Like her father, James Ambroson, who served as the mayor of Leland, and her 35-year social worker mother, Melanie, Jamie Giellis, a 1995 graduate of Forest City High School, understands the value of service and hard work.
A resident of Denver, Colorado, for the past 13 years, Giellis is bringing the values of her Iowa upbringing to the Denver mayoral race.
The election, set for May 7, contains a field of 10 candidates including the incumbent mayor, Michael Hancock. Giellis must garner 50 percent of the votes, plus one, to win the election. If no one receives that amount, the two receiving the most votes will face off in a special election in June.
Growing up on a farm, Giellis said the values that have guided her campaign for Denver mayor are ethics and transparency, quality of life, inclusivity and economic sustainability.
As the sixth generation of her family to be born in the small, rural town of Leland, Giellis said childhood on the farm yielded incredible life experiences and a spirit of hard work, but her family’s commitment to people and community provided perhaps the biggest learning experiences.
“Growing up we were very focused on community and family and on giving back,” she said. “We were required to work hard. We had a working farm with crops and animals. We were responsible for the chores and the work. I had a great family that understood the importance of all of that.”
Both of Giellis’ parents served on the Leland City Council. Her dad’s leadership and service and her mom’s demonstration of the value of compassion for those with less, instilled the importance of always lending a helping hand.
“When I was 16, I traveled to Finland as an exchange student,” Giellis said. “It was my first time being abroad and seeing cities and different cultures. That ignited in me a desire to study cities around the world, and ultimately to me getting my master’s in public administration, policy and urban planning.”
Giellis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Iowa. After graduation, she was a producer and reporter for a CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, getting the opportunity to cover the 2000 presidential race from a front row seat in Iowa, as well as many civic and municipal stories about the changing nature of cities.
Giellis said her desire to be part of the change rather than telling the story led her to jump into working with local government, eventually being hired at 26 years old to oversee the revitalization of Downtown Cedar Rapids.
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Through vision, collaboration with the community and stakeholders and pushing the City to make policy shifts and strategic investments, she led Downtown Cedar Rapids through a renaissance, and in doing so, became part of an effort to reimagine city government. Giellis’ involvement in that entire process motivated her to obtain her master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado Denver with aspirations to be a city manager.
Giellis said she worked on urban growth issues her whole career, having had the opportunity to work in a number of cities across the country and around the world.
She has been in Denver since 2006, having watched as the city has grown very fast. “People here feel stressed by the growth and disconnected from community,” she said. “I've been working on a number of issues to address that - from homelessness to affordable housing and more.
“I feel like our current mayor was too stuck in the politics and connections to see the real issues and be creative in solving them. I've always felt if you believe you can offer a better alternative, or do better, you should step up and try. So that's what I did - threw my hat in the ring and built a great, experienced team to help me navigate the race. I'm proud of running, regardless of what happens next.”
Giellis said it’s an intense process to run for mayor, especially when running against an incumbent. “The days are long and the issues in a big, growing city are tough. That said, I've enjoyed it immensely and I've grown incredibly as a person.
“What I love the most is interacting with people - getting to meet community members, hear stories and know I can help in some way as mayor. I have loved seeing how passionate people are about Denver and their neighborhoods.”
Giellis said she was honored to have grown up in North Iowa in a small town, where she learned great values and ethics and where she was surrounded by community.
“Friends and family back home have been incredible supporters and cheerleaders for me my entire life,” she said. “It's the great foundation I had that has given me opportunity.
“I'm grateful for all the support, and I've loved sharing my Iowa story with Denverites as I've traveled around the city.”