Jul 12, 2021 - Politics

In win for mayoral power, Denver City Council OKs airport nominee

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock stands up clapping

Mayor Michael Hancock. Photo: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Following weeks of questions and scrutiny around Mayor Michael Hancock's pick to lead Denver International Airport, the City Council ultimately ushered in Phillip Washington unanimously and without discussion Monday.

Why it matters: Washington's appointment marked the first real test of the mayor's muscle since voters strengthened City Council's checks and balances over Denver's chief executive last November. The council now has the power to approve 14 key mayoral cabinet appointments, including the head of DIA.

State of play: After Axios first reported that Washington is named in a criminal search warrant and connected to public corruption allegations, the council hit the brakes on what was expected to be a breezy hire and called Washington into a committee meeting for questioning.

  • Meanwhile, the mayor's office circled the wagons around Washington, with Hancock even making a rare appearance in the committee meeting to fiercely defend his nominee.

What happened: Council members downplayed the accusations and appeared to defer to the mayor's office and the word of Washington, who says he isn't under criminal investigation and assured city officials that his legal baggage won't interfere with his ability to run the airport.

Yes, but: The council still challenged Washington and the mayor's office to answer questions surrounding the allegations and candidate selection process before giving the green light.

What's next: Washington starts July 19, after outgoing CEO Kim Day retires, DIA spokesperson Alex Renteria told Axios.

  • He steps into the city's highest-paid charter officer position, at $266,143 a year — a dip from the $411,000 salary he earned at his former gig leading the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The bottom line: Under Denver's strong-mayor form of government, the might of the executive branch still holds true despite City Council's new authority.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Washington's correct start date due to erroneous information initially provided by an airport official.


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