Back on Track: Meet District E Representative Paul Rosenthal
This is part four of the Streetsblog Denver series covering the RTD Board of Directors. Every Friday, we’ll be looking at and dissecting the newest updates with RTD and its board members. We’ll explore the issues RTD is facing and the responsibility of the board to address them. Read parts one, two, and three.
Financial shortfalls, low ridership, a global pandemic, employee layoffs. These are just some of the concerns the RTD Board of Directors will need to address heading into 2021. Now, with four newly elected members, residents expect the board to find solutions to Denver’s transportation trouble. Half of the seats that were open this election are filled with new faces, making a quarter of the board new members.
Joining the board is Paul Rosenthal, who ran unopposed and is the new representative for District E. He represents the suburbs east of Denver, including parts of Aurora, Centennial and Greenwood Village.
Rosenthal will be sworn in and onboarded over the next couple months, with his official start date in January of 2021. In his first year, he wants to focus on getting the agency through the effects of COVID-19 while avoiding furloughs and layoffs for drivers and operators. “That should be a last resort,” Rosenthal told Streetsblog Denver. As an alternative, he supports the board’s proposal to reduce salaries for employees who earn higher wages. “I support cuts to pay to RTD employees earning over $60,000 per year.”
Dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 will be among Rosenthal’s top priorities. He acknowledged the current board’s efforts and the tough decisions they’ve faced so far, but he believes there are still improvements to be made. He says the agency needs to improve their outreach to riders about safety, reinforcing the need to wear masks and social distancing. “There should also be a cleaning of buses and trains twice a day if possible,” said Rosenthal. “Especially on higher density routes.”
In his interview, Rosenthal told Streetsblog Denver his top priorities in his new role are:
- Greater community outreach and public relations in order to draw riders back to trains and buses
- Moving forward the ReImagine RTD input and planning process so that the agency positions itself for the future, with more frequency to popular routes, as well as greater efficiency, reliability, financial responsibility, and transparency
- Retain, appreciate, support, and protect drivers and mechanics from COVID-19 so that RTD’s employees are motivated to stay with the organization and perform optimally
- Provide more passes, especially to individuals and families struggling financially, with the ultimate goal of a no-fare system
- Continue light rail extensions, as well as create Bus Rapid Transit on Colfax Avenue
- 100 percent electric buses in the next 10 years
- Make all RTD Board meetings on zoom, so people in the community can see and hear Board members and contribute more effectively
- Connect RTD systems with a statewide rail network that must eventually be built.
While current projections show ridership and revenues recovering in 2026, Rosenthal’s ambitious and wants to push to see RTD recover sooner. His priority is on securing more money for RTD to fund these goals, including fostering relationships with elected officials who can help support the agency’s needs as it recovers from the damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Naturally, funding is critical to all these ambitious endeavors,” he explained. “But also leadership, political will, and building coalitions and support with elected officials throughout the region and at all levels of government.”
One of the board’s most divisive topics is whether RTD should prioritize completing the Northwest corridor to Boulder and Longmont. Rosenthal believes this should be a priority and that state representatives are responsible for securing the billions that it would take to complete those and other unfinished projects. In his new role, Rosenthal aims to lobby Colorado’s congressional delegation to push for federal money to support the agency’s needs.
District E’s current representative, Claudia Folska, is visually impaired and has advocated for riders with disabilities during her eight years on the board. Rosenthal wants to make sure to continue her work and make the topic a larger priority for the agency. “We’ve had many discussions about the necessity for RTD to be even more sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities who have no other ways of getting around,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal grew up relying on public transportation in his hometown of San Francisco and used the lightrail to commute when he worked in downtown Denver. Now he takes a train occasionally to get downtown or to the airport since no public transit takes him to his work in Watkins, northeast of Denver. However, he plans to change that during his term:“I intend to take the bus and rail much more to connect with the drives and operators and meet riders.”
He has worked as a teacher at a youth correctional facility for young men for the past 11 years teaching special education, economics, civics, Colorado history, and U.S. history and served in the Colorado House of Representatives (D) from 2013 to 2019 representing District 9. During this time he supported bills to aid transit and transportation, ban “gay conversion therapy,” reduce the use of plastic bags, reform the criminal justice system, and adopt the National Popular Vote.
Rosenthal believes his history in public service is what will make him a good representative on the board, being able to bring voices to the conversation that are typically left out. “It’s in my DNA to be in public service,” he explains. “I’ve always enjoyed and been good at helping and including people and building coalitions.”
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