Denver Government

Lisa Calderón Leaving Denver Government for Emerge Colorado

Lisa Calderón's lawsuit is back in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.
Lisa Calderón's lawsuit is back in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.
Lisa Calderón, one of the most prominent figures in Denver politics and a consistent foe of Mayor Michael Hancock, is leaving her role in city government to become the executive director of Emerge Colorado, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for public office.

"We haven’t had a senator who is a women yet from Colorado, and it’s 2021, so that’s on the list to make happen. We have an additional congressional seat, so our eyes would be focused on that," says Calderón, who will be stepping down as chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca to take the Emerge Colorado executive director position on July 12.

Alumni of Emerge Colorado hold elected offices at both the local and state level. In addition to focusing on federal seats, Calderón wants to get women better prepped to challenge fellow Democratic candidates in primaries.

"In the Denver metro area, it’s not necessarily going up against Republicans; it’s going up against other Democrats. We also have to figure out another way that we’re challenging this one-party system, as if we all think alike," says Calderón. "And meanwhile, we have these urgent problems that are exploding across our state around the lack of affordability for housing, the homelessness issue, the rising cost of living, and our politicians often are tone-deaf to the needs that disproportionately impact women and families. This is an opportunity to really elevate those voices across the state for bold visionary and progressive women to also enter the arena in a new way that says our priorities aren’t just about building higher skyscrapers or more construction projects."

Calderón ran for mayor of Denver in May 2019, placing third behind Hancock and Jamie Giellis, who went on to lose a run-off race against the now term-limited Hancock that June.

In that same run-off, CdeBaca displaced District 9 council incumbent Albus Brooks, a close ally of Hancock's. In July 2019, when CdeBaca was sworn in, Calderón joined her team as chief of staff.

Calderón played a key role in policy initiatives coming out of CdeBaca's office. In particular, Calderón pushed for the transformation of the Denver sheriff position from a role appointed by the mayor to an elected one. Ultimately, Denver City Council referred a measure to the November 2020 ballot requiring council approval for key mayoral appointees, including the sheriff; it was co-sponsored by CdeBaca and Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer. Voters approved the proposal.

Frequently speaking during the public-comment periods of council meetings, Calderón has persistently criticized Hancock for a variety of his policies, including his continued reliance on sweeps of homeless encampments. Calderón is also fighting Hancock and other city officials in federal court in an ongoing lawsuit against the city sweeps.

Recently, Calderón has been advocating in support of Save Open Space Denver, which is trying to prevent development on the 155-acre Park Hill Golf Course. She's especially proud of the work that CdeBaca's office has done to push Denver City Council to divest from private prison companies involved with the city's halfway houses, she adds.

The move out of that office is bittersweet for Calderón.

"This is not just leaving a supervisor that I’m working for, but it’s also leaving a friend and a sister in the movement on the daily basis of doing our work together. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to go far," Calderón says.

In fact, Calderón, who is replacing Michal Rosenoer, an Edgewater city councilor who served as executive director of Emerge Colorado from March 2018 to April of this year, plans to move the Emerge Colorado office from LoHi to a spot in District 9.

And Calderón envisions plenty of Emerge alumni vying for Denver City Council spots and even the mayor's seat come 2023.

"I think that the best way to affect change is to multiply and to get reinforcements at all levels of city government, and [Hancock is] on his way out," she says. "We’ve developed some really key relationships with folks in his administration who actually do want to work in partnership, and I think that the 'Open for Business' sign is going up for taking names for those who want to be in city leadership."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.