Denver mayor election: Thomas Wolf takes aim at homeless encampments

The focus of Thomas Wolf’s campaign for Denver mayor is hard to miss at the top of his website, crying out in all-caps: “ENCAMPMENTS, ENCAMPMENTS, ENCAMPMENTS.”

He promises to end unauthorized camping by homeless people, something that’s eluded outgoing Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration while spurring fights in the courts.

“It’s the first thing that everybody says” in conversations with voters, Wolf said in an interview. “Like, ‘What the hell is going on? And why isn’t this being confronted?’ ”

Wolf acknowledges his attention on the issue also is aimed at breaking through in a crowded mayoral race full of better-known political figures. But the longtime financial professional, who’s worked in investment banking and raised money for public and private equity, argues the increase in visible homelessness affects the health of downtown and some neighborhoods.

“My singular focus is on encampments because they’re destroying the city — you know, physically, mentally and financially,” he said. Still, he’s quick to add that it’s a humanitarian crisis that demands a concerted response to get people sheltered.

Wolf, 58, previously ran for mayor without raising money in 2011. He came in seventh in the first round, drawing less than 2% of votes. He was motivated then by disagreement with the city’s fiscal management coming out of the Great Recession.

Twelve years later, he says Denver remains on the wrong track. This time, Wolf is raising money, capitalizing on donation-matching by the Fair Elections Fund.

“With the crises that we’ve had, between civil unrest and the pandemic, we’ve really needed leadership — and I think leadership has been absent,” Wolf said.

He hopes to bring an outsider’s perspective, along with fresh approaches to address homelessness, housing affordability and quality-of-life issues.

Wolf, raised in Iowa, earned a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Denver, where he met his wife, Hanne. He worked in the financial sector on Wall Street and in London before the couple decided in 1999 to move to Denver to raise their two daughters. He now works at Crewe Capital.

Wolf, an avid cyclist, skier and urbanist, lives in Cherry Creek. He says he’s optimistic about Denver’s future — if only it can solve its most pressing problems.

He delights in issuing blunt assessments and embraces the idea that he’d run city government like a business.

Wolf is less clear on how he would navigate thorny city politics on issues such as homelessness. But in his view, past efforts largely have cast the city as an enabler.

“Behavioral psych is carrots and sticks, right? We’re drowning these people in carrots,” he said. Later, he alluded to activist pushback: “If I hear ‘criminalizing homelessness’ again, my head is going to explode.”

Wolf said he’d seek firm policies to move people into shelters of varying kinds, while working to address individuals’ drug addictions, mental health problems and other root causes. One policy prescription is to enroll homeless people on the municipal health insurance plan.

Wolf says he’s not a great public speaker, “but I’m a doer.”

“I am biased to action,” he said, “Set the course and get it done. And if it’s not working, reset the course and keep plugging away until you solve the problem.”

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