In his native Houston, Al Gardner said his family lived fairly well and worked to share their success.
Gardner recounted a story of his grandmother riding around town in a Cadillac, picking up anybody on the street who looked like they could use a hand. She’d drive them to a store and buy them clothes or bring them home with her.
“She would tell us: ‘very easily, you could be here too,’” Gardner said.
Those small acts of kindness laid the foundation for the soft spot in Gardner’s heart, his desire to help. Now, a longtime Denver resident, the 48-year-old IT professional, decided to run for mayor, one of 17 vying for the seat.
“I genuinely believe that everyone has the capacity to do better in this world, everyone has the inalienable right to pursue happiness,” Gardner said. “I want to help people realize that.”
Gardner said he worked helping electricians for a while in Houston, bending pipes, fixing joints and more. He started the work heading into his senior year of college after his wife got pregnant. One of the electricians suggested he look into information technologies and not long after he went back to school and started his career in IT.
Around 2001 Gardner moved to Denver because the company for which he worked, a banking and software firm, was expanding.
“That was tough at first, quite the culture change, coming from a city that’s 40% Black to Colorado, which is very different,” Gardner said.
But he and his family settled in, made new friends and enrolled his children in school. At that school, Park Hill Elementary, Gardner said he began diving into local issues. Teachers were suspending Black students at disproportionately higher rates, Gardner said, so he and his wife went to speak with the school officials about how to solve the problem. They even advocated for students whose parents weren’t able to come to the meetings.
In the years following Gardner said he partnered with a church to feed people experiencing homelessness and sex workers up and down East Colfax. He worked as the IT director for the Denver Rescue Mission and currently works as the vice president of IT at Salud Family Health. He has also served on Denver’s African American Commission, Civil Service Commission and Citizen Oversight Board.
Policing and public safety particularly came to the fore with the death of George Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020.
“George Floyd was actually one of my football teammates,” Gardner said. “He was a sophomore when I was a senior. When this stuff came out I said ‘I remember this kid.’”
Gardner recalled the first time a police officer pulled him over, when he was in high school, and said he was scared to death. Multiple times he said police have pulled him out of his car, pointed guns to his head and asked whether he was armed or had drugs on him.
At the same time, Gardner added, said he knows good police officers. He wants to highlight the benefits of proper policing while mitigating the risks.
“Until we start hiring robots, we’re going to have human problems,” Gardner said.
Gardner said if elected mayor he’d move to change the culture within Denver’s law enforcement agencies, ensuring that whoever helms the departments is willing to disrupt how they’ve operated in the past. He’d want to update how officers are recruited and how they’re trained as well.
And Gardner said he’s qualified for the job. He stressed his executive and leadership experience and his ability to bring people together, to recognize their individual talents and to build a consensus.
Among his other top priorities as mayor would be to expand the city’s affordable housing stock, expand services for the homeless and find ways to revitalize business space downtown that’s now vacant due to the pandemic.
Gardner said his vision is for Denver to be a world-class city, but one in which its residents can afford to live.
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