Denver Government

The Contenders: Ean Tafoya Wants to Bring an Advocacy Mindset to City Hall

Ean Tafoya has worked for many years in environmental advocacy.
Ean Tafoya has worked for many years in environmental advocacy. Ean Tafoya for Mayor
This is the fifth in our series on the Denver mayoral candidates, based on their responses to a Westword questionnaire sent to every contender on the ballot last month; see PBS12's "Humanizing" piece on Ean Tafoya below.

If there's an important environmental or climate issue in Colorado, count on Ean Tafoya to be involved. As the state director for GreenLatinos, Tafoya is a well-known advocate around town, fighting against polluters and extractive companies. And he spearheaded the Waste No More measure that passed last November, which requires businesses to provide composting and recycling services in Denver.

Tafoya, a born-and-raised Denverite who has served as a host on KGNU Community Radio, has also been heavily involved in neighborhood organization advocacy, especially in relation to local plans and zoning policies.

In 2015, Tafoya, who'd worked for Denver City Council, ran against Albus Brooks in the council race for District 9, which Brooks won easily, only to lose his seat in 2019 to Candi CdeBaca. Through it all, Tafoya's expertise and reputation have continued to grow.

Why are you running for mayor?

I’ve been fighting for our underserved communities for decades, and we deserve leaders who will take that fight to the Mayor’s Office.

What is your plan to tackle homelessness?

Research from around the country and the world shows the fastest, cheapest way to get people off the streets is to get them into housing with wraparound services. In 2020, I presented a community plan that leveraged regional cooperation to rapidly get folks into safe outdoor sites; as mayor, I would implement it while expanding housing-first programs that have actually been proven to work in Denver. We also need to ensure nobody becomes homeless in the first place.

Would you end homeless encampment sweeps?

Absolutely. I’ve always been against the sweeps, and championed Right to Survive at the time. With my organization Headwaters Protectors, I’ve supported unhoused people through sweeps and provided clean water and sanitation services in their aftermaths. Sweeps are a cruel, inhumane waste of taxpayer money and police time. It allows our politicians to look busy while actually doing nothing to make anyone safer or end homelessness.

What is your plan to improve public safety in Denver?

We need to approach public safety holistically. Public health includes breathing clean air, drinking clean water and paying a reasonable bill for clean energy. It includes living in a safe home and going to a safe workplace. And, of course, it means that the community takes care of one another. I have plans to tackle public safety through environmental policies, housing policies, support for workers and by getting at the root causes of crime and violence. This includes reducing poverty and homelessness, providing continuity of care and harm reduction for addiction and mental health, investing in community-led violence prevention programs and restorative justice. Then our law enforcement can focus on the most violent public safety threats, like the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

How will you work with Denver Public Schools to improve education and safety in schools?

Last week I walked out with my relative in support of East High School and to grieve the loss of Luis Garcia. We need to do the work to improve policies outside of school, so DPS and students can focus on learning in school. This includes supporting common-sense gun policies at the state level. But it’s bigger than that. Many of our students are missing school due to illness caused by air pollution. We need to address environmental racism to keep them healthy and in class. Many of our students can’t focus on learning because they are food-insecure, so we need to address wages, workers' rights and food access so they never go hungry. We need to support DPS by investing in extracurriculars and funding for restorative justice, mental health support and conflict-resolution training. And finally, we need to support our teachers in their union and organizing.

What is your stance on the Park Hill Golf Course development proposal?

I don’t support the proposal. I support converting the golf course into a vast public park that includes year-round community gardens and greenhouses with free produce for vulnerable community members. We can use this space for educating our youth on sustainable agriculture. Meanwhile, we should support alternative development of housing on nearby underutilized lots that work better for apartments and businesses, including grocery stores. That way we can increase housing without sacrificing green space. We need housing that includes large families and doesn’t change as Area Median Income rises. Truly affordable developments nearby should be a majority for families, seniors and the disabled making a range of incomes from $0 to $60,000 a year.

How can Denver significantly expand its affordable-housing stock?

We need to expand transitional housing programs and housing that seniors, the disabled and working families can all afford. I served on the Inter-neighborhood Cooperation Zoning Planning Committee, Blueprint Denver and the task force implementing Colorado’s first inclusionary zoning law. In all those experiences, I was consistently fighting for families that make between $0 and $60,000 a year and their housing needs. It’s time to take that experience to the Mayor’s Office and push things further. We need increased requirements and incentives for building units that are actually affordable for those communities, allow commercial zoning to become residential and ease permitting so people can build on single-family homes to fit more people. All this housing construction is a huge opportunity for that construction to be sustainable. It’s also an opportunity to invest in local workforce development and contract with local businesses with the highest labor standards.

Denver has historically been a car-centric city. Should the city take significant road space from cars for other forms of transportation (walking, rolling, biking, scootering, bus, etc.)?

Yes, absolutely. As we make public transit, biking, scootering, walking and rolling easier and more efficient, people will naturally phase out car use and we can reduce cars on the road. This saves people money while saving the planet!

What would you do if the Denver Broncos demand public dollars as a requirement for keeping the stadium in the Mile High City?

I don’t believe we should use public dollars for a stadium.

Violence during let-out in LoDo has been an issue for years. Would you support a staggered closing time that ends at 4 a.m.?


What question do you wish we'd asked? Please feel free to answer it here!

I don’t know if this is a question, exactly, but I wanted to explain why "regional cooperation" is the top line on my plans for Denver. The problems our city faces don’t stop at lines on the map, and neither will I. It’s time to bring together cities, the state and funding from the federal government to solve our problems for good.

See answers from Kelly Brough, Thomas Wolf, Lisa Calderón, Andy Rougeot, Ean Tafoya, Renate Behrens, Debbie Ortega, James Walsh, Robert Treta, Leslie Herod, Chris Hansen, Mike Johnston, Trinidad Rodriguez, Aurelio Martinez, Terrance Roberts and Al Gardner.
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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.

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