DENVER (CBS4) – The longtime Denver leader who worked to bring the 2008 Democratic National Convention to Denver is retiring at the end of the year. Elbra Wedgeworth was once Denver City Council President and has remained a city staffer since then, and her work has shaped the city in many ways.
Wedgeworth has a building named after her. The Elbra M. Wedgeworth Municipal Building in the city’s Five Points neighborhood is an indicator of her remarkable legacy.
Wedgeworth was raised in poverty in the Curtis Park projects and became a high-profile public figure who broke down many barriers for women and minorities. She says her goal was to make a difference in the lives of those struggling and without a voice, and she has.
“I always remember where I’m from,” she told CBS4.
She was raised in a family with six kids in public housing, and she was the youngest child.
“I didn’t plan on being in politics or plan on having this adventure or journey,” she said.
She planned to become a social worker. Instead, she became a trailblazer. She was the only person in recent history to hold key positions in the Denver’s mayor’s office, the auditor’s office and on the Denver City Council. She is the second African-American woman to serve as Council president, the first to chair the Downtown Denver Partnership, and first in the nation to host a national convention.
If you ask anyone who worked with the city at the time, they’ll say DNC wouldn’t have happened in the Mile High City if not for her.
“It’s like that light you see but nobody sees but you and you just go towards it, you don’t care what anybody says. And you just do it and it all just falls into place,” she said of her leadership style.
“I think the proudest moment for me, being a native here, is to watch Obama walk across the stage at Invesco Field.”
While on city council, Wedgeworth was chair of the Union Station redevelopment project, bringing it in on time and under budget. As chief government officer of Denver Health, she helped pass a $1 billion bond that funded an outpatient medical center among other things.
She said that with her upcoming retirement, she’s “going to really focus on Elbra.”
“It’s time to mentor and encourage that next generation of leadership,” she said. “That’s always been kind of the core of who I am, to help others.”
She never did become a social worker, but at Denver Health Wedgeworth has come full circle. She has been helping those living in poverty in the neighborhood she still calls home.
Wedgeworth says early on in her career she was not just the only woman in high-level meetings, she was the only person of color. Of the challenges she faced, she says she followed this advice: “Don’t let circumstances define you. You always define yourself. And don’t forget where you came from, because that’s what makes you who you are.”
Wedgeworth plans to spend more time with her family and maybe write a book, but she’ll certainly stay engaged with her community. That’s just who she is.