the Los Angeles Metro transit agency.

  • Washington told the committee that his legal baggage in LA won't negate his ability to lead the airport, and that the bulk of it stems from a disgruntled employee.
  • After an hour of questioning, the committee unanimously advanced his appointment to the full council.

Flashback: As Axios first reported, Washington is named in a search warrant seeking communication records between him and other high-ranking officials based on a now Emmy-nominated local news investigation that discovered LA Metro's sexual harassment hotline was costing taxpayers thousands of dollars per call.

  • The warrant is part of an ongoing review of criminal allegations against LA Metro, which Washington led from March 2015 to May 2020.
  • At least three lawsuits filed against the transit agency under Washington's leadership remain pending in the Superior Court of California in LA County.

What they're saying: "Any large organization has litigation," said at-large council member Robin Kniech. "I do not find [the lawsuits] to be a barrier to this candidate's qualifications and to the role that they are taking on."

Of note: In a rare move, Hancock attended the council's meeting to confront "questions that have come up, particularly in the media," regarding Washington's time in LA.

  • The mayor told the council he nominated Washington without hiring a national search firm because he was confident he was right for the job and didn't want to waste the time or money on a national search, considering the work to be done at DIA and the fact that the mayor only has two years left in office.
  • Meanwhile, Washington outlined his vision, which includes expanding the airport and being an hands-on leader that likes to "manage on the ground."

Context: The meeting marks the first time council members tested their new power to approve certain mayoral appointments.

What's next: The full council is scheduled to vote on Washington's confirmation on July 12.


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