Kalyn Heffernan: "I Don't Sense This Campaign Will Disappear"

David Stevens
In the coming days, signs for candidates who lost in the municipal election on Tuesday, May 7, will fill trash cans. Their campaigns will soon be a thing of the past, something they once did.

But even as results showing Kalyn Heffernan trailing by a wide margin trickled in last night, she talked about the future and how to continue her campaign, which gave all of its donations back to the community in some way. The accessibility activist, who liked to say she was "rolling" instead of "running" for mayor, built ramps for wheelchairs, provided meals, paid artists and created art.

"I never jumped in, like, 'Oh, we're going to win,'" she says. "It was like, how do we win regardless, you know? How do we roll out a campaign that, win or lose, wins?"

Nothing about Heffernan's campaign was conventional, and that was the point, she says. The Wheelchair Sports Camp MC donned a fake mustache during the election and made videos spoofing smear campaigns. As candidates hunkered down in the days leading up to May 7, Heffernan led a protest outside the Denver Performing Arts Complex to call attention to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' opposition to Initiative 300, which would have overturned the city's camping ban if it had passed, and the complex's work against buskers. (The DCPA is headquartered in the complex.)

"All these people spent so much fucking money [on their campaigns], and only one is going to win," Heffernan says. "All the signs are gone, all the shirts, all the mailers. It's gone, it's trash. It's literally filling up our landfills. It's silly to me. The ramps we built, those are going to be here for a long time. The art, the conversations we're having with youth, that's way going to outlive this."

The crowd at her watch party, held at Su Teatro, was relaxed and casual, without a suit in sight. Among the hopeful supporters was Arnell Nevins, who'd heard about Heffernan's campaign from a friend and liked her message. The Denver native lost his job at Taco Bell in 2006 and has been living on the streets for the last three years. He says he can't afford housing in the city he grew up in and can't rely on shelters because every time he's stayed in one, he's gotten bedbugs.

The constant attention Heffernan has paid to the homeless resonates with him. "I don't feel like [Hancock] supports me," the 58-year-old says. "He doesn't care."

The mark that Heffernan made on conversations during the election far outweighed the roughly 2 percent of the vote she received. (The top contenders, Hancock and Jamie Giellis, are in a runoff that voters will decide on June 4.) Much like Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election, Heffernan and her progressive politics frequently pushed the needle during debates on issues like homelessness and housing — or seemed to push the needle, anyway.

"I feel like I pushed the conversation, but I also feel like part of that was strategy for everyone else," she explains. "My friends are like, 'They're stealing your raps!' Which was the point, right? But at the end of the day, political theater can say what it wants, you know? That's what I get hung up on. Is this authentic? Do you really feel like this? Or does this shit just make you look better?

"There's so many of those dynamics in politics, it's hard to really trust," she says. "I just don't really trust it."

Heffernan might have launched her campaign as an April Fool's Day joke, but she says it taught her real lessons. "I've learned money still rules all, which is not a surprise. About myself, I've learned that I can be a battle rapper," she says. "I've felt pretty good in the debates and forums battle-rapping, which I never thought I'd do. I'm pretty okay at making speeches last-minute, which is cool."

Now that the vote's in, Heffernan says she's going to work on Wheelchair Sports Camp's next album and perhaps tour again. She plans to hold more protests at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and tour more prisons. The mayoral election was likely her last foray into politics...as an official candidate, at least.

"I get to be a rapper boy again!" she says. "But we have a lot of figuring out to do, like where Kalyn4Mayor goes from here. I'm already the mayor; everybody already knows me. To me, I already won the popularity contest a long time ago. I don't sense this campaign will disappear." 
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Ana Campbell has been Westword's managing editor since 2016. She has worked at magazines and newspapers around the country, picking up a few awards along the way for her writing and editing. She grew up in south Texas.
Contact: Ana Campbell

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