4 Aurora-region RTD candidates face steep deficit issues in coming years

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From left, Bob Broom, Paul Rosenthal, Julien Bouquet and Ken Mihalik

Already facing budget challenges before the pandemic, drops in ridership caused by COVID-19 mean that the Regional Transportation District is facing a $215 million deficit next year. The candidates running for a seat on RTD’s board of directors in districts E, F and G spoke to the Sentinel about their plans for balancing the budget and their other goals for the agency’s future.

Former Aurora City Council member Bob Broom is running unopposed for a second term representing district F, which covers the majority of Aurora and parts of unincorporated Arapahoe County. Broom was first elected in 2016, and has been endorsed by Mayor Mike Coffman. 

RTD has made improvements over the past several years, including the recent opening of the N Line to Northglenn, but the budget crunch will mean it has to scale back its operations.

“We’re going to be switching from a growing organization to one that has to retrench and live within our means,” Broom said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic ridership has decreased by about 60%, which means that layoffs of employees will soon have to take place, Broom said.

“We’re imposing furloughs right now on non unionized employees, but we can’t do that on the union side so we’re going to have to do layoffs,” he said.

Broom supports gradually converting RTD’s fleet from diesel-powered vehicles to electric or hydrogen-powered as part of its mission to preserve air quality. He also supports creating a shuttle bus service from the Aurora Town Center.

“I think there’s probably an appetite for a shuttle service around the Aurora mall area because there’s so much in that area,” he said.

Broom acknowledged that he is the only choice for the district’s voters (another candidate attempted to run but did not receive enough signatures to qualify). However, he said that people should vote for him because “I’ve served the community for a long period of time and when people call I follow up on their concerns and try to deal with them.”

Former Democratic state legislator Paul Rosenthal is running unopposed in district E, which covers portions of western Aurora, north-central Centennial, southern Denver, Greenwood Village east of I-25 and portions of unincorporated Arapahoe County.

Rosenthal was in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018. He failed to qualify for the 2018 primary after he was accused of sexual misconduct in a formal complaint. Rosenthal denied the allegations, according to reporting from the Denver Post. The complaint was later dismissed by House Speaker Crisanta Duran because the incident took place before Rosenthal was in office.

Rosenthal said he decided to run for the RTD board because he felt like Aurora and the region needs a strong advocate.

“I think people focus on the city of Denver and they don’t include the input for communities like Aurora,” he said.

Making sure that people feel safe using public transportation during the pandemic and that RTD employees have sufficient PPE are priorities for Rosenthal. Like Broom, he supports the conversion of RTD’s fleet to electric, saying he’d like for it to happen within the next 10 years.

He also wants RTD to develop better relationships with companies like Uber and Lyft, suggesting that they could partner up to create more efficient first and last-mile service to stations.

In order to deal with the budget crisis, Rosenthal said the agency needs to do more to lobby Congress for more money, and said that furloughs and layoffs should be a “last resort.”

He said that RTD employees who make over $60,000 a year, which are mostly managers, should take cuts proportional to their salary so that the agency has to cut fewer jobs.

“Whether I have an opponent or not I will work hard for them,” he said.

Julien Bouquet and incumbent Ken Mihalik are facing off to represent district G, which covers Lone Tree, Foxfield, portions of Aurora, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Parker, and areas of unincorporated Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. Mihalik works in the aerospace industry and was first elected to the board in 2016, Bouquet is a public school teacher in Douglas County.

The two have different visions for RTD’s board, with Mihalik erring more on the side of pragmatism. The agency will have to make layoffs in order to balance the budget, he said.

“It’s just a reality that it’s going to be a much smaller system in the near future,” he said.

The “Reimagine RTD” project, which was underway before the pandemic began, will be even more imperative now, he said.

Bouquet said he decided to run for a seat on the board because of his own experiences as a rider. As a University of Denver student he used RTD every day with his college pass, but now that he and his wife are teachers they’ve found that it’s less expensive and also more efficient for them to just drive places, he said. But for many people without cars, they rely on RTD for transportation.

“This is impacting the people that most need public transportation,” he said.

His main goal if elected would be to boost RTD ridership, which has been in decline for years. To do that, he believes there should be a reduction in fares, especially in lower volume areas, and a campaign to help people understand that it’s safe to ride on public transportation during the pandemic with the appropriate safety measures.

“We need to establish this is a reliable form of transportation,” he said.

Like Rosenthal, he pushed back against layoffs, saying the agency should first address the top-heaviness of salaries in its upper management.

“That needs to be assessed in the long run, how much our top management is getting paid compared to drivers,” he said.

Mihalik’s own views pushed back against Bouquet’s. 

“I see no issue with government, in this case a government agency, being reduced in size in relation to the economy and also the demand,” Mihalik said. “There’s some people that might have the idea that it should grow or have more empty buses or empty trains to try and entice people to come ride. I don’t think that’s the approach that should be taken.”

As the incumbent, he said that voters should choose him because the position has a steep learning curve and he already has experience. Bouquet urged voters to choose him because he is a rider and understands the problems RTD is facing.

“I want people to be not only reliant on RTD but see it as a positive experience,” he said.

Julien Bouquet

Julien Bouquet

Julien Bouquet

Julien Bouquet is running for a seat on the RTD board of directors representing District G, which includes much of Lone Tree, Foxfield, portions of Aurora, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Parker, and areas of unincorporated Arapahoe and Douglas Counties.. Bouquet was raised in Douglas County and attended the University of Denver, where he graduated with a degree in political science. He currently works as a public school teacher in the Douglas County School District.

Meet Ken Mihalik

Ken Mihalik

Ken Mihalik is running for a second term on the RTD board of directors representing District G, which covers Lone Tree, Foxfield, portions of Aurora, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Parker, and areas of unincorporated Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Texas Christian University. He moved to Colorado in 2007 he works in the aerospace industry.

Meet Paul Rosenthal

Paul Rosenthal

Paul Rosenthal is running unopposed for a seat on the RTD board of directors representing District E, which represents portions of western Aurora, north-central Centennial, southern Denver, Greenwood Village east of I-25 and portions of unincorporated Arapahoe County. A 25-year Denver resident, Rosenthal served as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives for six years. For the past 15 years he has served on the Denver Community Corrections Board, and he has taught for 11 years at a youth correctional facility for juvenile delinquents in Watkins. He has been endorsed by current district E director Claudia Folska.

Meet Bob Broom

Bob Broom

Bob Broom is running unopposed for a second term on the RTD board of directors representing District F, which covers much of Aurora and parts of unincorporated Arapahoe County. Broom was first elected to the board in 2016, and before that served for 15 years on the Aurora city council. Broom also previously served as Aurora’s city manager, and has worked as an investment banker. He has an MBA from the University of Denver. He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including CDOT’s Regional Transportation Commission and  the Denver Metropolitan Area Regional Clean Air Council. He has been endorsed by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and former RTD Chair Tom Tobiassen.