This is a series profiling Denver’s City Councilmembers. Each month we grab coffee and take a car ride in their district. Along the way, we get an intimate look at their lives, their worldview and most importantly, their goals for their districts. Go here to read past profiles.
Wayne New, City Council District 10, is a tall man in more ways than his obvious stature. I was dwarfed by his appearance and position. He’s a southern man with a southern draw and pleasantry only common to the deep-south of Georgia.
District 10 holds nearly all of the museums in Denver, the Botanic Gardens, Cherry Creek and a part of Colfax. When you think of Denver, you most likely think of District 10. Michael Bennet, US Senator, lives in Cherry Creek with New — it’s the district with money, attractions and diversity.
New grew up in Atlanta, shaping his accent as much as who he is. Listening to Motown and the Beatles growing up, he now plays Paul McCartney in his car. New played football, an obvious fit, at Georgia State and began his career in the health field in at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he learned he loved pediatrics as a healthcare consultant. He occasionally worked the night shift and saw some pretty crazy shit, to put it lightly.
One night there was a gang fight; several people were shot, and a man was brought into his hospital with gun wounds. New and one of the hospital guards were curious about the commotion and went to check it out.
“We look down the hall, and this guy walking with scrubs was coming down the hall and had a big pony tail.”
The guard and New looked at each other, asking, ‘Who this guy,’ someone they had never seen before.
“It was one of the gang members who had a sawed-off shotgun in his sleeve, he was going to go into the operating room and finish this guy,” New said.
He thought to himself, “Wow, this is the night shift.”
He then moved around the US to start children’s hospitals as a consultant and financial analyst, holding executive management positions in children’s hospitals nationwide, including one in another southern state — Texas.
“When I was in Grady working at that first hospital, I was in charge of all the pediatric clinics. I saw the kids who came in there with orthopedic problems, cardiac problems, cancer problems. Helping those kids get well and walk out and be able to live normal lives, that’s what’s public service to me.”
In Texas, he learned of Clara Driscoll, a liberal woman in a conservative state who saved the Alamo, and later many lives by established the Driscoll Foundation Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, the hospital New worked at before coming to Colorado in 1999. He seems somewhat inspired by the tough and driven Democrat.
His experiences in health care have obviously shaped his opinion on the heated political topic in all realms, from insurance, to care and mental health and marijuana. New donated $250 to US Sen. Cory Gardner’s campaign, saying he was the best candidate, not because he was Republican. Gardner has received pushback from some constituents for his lack of town halls to hear opinions on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Trump’s conflicts of interest and more. President Trump’s administrations is pushing for the Senate to vote on the bill before their August recess.
New is registered as an independent and said he is a fiscal conservative. We had our coffee and car ride the day the House was voting on the AHCA.
“The beauty of Obamacare is greater access to our citizens, which is good, preexisting conditions and all those things that are going to stay, we need to keep those things, but somehow we gotta make sure the cost of healthcare is managed well so people can afford healthcare,” New said.
New said he thinks the AHCA will be a good compromise saying “pre-existing conditions” are the most expensive to treat.
“When I was a consultant the cost was enormous,” New said. “I think the changes that are being made now are good. We’re going to preserve the best of what’s going on but also trying to address the cost issue.”
For him, it was a natural transition from hospitals to city government — something he never thought he would try.
“I’m enjoying it. I never thought I’d ever run for political office, but being involved, I definitely see the similarities in my healthcare background,” New said.
Public service is at the core of why he does what he does. He defines public service like most: helping the greater population and making a difference by giving people a voice.
“The main thing is I think we’re helping. We’re making a difference because I think the big thing I heard on my campaign as I was walking every one of these streets and meeting people and every dog in the world, the thing is people kept telling me is, ‘I want to be involved. I want the city to listen and I want to be a part of the decision making process,’ and that’s what I focused on more than anything.”
He got his major neighborhood leaders to put in budget requests to the city with his help.
“When I got in the office and looked at the budget process, I found our citizens were never involved with the budget process at all,” New said. “I think we’re doing really good to help our citizens understand our issues and participate in decision making.
Before being a City Council member, New was President of the Cherry Creek North Neighborhood Association and Cherry Creek Area Plan Update Co-Chair among other titles in his neighborhood and district.
Being a public servant, especially for the youth, seems to be a major driver for New who passionately loves children after working in pediatrics for so long. He points out the Good Sheppard on our drive where he and other council members read to the kids there.
One issue his district is facing is in little Civic Center Park. Students from East High School have been smoking weed and vandalizing property in and around the park. New said many students have medical marijuana cards and get edibles to pass along to their peers. A report in May 2017 found marijuana-related ER visits in teens more than quadrupled after legalization.
“What I worry about, we just need to do more research on the effects on kids,” New said.
While healthcare is something concerning for him, New hopes his lasting legacy he hopes to leave for his constituents after his City Council run is a dent on the homelessness issue.
“We have 6,000 people on our streets in homelessness, we should be able to do a better job,” New said.
New said it’s a greater issue than poverty. It’s mental health, affordable housing and lack of jobs. To combat these issues, he’s working fervently to revamp Colfax. When he first entered his City Council office passed down from his predecessor, Jeanne Robb, he found plans of the past for Colfax.
“I had about 13 different Colfax plans that had never been implemented. I said this is not going to happen again. We’re going to do this right this time.”
The longest street in America will be repaved this summer and future plans are to add development and more pedestrian-friendly sites.
“If I look back on signs of success, Colfax would be one, but homelessness to be the other one for sure. We’ve got great police and they tell me, you know you’ll never eliminate the homeless problem because there’s a certain percentage, maybe 25 percent they just love to be homeless and they love their freedom, but if we can address the other 75 percent, that would be a major accomplishment,” New said.
New wants to get these people into treatment programs and jobs. The day work program, that gives people temporary jobs with the City of Denver in areas like Denver Parks and Recreation, only employs 12 people a day.
“I think we can do it too, it’s just a matter of all of us working together,” New said.
New is in the second year of his first term and said he “probably” will run for a second term.