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Fires and Gangs Heating Up an Already Hot Summer

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The Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: CBS)

The Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti
With high temperature records being broken left and right this week, Colorado’s summer does not need any help heating up. However, with the number of wildfires hitting double digits and apparent gang violence taking the life of a Denver police officer, the summer in Colorado is only going to get hotter.

Frankly, it seems that the fires and increased gang violence are beginning to make some people think of those kinds of summers that get remembered just for those events. Like the summer of 1993, which was dubbed the “Summer of Violence”, or in 2002 when Governor Owens famously told America that “all of Colorado is burning.”

This is the first time though that both wildfires and gang violence are sharing headlines. And while wildfires are hard to do much about, gang violence can quickly sap the positive energy from a city.

Leaders like Governor Hickenlooper and Mayor Hancock must act quickly if they are to reassure the populace and tourists this summer that Colorado and Denver are safe and will continue to be great places to visit.

That may sound alarmist, but how fast does it take for a neighborhood or certain area of town to become avoided for fear of violence? It’s happened before and it can certainly happen again. It happened to the 16th Street Mall, LoDo, City Park and other areas after just a few incidents of violence. If gang violence continues to make headlines, economic ramifications will soon follow.

I realize that Governor Hickenlooper cannot do anything in particular about wildfires, however, he can help control the image of Colorado. There is a big difference between Colorado dealing with a difficult summer, but a fire season that is part of the natural ecology, and Colorado dealing with record fires that are burning everything beautiful that the state is known for.

Controlling that message must start now. It’s not an easy job, because the Governor must also reassure his own citizens that we can protect mountain homes from mass destruction. But controlling that message, leading from the front must begin now, or the flames will do the talking for him.

Controlling the message about gang violence must also begin now with Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Police Chief Robert White. 2012 cannot become another “Summer of Violence”. With the economy in the fragile shape it is already in, the last thing the city needs is for its citizens and tourists to have a reason to not visit the city center.

I do not pretend to think that controlling these messages is easy, but John Hickenlooper and Michael Hancock knew that when they ran for these jobs, that it would not always be easy. This is one of those times when the leadership abilities of both men will be tested.

Will they allow the public to remember this summer for violence and fire, or will be reassure all of us that Colorado and the city of Denver will rise above and overcome these challenges?

A large part of each of these leaders’ legacies will be defined by the summer of 2012. How they are defined is completely up to them.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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