Cernanec excited to take on new role

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Councilor Phil Cernanec became Mayor Phil Cernanec Nov. 19, and he was pretty revved up about it.

“Man, I want us to be so positive and joyful, and I am so excited to live in Littleton,” said Mayor Phil Cernanec the morning after his fellow councilors unanimously gave him his new title.

It’s a title that’s largely symbolic, as the city charter actually uses the term “council president,” and his vote carries no more weight than the others. But the mayor is often the face of the city at community events and governmental functions, and Cernanec, first elected to council in 2009, says he’s ready.

“I’m going to be passionate about the vitality and vibrancy of the neighborhoods, the vitality and vibrancy of the businesses, excellence in municipal services, continuing to nurture and leverage Littleton’s character, and continuing to improve the long-term financial sustainability of the city,” he said of his priorities.

One of the first things he hopes this new council does is take a refresher course on the guiding documents they approved two years ago, including their goals and procedures.

“I’m not looking to change them, necessarily, but I want us to own them,” he said. “We need to own them individually and collectively, and we need to remember them.”

Cernanec recently attended the Littleton Community Retreat, during which keynote speaker Brian Vogt commented on some tension evident among some community groups.

“When did we lose our core civility?” Vogt wondered. “Why are we doing this to each other? We don’t mean it. … Let’s have fair fights, and then pat each other on the back.”

Cernanec said creating more unity will be a prime goal for him, whether through creative community events or one-on-one chats, in an effort to increase positive and visionary dialogue.

“This is an invitation to folks to have conversations about what they want to have happen, and their dreams, their imaginings. I absolutely know there are going to be tension points, there always have been. But we will listen. With every job I’ve had, there have been elements of fun and joy and hard work, and with that comes excitement.”

Cernanec hopes council will continue working on economic development, and agrees with others that the river corridor can play a big part.

“We need to protect and preserve the habitat, but also do something good for the city, and there are responsible ways to do that,” he said, pointing to the Designs by Sundown/Breckenridge Brewery project as an example. “What’s happened is that we’ve isolated the habitat, and we need to do something that is respectful of the habitat that works.”

But other areas in the city need help too, he said, and he believes balance in the zoning code is key.

“I’d like to see every storefront and commercial space occupied with a viable business,” he said. “I know it’s aspirational. But we’ve gathered the ingredients and offered them up, and that’s all the city can do, along with convening people.”

Cernanec considers networking a strong point, as he’s long been active with the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce on both its economic development and legislative advisory committees. He’s council’s alternate on the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and a career counselor for Goodwill Industries.

Professionally, he works with his wife, Cathy Schwartz, as a financial adviser and associate at her firm. He’s had a long career in the financial services industry as a product actuary for several insurance carriers and been a consultant to international firms. He first held elected office as a director on the board of South Suburban Park and Recreation District in 2006.

Personally, he was born and raised in Ohio and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math from Notre Dame. From a previous marriage, he has five kids ranging in age from 20 to 36 who have given him eight grandchildren so far.

He and Schwartz enjoy a wide range of music and cultural events, and Cernanec recently began brushing up on his rusty guitar skills. Fun fact: His first television appearance was playing with a polka band on a local-access channel in Ohio.

But now he calls Littleton home, and it’s a fact he’s proud of.

“I think we should have not a false pride, not an arrogant pride, but a pride in our location, in our space, in our neighbors,” he said.