Wittenberg University graduate Beth McCann made history last year when she became Denver’s first female district attorney.
Sworn in on Jan. 10, 2017, McCann has just wrapped up her first year in the position.
McCann fed a love for politics at Wittenberg, where she majored in American Studies. A new area of study at the time, the program allowed her to craft her own mix of literature, history and political science courses.
After graduating magna cum laude in 1971, McCann pursued a law degree at Georgetown University. Out of her cohort of 125 students, McCann said only five were women.
“It was intimidating,” she said. “There were some professors who thought that women shouldn’t be in law school.”
She first came to Denver after landing a law internship at a Georgetown alum’s firm. She decided to make her home there — “I had fallen in love with the West” — and worked in the district attorney’s office for eight years. After that, she went into private practice but had ambitions to run for public office.
“I always wanted to get back into the political world,” McCann said.
From 1991 to 1994, McCann served as Denver’s first female manager of safety, a cabinet-level position with the mayor’s office. In that job, she acted as the civilian head of the city’s police, fire and sheriff departments, managing a $180 million budget.
It was a taxing job, McCann said, particularly in the summer of 1993. The season became known as the city’s “Summer of Violence,” marked by a series of gang-related shootings.
In 2008, McCann was elected to Colorado’s House of Representatives where she sponsored legislation to strengthen Colorado’s human trafficking laws and provide due process for minors being charged in the adult criminal system — two issues that she has continued to advocate for as district attorney.
Then in 2016, when former district attorney Mitch Morrissey’s term limit was up, McCann decided to run. She also ran for the position in 2004 but came in second.
With Denver’s heavily Democratic voters, the primary election was McCann’s biggest hurdle. After her own experience in the district attorney’s office, her stint as manager of safety and her time in the state legislature, McCann felt confident she had more experience than her two Democratic opponents, though she said the race was still tough.
She won the primary with a healthy margin — 53 percent of the vote — and was elected district attorney with 74 percent of the vote in the general election.
“The voters changed a bit,” McCann said of the difference between her 2004 campaign and her 2016 win. “I also think people were more open to seeing a woman in this position.”
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In her first year as district attorney, McCann has initiated reforms to the city’s juvenile justice system, formed new units to investigate elder abuse and human trafficking and pushed for more resources within the criminal justice system to treat mental health and substance abuse issues.
Since her election, McCann has also hired several women to prominent positions within her office.
“This is something I have wanted to do for a number of years and, finally, I was able to succeed,” McCann said. “It’s exciting.”