During the campaign when people would ask if it was OK to call him ‘Mr. Mayor,’ then candidate Nick Gradisar would gently and cautiously warn them, “we still have an election to run.” But the election is over and for the last month and a half, the Pueblo native has slowly gotten used to his new title: Mr. Mayor. He also admits, though, “it takes a little getting used to.”
For the life of most Puebloans, the city has been run by a City Manager. That person has guided Pueblo through all kinds of economic cycles. But last year voters decided that it might be time to switch to what the rest of the state’s most robust cities---including Denver and Colorado Springs---were doing and adopt a strong mayor form of government. It picked Gradisar to lead this new political experiment.
In his first weeks in office, Gradisar has spent his time in countless meetings and reviewing the various city departments. Some things were good, he said. Others needed attention. “I found that some things were worse than I thought they would be,” he said. One reason for that is because a number of appointments had been put on hold until a new mayor was selected.
Gradisar’s first major appointment was the selection of Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport as Deputy Mayor. The selection surprised some but Gradisar said, it made sense. It was based on Davenport’s leadership style, he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to observe him in the community,” he said. “He’s been out there talking to citizens.” The next big selection will be Gradisar’s Chief of Staff.
Like so many Puebloans, Gradisar’s family has been in the city for generations. “They came here to work in the steel mill,” he said. The mill provided steady work and good wages for generations until things slowed in the early seventies. “It’s a shadow of its (old) self,” said Gradisar, “but it’s still important.” The mill now owned and operated by Russian multi-national, Evraz, is also prime for a big turnaround. The company is considering a nearly $500 million investment in a new rail mill in Pueblo. Such an investment could be just the jolt Pueblo needs to begin its climb back up Colorado’s economic ladder.
Gradisar thinks Pueblo’s legislators might be one way of fortifying the city’s future economic growth. “I see them regularly,” he said. “I have told them, ‘You need to remember Pueblo.’” He would like them to guide more support to Pueblo’s institutions, including the University and the Colorado Mental Health Institute. The facility has long been associated with the city and has provided a steady employment base in Southern Colorado. “My mom got part of her nurses’ training there,” said Gradisar. But he also wants stability for other state operations based in Pueblo, including the Colorado Lottery headquarters.
For most of the 20th century, Pueblo was the state’s second largest city. It now sits at ninth, between Westminster and Centennial. “Part of that is our own fault,” he said. But “we’re working hard on the city.” He points to Pueblo’s unique cultural attractions, including the River Walk, its local cuisine, especially “the best Mexican and Italian food” in Colorado. The city will soon be home to the Professional Bull Riders Training Center. Pueblo also boasts Lake Pueblo, southern Colorado’s biggest and most enticing warm weather attractions. Once people get off the interstate and get into town,” he said, they’ll find Pueblo “extraordinary.”
Gradisar’s roots run deep in the city and now that he holds its keys, he wants to let all of Colorado know that not only is “Pueblo is the best kept secret in Colorado,” but that it’s also open for business.