The results of the May 7 Denver election didn't settle every contest. The mayor's race between incumbent Michael Hancock and challenger Jamie Giellis will be decided by way of a June 4 runoff, and so will the competition for five high-profile Denver City Council positions, whose winners will help determine the future of the community for years to come.
City Council candidates who earned more than 50 percent of the vote in the May 7 election avoided the runoff; the pair of at-large seats won by incumbents Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech were exceptions. If no one vying for membership in specific districts hit that mark, the two top finishers advanced to the second round on June 4. Four candidates appeared on the ballot for District 9, with Albus Brooks, at 44 percent, and neighborhood organizer Candi CdeBaca, just behind at 43 percent, leading the field.
We submitted the following questions via email to the ten city council finalists: District 1's Mike Somma and Amanda Sandoval, District 3's Veronica Barela and Jamie Torres, District 5's Mary Beth Susman and Amanda Sawyer, District 9's Brooks and CdeBaca, and District 10's Wayne New and Chris Hinds. All of them agreed to participate.
Get to know more about current District 9 councilmember Brooks below.
Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for city council?
Albus Brooks: I’m the type of leader who is driven by my call to service. From the moment my football career ended at CU, my life has been devoted to investing in others. I believe that you meet your calling at the intersection of where your greatest joy and the world’s deepest need meet, as Frederick Buechner once said, which is why I ran for office in the first place. It’s my greatest joy to serve others, and to build up people and the places they call home. I am running because we have the first real opportunity in our city’s history to build an inclusive Denver. This means housing for all, investing in the next generation and removing barriers so everyone can own Denver’s success. I am called to build bridges and tear down the walls that divide us, and that is why I’m running for Denver City Council District 9.
What makes your district unique?
District 9 is the most eclectic, diverse district in the city. We have the widest range of cultural and socioeconomic realities, giving us the unique ability to provide a sense of belonging to all Denverites. District 9 represents the economic engine of the city and also has the greatest concentrations of homelessness and poverty; it encompasses areas of rapid change and also unyielding stability. That is why we need leadership that brings people together — leadership that unites instead of divides. As the leader of District 9, I’ve represented all residents in our fight to build a truly inclusive Denver.
What is the biggest issue affecting your district?
The greatest issue affecting District 9 is the question of how to harness our economy for all to own Denver’s success. We must keep moving Denver forward, but it will require creative ideas and bold leadership to implement inclusive policies so nobody gets left behind. Denver’s history is marked by a series of booms and busts, and as the councilman, my focus has been on creating a city where booms are collectively shared and busts are collectively shouldered. This means creating apprenticeship programs for formerly homeless and ex-felons and raising the minimum wage while working with local businesses to provide incentives to hire locally and invest in the community.
Now that the Right to Survive ordinance has been defeated, how would you address the issues of homelessness cited by both the measure's supporters and its opponents?
The right solution to addressing homelessness is a housing-first model. I co-sponsored our first affordable-housing fund, which helps roughly 1,000 neighbors get off the streets and into housing each year. We now have a dedicated source of housing funds through sales tax, which directly impacts homeless services and housing. The root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing, but it’s compounded by other struggles (trauma, addiction, mental health, etc.). That means we must prioritize the development of affordable housing while increasing compassionate support services that provide treatment and care for our most vulnerable neighbors.
How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?
I would build upon the success we’ve had in Denver, like how we’ve doubled down on the affordable-housing fund I helped create — this means $300,000,000 for homeless, low-income and workforce housing across the city, with the majority of that being in District 9. We’ve built more than 2,000 new affordable units in District 9 and have 5,402 total affordable units. Now it is time to leverage our public land, which is why I plan to convene municipal partners such as DHA [Denver Housing Authority], DPS [Denver Public Schools], RTD [Regional Transportation District] and the state to identify developable land for truly affordable workforce housing.
How concerned are you about gentrification in your district, and what can be done to strike the right balance?
This remains my greatest concern, and I’ve been fighting to turn the tide since I took office in 2011. 80205 was rated one of the fastest-gentrifying zip codes in the country the year before I took office. While I knew I couldn’t turn back the clock on racist policies such as redlining, I began to focus on neighborhood stabilization through housing for all incomes while simultaneously growing opportunities for minority small businesses. Now we’re seeing a renaissance along Welton Street, with a rise of black-owned businesses and properties. My focus now is to create an entrepreneurship center for people of color to receive technical support and access to private and public funding. This is what harnessing our economy looks like, and is the reason we have to move Denver forward by building equity at the neighborhood level. This minority business development center will be a component of repairing what has been broken by the policies that undermined our communities for decades.
Do you support rent control in Denver?
Outright rent control is not the answer and actually exacerbates the problem, because it would lead to a halt in affordable multi-family development. I do support the state removing the Telluride amendment; it would allow us in Denver to require an affordable-housing requirement on all new development, which today we cannot do (although I fought to create a development fee where all new development must invest in an affordable housing fund).
Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?
I have been a supporter of the tiny home concept in my district from the very beginning and see them as an important part of the continuum of housing. I believe that we need to look more at prefabricated housing units and stackable units so we can increase density and fit more units on available land.
Would you support a higher minimum wage in Denver? If so, where would you like to see the minimum wage set?
I support a higher minimum wage for Denver and would like to see it match the framework we set for city employees, which phased the increase over two years to $15/hr. I would exclude tipped employees and small businesses with under twenty employees. The goal is to increase earnings and shrink the wage gap while enabling our small businesses to grow.
Is development in Denver being done responsibly?
Broadly speaking, development in Denver is not being done responsibly. But I have a proven ability to sit at the negotiating table to require developers in District 9 to build community assets. I’ve taken an active role in guiding development that meets the felt needs of my residents. When I took office, the community demanded new investment in Five Points because they were tired of a generation of vacancy and being overlooked. Now we’re seeing a renaissance that’s being driven by black business leaders! I’ve worked with a local nonprofit developer to reclaim land in the Cole neighborhood for Clara Brown Commons, an affordable-housing community. I’ve worked with local developers in Cole and RiNo to bring an affordable grocer to the neighborhood — effectively ending our food desert. I’ve worked with community members to help build accessory dwelling units in Swansea. Moving Denver forward will require responsible growth, which means harnessing our economy for an inclusive Denver.
What should be done to address problems related to traffic and traffic safety in your district?
As to traffic safety, we have strong next-step recommendations from Denver’s Vision Zero that need to be followed, and we’re taking active measures to do so. This means better infrastructure and an investment in transit and mobility across the district. We must move boldly into a future that relies less on cars, which is why we’ve added more sidewalks, bike lanes and mass transit than any other district in the city! While this means removing some street parking, it will result in less congested, safer streets.
What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?
While Denver City Council can’t make these direct decisions, I would like to see Denver create its own transit authority responsible for mass transit inside of Denver proper — allowing use of free transit to all! As an urbanist, I feel strongly that cities must provide equitable, affordable, accessible public transportation.
Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?
We have a plan to build out the entire bike system, outlined in our Denver Moves plan. Now we just need dedicated funding to complete the plan’s implementation, which is why I’ve been calling for a slight sales tax increase to do so. This idea has been widely embraced across the city.
Would you welcome social consumption venues of the sort envisioned in a bill passed by the state legislature in your district? If so, why?
Our law currently prohibits consumption of marijuana in public. This means we’d need to have an option for consumption of marijuana, which is why I’m supportive of commonsense legislation and smart regulation around consumption venues.
What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?
I’m proud of the leadership of Chief Paul Pazen and the impact he has had on our law enforcement community. His commitment to improving the culture of our police force and devotion to building up community trust is why we are one of the safest cities in America. We just passed the most progressive "use of force" policy in the nation. As Denver grows, we must also grow our force by hiring and training new officers who are from our communities.
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Would you like city council to have more mechanisms to keep the mayor accountable? If so, what changes would you like to see?
Although we have a strong-mayor system of governing, I think people underestimate how powerful city council can be when we operate as a body. We have the ability to organize nine members to veto anything the mayor wants to do in Denver that costs more than $500,000. The system works when city council operates as a body and works together. This is why we need leadership on council that focus on building bridges, not burning them.
Are there other major issues we haven't mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?
I’ve run against almost fifty opponents and fought cancer twice as a councilman. This is incredibly difficult work, but serving the residents of District 9 has been the joy of my life. I’ve grown in this position, and my ability to be an effective leader has brought about direct impact on the lives of those I’ve served. I represent all residents of District 9, not just those who view the city the way I do. I’m devoted to moving Denver forward to build a truly inclusive city.