Pueblo Mayor hits 100 days: emphasizes public safety and development

Dan Boyce/CPR
Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham speaks to reporters about her first 100 days in office on June 23, 2024.

Updated at 2:43 p.m. on May 24, 2024.

Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham marked 100 days in office Thursday. She said increasing public safety, promoting development and improving quality of life have been the largest areas of focus in her first 100 days.

Crime and the city’s homicide rate have spiked in recent years amidst an officer shortage at the Pueblo Police Department, prompting the FBI to step in and provide assistance. Graham said the number of sworn personnel at the department has increased 15 percent in her tenure, to 191. She said efforts to relax hiring rules have been effective but acknowledged the department is still short 44 officers.

“We are now able to bring on lateral transfers and post-certified officers more quickly without compromising our standards,” Graham said. “(This change) allows us to widen our pool of applicants and not keep qualified candidates waiting for months before beginning their work with the police department.”

Wider efforts to address gun violence and gang activity led to the recent raid and closure of two local motels, due to crime and what Graham called “deplorable” living conditions.

“We had significant police manpower that we were sending over because of all of the calls that we were getting,” Graham said. “Several murders happened at both locations, fentanyl distribution (and) prostitution.”

The closure of the Val U Stay Inn and Suites and the Roadway Inn displaced residents who had been living at the motels for months, even years. Graham said those residents were pointed to organizations like the United Way and Pueblo Rescue Mission for resources. 

Graham said she has met with local nonprofits serving the community’s unhoused population, many say they are still adjusting to a camping ban passed by the city council in February. She said those discussions have led to a new web page that aggregates resources for low-income and homeless residents. The city also recently announced a grant-funded partnership with Catholic Charities of Southern Colorado to pay unhoused residents for picking up trash in the city.

Criticism and potential challenges

The mayor has also been facing criticism for posting an op-ed written by the local EVRAZ steel mill under her own name. Graham told the Pueblo Chieftain she had no reservations about claiming the editorial as her own.

The editorial claimed environmental legislation under consideration at the state capitol would lead to layoffs amongst the city’s manufacturing workforce. 

Meanwhile another effort signed by Graham could face challenges.  A recently passed city council ordinance banning syringe exchange programs may be overturned by ballot initiative. If the effort gathers enough signatures, Pueblo voters would decide on whether to overrule the city council and allow  syringe exchange programs in the city. 

“I'll be curious to see if this needle exchange ban stays in place, if we see less needles on the street, if we see less overdoses,” Graham said. “I don't think that it hurts to try a different way because what we've been doing thus far is not necessarily working.”

Graham, a local restaurateur and city council president, handily won a runoff election for the mayor’s office against incumbent Nick Gradisar in January. Graham is the first woman to serve in the role.