AURORA | The University of Colorado Hospital in north Aurora was never foreign territory for U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Golden resident who spent much of his political career representing west-Denver suburbs at the state level.
He was a regular at the campus even before 2007 when he was sworn in as the Democratic Representative for the 7th Congressional District, which included the Anschutz Medical Campus up until this year.
As a lawyer, a Colorado state Senator and father, he made frequent trips to the hospital to meet with doctors who were caring for his eldest daughter, Alexis, who has epilepsy. But when he first assumed congressional office in 2007, Perlmutter began to view the hospital and the entire medical campus as not only a place for top-notch medical care, but as a central economic engine.
“This campus was clearly something that was of importance not only to Aurora but to the whole metropolitan area,” he said.
That sentiment is truer now than it was back then, as the campus has seen vast growth over the past five years in part because Perlmutter has been instrumental in securing federal money for a host of projects ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital to the Interstate 225/Colfax interchange project that will allow for easy access to and from the campus.
He will no longer be representing Aurora or the Anschutz Medical Campus because 2010 redistricting maps drew the whole city of Aurora into the 6th Congressional District, but he says he is still committed to the wellbeing of the city.
“I like this community. I feel that everybody — Democrats and Republicans — work together for the betterment of the community. It’s really an outstanding place to represent,” he said.
When Perlmutter took office in 2007, the VA hospital project was stalled and there were blatant traffic congestion issues that needed to be addressed near the burgeoning campus. He quickly became an advocate of the campus by securing funding for the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, and then worked with then-U.S. Sens. Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard to get the VA hospital project off the ground. But late summer 2008 brought about economic uncertainty and the beginnings of a recession, and Perlmutter grew worried about the future of north Aurora’s projects.
“I was concerned,” he said. “But I also felt that we were poised to take advantage of the need for construction and the need to put people back to work.” In 2009, as a member of the House financial services and rules committees, Perlutter made the I-225 interchange project a transportation priority and helped secure more than $12 million of the $787 billion federal stimulus money to help pay for part of the construction. The money was awarded to the project because of its “shovel-ready” nature, but it’s still not complete.
“It was a much bigger project than I ever thought it would be,” Perlmutter said. In 2011, Perlmutter grew more and more frustrated with the status of the VA hospital project and the inactivity to reach a contract to replace the aging Denver VA facility. In November 2011, he and several local Congressmen reprimanded the VA and the contractor for stalling on contract negotiations. A construction contract was finally signed later that month, and the $580 million hospital is now set to replace the 59-year-old Denver VA facility by 2015, complete with a spinal cord injury unit, inpatient and outpatient services and a nursing home. It was dogged determination that led to the VA hospital groundbreaking late last year after about a decade of work on the project, Perlmutter said.
“You have to be very persistent,” he said. “You can’t be timid, you have to demonstrate the value of these things, and you have to be a good advocate and not be shy.”
Perlmutter says he’s not hesitant about handing over a portion of his constituency to Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman because Aurora lawmakers have notably worked in a bipartisan way for the betterment of the city. Although he’s representing a new Congressional District 7, Perlmutter said he’s not confined to the boundaries of his district. He’ll continue to work on issues that will have a heavy influence on Aurora, he said.
“Veterans issues are still paramount for me, and I will continue working on their behalf, which will always have an impact on Aurora,” since the city is home to Buckley Air Force Base and thousands of active and retired military men and women, he said.
During the past five years representing the city at the Congressional level, he’s come to learn that the city of Aurora is more influential than people realize.
“I consider this to be a very important piece to the wellbeing of the entire metro area and the state,” he said. “It’s not like it’s some isolated town on the plains that only has its own issues to worry about. The things that go on here affect so many people across the state. This is an important place.”
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]