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.
“I’m at the precipice of so much — poverty and wealth and all of these things — and people have strong feelings about it,” said Councilman Albus Brooks.
Brooks recently finished two terms as the Denver City Council president. He noted three things that he wants people to remember about his presidency; he strived to always start from a neutral position, keep his bias at the door and bring people together of disparate interests.
“That makes people hate you because they want you to be on one side or the other. But, I really feel like that is the trick of politics. All interests have a valid point and all voices matter,” Brooks said.
It is not a secret that the Councilman — who represents District 9 — has earned many fans and many critics. He had a message for both of these groups.
“Even folks who hate on me and stuff — I see everyone as image bearers of the most high God. I have nothing but love and peace for them. Let’s attack the issue and figure out if we can come up with some solutions.”
Critics of the politician have accused him of contributing to the problem of gentrification by favoring developers over the community. 303 Magazine asked the Councilman for his reaction to this criticism.
“It was already gentrified,” Brooks, who took office in 2011, said. “Gentrification is a loaded word. I don’t know if we should use it so much. It’s about displacement. If people feel displaced out of the neighborhood that they grew up in, that’s the issue.”
Brooks shared his understanding of the word. “Gentrification is actually new investment. If I invest in a park, that’s not necessarily bad. But, if it causes people to be displaced, then it is bad. To fix it, it is going to take a long time and we are going to have to be patient for these changes.”
According to Brooks, critics do not scare him. He defeated 38 challengers in 2011 to earn his position on the Denver City Council. He was re-elected in 2015 with 68 percent of the vote.
During his time as a football player at CU Boulder, Brooks was named one of the Top 10 Hardest Hitters by Sports Illustrated. The 39-year-old has done numerous things since then — from earning his MBA at the University of Denver to serving as the Outreach and Political Director for John Hickenlooper during his campaign for Governor of Colorado.
He has always been a fighter — whether it be on the football field, in the classroom, in the political arena or more recently, in the hospital. Councilman Brooks has defeated cancer not just once, but twice.
“You never know what life is about until you face death. It was a powerful experience for me. I grew spending more time with my little guys and my wife and realizing my selfishness in life,” the Councilman shared.
“But, adversity comes to allow us the opportunity to be better people and that’s what I’m taking away from it — that this is a chance for me to be a better person. I listen to pain when it comes to my life. It’s a teacher.”
As we drove around the neighborhoods that are home to his district, Brooks fiddled with his radio and said — “You have to get the full experience of what I listen to when I’m coming through the hood like this.” He played “God’s Plan,” by Drake.
The district is economically and racially diverse. District 9 is home to Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Whittier, Curtis Park and City Park. The area also houses Union Station, Coors Field, Six Flags, the Pepsi Center, the Coliseum and other notable locations that draw visitors from around the world to the city.
Councilman Brooks was excited to point out some of the projects that he has been working on in the community.
“We instituted for the first time in the city’s history tiny homes for the homeless.” He drove us to the Beloved Community Village on the corner of 38th and Blake Streets.
The tiny homes sit next to a massive construction site in Denver’s River North area. According to the Denver Business Journal, “HomeAdvisor is leasing 58,000 square feet on the top two floors of an eight-story office building, part of a redevelopment planned to include a boutique hotel and shops.”
The Councilman said that the tiny homes will be moving — as their current ordinance only allows them to stay for six months — but affordable housing will be built in their place.
“I think what I want to communicate is the contrast, not the disparity,” he said — pointing to the two vastly different structures.
“We are allowing this tiny home village to be here in the midst of a top company. This is the vision. We can coexist together. It doesn’t just have to be rich and poor in separate communities. It’s a mix of incomes here. That’s what we are trying to accomplish. Folks are really embracing this and enjoying it.”
However, despite his current statements — some constituents have criticized the Councilman for sponsoring a bill in 2012 that forbids unauthorized camping on public and private property in Denver which put a major strain on Denver’s homeless population. Brooks shared his thoughts on the urban camping ban.
“It is unjust for a city to have people sleeping outside. I think we need to work hard to provide housing. In our last seven years in office, we have built homeless housing at the rate of about 100 units per year. I’m excited about that, but we need to double those efforts. The way you mitigate homelessness is housing and services.”
Projects like the Beloved Community Village excite him.
It is evident that there is a lot of development happening in District 9 and Brooks did not shy away from the topic.
“The unfortunate thing for City Council is we only have jurisdiction over so much of the parcels in the city and county of Denver. But, what we do have jurisdiction over we have implemented a lot of linkage fees,” Brooks noted.
Linkage fees aim to link new development happening in the community with the creation of affordable housing.
Brooks said, “We don’t just don’t want wealthy people living here. So in this district, we instituted an incentive height overlay for affordable housing. So if you build a certain amount, you have to provide affordable housing in this district.”
As we continued talking, the Councilman told me about an experience that shaped his worldview. During his time as a Young Life leader — a Christian organization for high-school aged students — Brooks mentored ex-gang members and took them on trips. He wanted them to get out of the city and experience something different.
The Councilman shared a story. “One of the gang members said at the end of the week, ‘Don’t ever take me to this again. You’re helping me experience what is an impossible reality for me.’”
That statement was forever engrained in Brooks’ mind.
“It kind of rocked me. What he was saying was — ‘When I go back home, I go back home to gang-infested neighborhoods. I go back home to schools that don’t work. I go back to a single mom. The system is made up to work against me.’”
The Councilman described himself as a deeply spiritual individual. “I don’t come from a conservative Christian background because the reality in the neighborhood is much different. The reality is that race matters in our world today, unfortunately. It’s important that we start categorizing our policies with a racial lens and seeing who have been personally affected by race.”
When asked if he believes that churches and nonprofits are better at combating poverty than government programs, Brooks said, “I mean if every church in the Denver metro area opened up their doors to the homeless — it would be done like that. Is that feasible? No.”
He offered his perspective. “You need cross-sector partnerships. The city of Denver needs to be working with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and churches. We are all in this together. It is neither this or that.”
Many constituents see the work that Albus Brooks is doing and are interested in his plans for the future.
He mentions the possibility of starting a business or foundation or continuing on in political leadership whether it be in the city or nationally. “I’m 39-years-old and I have a lot of life ahead of me.”
Brooks’ previous boss, Governor John Hickenlooper, is rumored to be gearing up for a bid at the presidential election in 2020.
“I think we need a great candidate, so I suspect that Governor Hickenlooper is going to run for office. It’ll be fun to watch. I’m not making any commitments on what campaigns I’m supporting just yet, but I think that he should run,” Brooks said.
Councilman Brooks references Jeremiah 29:7, a Bible verse that says, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
He may not know what his next step is, but this is what Councilman Brooks knows for sure — “I want to build a prosperous city where all people are prosperous. It shouldn’t matter what part of Denver you grow up in. I want to build a peaceful city where all folks are at peace. It’s pretty powerful and it means some policy changes.”
All photography by Giacomo Di Franco.
Go here to check out our other profiles on city council people in our Coffee and Car Rides series.