The consequences of local elections often have a greater day-to-day impact on your life than do national contests. Still, voter participation in municipal races tends to be pathetic. For example, only 101,000 out of 419,000 registered voters in Denver cast ballots in the May 2015 municipal election.
But while you're settling into life without annoying TV election commercials, municipal candidates and ballot-initiative backers are readying for next year's election. We’ve compiled a list of candidates (listed in no particular order) who have jumped into the race, as well as initiatives that have made the ballot so far.
The incumbent mayor is running for a third term and has a sizable campaign war chest behind him (over half a million dollars, according to his last campaign finance report). Hancock has the support of heavyweights like John Hickenlooper and Ken Salazar, but will issues around home affordability and development plague him in this race? A growing list of challengers is betting in the affirmative.
The latest candidate to jump into the mayoral race is a familiar face to Denver’s movers and shakers. She’s served as the president of the River North Arts District and has lent her economic expertise to other commercial districts throughout the city. Giellis (née Licko) has guided a dramatic transformation of RiNo, but can she overcome accusations already ringing about the role she's played in displacing artists in the neighborhood? Gielles plans to formally launch her campaign on November 27. More information can be found about her on her website.
The longtime community organizer and activist has been a frequent critic of the mayor and has announced a campaign based on the pillars of equity, fairness and justice. Calderón launched the “46 Fund” on November 1, which she hopes to use as a fundraising vehicle to take on Hancock. What's the name of the fund mean? Denver has had 45 mayors, all of them men. Calderón is banking on the 46th being a woman.
The former state senator is Hancock’s most politically experienced challenger and comes from a dynasty of lawmakers (his father, Penfield Tate II, was the first black city council member and mayor of Boulder). Since announcing last month, Tate has already taken Hancock to task over his handling of development in Denver, as well as Hancock’s response to sexual-harassment allegations from a former member of his security detail. Among other policy goals, Tate wants to restructure transportation options in Denver.
The MC of the Denver hip-hop group Wheelchair Sports Camp is outspoken, both in her music and her activism. Heffernan’s campaign is largely focused on countering forced displacement of artists and lower-income residents in Denver. She has raised her profile by engaging in sit-ins at Senator Cory Gardner’s office, and in January she confronted city councilman Albus Brooks to debate gentrification. More on Heffernan’s campaign can be found at her website.
The pipeline inspector for Denver Public Works has run for mayor before — including against Hickenlooper in the 2007 election. Lopez believes in raising the minimum wage and prioritizing cars as a form of transportation. He recently said his campaign is about making a statement against a political system that disfavors those without money and connections.
The 57-year-old technology consultant and Cherry Creek resident has also run for mayor before, finishing tenth in the 2011 contest. Simpson has said he would like to make Denver more equitable through affordable housing and that the city deserves a leader who’s not a career politician.
Giavanni has taken on Hancock before, when he earned 8.5 percent of the vote in the 2015 mayoral contest. Giavanni hosts his own radio show, on which he discusses local and national politics, Saturdays at 11 a.m. at 1100KFNX.com.
Stephan Evans (better known as Chairman Sekú)
Known to frequently speak at Denver City Council meetings wearing a hat and sunglasses, Sekú is a dedicated social-justice activist, especially on issues of police brutality and homelessness.
Initiatives are still in the early stages of being reviewed for the ballot by the Denver Elections Division. According to department spokesman Alton Dillard, only one initiative, the "Right to Survive," has been confirmed for the May 2019 ballot, another has turned in signatures and is being reviewed ($15 minimum wage for DIA workers), and three initiatives’ backers are still collecting signatures. Here's what they'd all do:
The Right to Survive Initiative
The initiative asks Denver voters whether the city should allow people to rest, sleep and eat in public. Backed by homeless advocates, the initiative is intended to protect individuals experiencing homelessness and overturn the city’s ban on camping. No one has formally come out against the measure yet, but it is sure to be opposed by many in the business community and will be one of the most hotly debated items on the ballot.
$15 Minimum Wage for DIA Workers
The Denver International Airport has become an economic powerhouse and is undergoing a multi-year, costly renovation of the Great Hall to turn it into more of a shopping mall. But workers at DIA — especially those who make the state’s current minimum wage of $10.20 an hour — feel that they cannot keep up with metro Denver’s increasing cost of living. The initiative would mandate that wages for all workers at DIA be increased to a minimum of $15 an hour by 2021.
Should it make the ballot, the initiative would decriminalize psilocybin, aka magic mushrooms. Supported by a growing canon of scientific research, its backers argue that the hallucinogen can be used to treat severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Let Denver Vote
As you may have heard, Denver and the State of Colorado are considering whether to host a Winter Olympics in the Mile High City. Mayor Hancock has lauded the idea as a potential economic driver for the region, but not everyone agrees. The “Let Denver Vote” initiative, whose backers are still gathering signatures, would put the decision up to Denver voters.
Denver Internet Initiative
This initiative would ask voters whether they want the city to offer fiber-optic Internet to every home in Denver, rather than the sole current option of homeowners signing up with Internet service providers like Comcast and CenturyLink. The idea is to ensure net neutrality and to treat access to the Internet as a public commodity.
Denver City Council
Every member of the thirteen-person Denver City Council is running for re-election in May 2019 except for Paul Lopez, who is term-limited and will be running for Denver County Clerk. You can find out about the twelve incumbent councilmembers at the Denver City Council website.
As of November 6, there were 27 registered challengers to the incumbent members of the council. Some of them include well-known figures in Denver’s activist circles, including Candi Cdebaca (who is taking on Albus Brooks) and Tony Pigford (running for the at-large council seat).
Westword will dive further into these campaigns as the May municipal election approaches, but for now, you can see all of the registered challengers at the Denver Elections Division website.