Leslie Herod Wants to Continue Legislative Momentum as Denver Mayor | Westword

The Contenders: Leslie Herod Hopes Legislative Talents Lead to Mayor's Office

The first LGBTQ Black individual to serve in an elected office in Colorado, is well-known for her work on criminal-justice reform.
Representative Leslie Herod wants to be Denver's next mayor.
Representative Leslie Herod wants to be Denver's next mayor. Erin McCarley
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This is the tenth 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 Leslie Herod below.

A resident of Colorado for over twenty years, Leslie Herod has served in the Colorado House of Representatives since 2016 as a Democrat representing Denver.

Herod, the first LGBTQ Black individual to serve in an elected office in Colorado, is well known for her work on criminal-justice reform. In the summer of 2020, as protesters were demanding racial justice in the streets of Denver, Herod spearheaded a police accountability proposal known as SB-217, which passed out of the legislature and was signed into law in 2021.

Herod had already brought forward the Caring for Denver measure, which Denver voters approved in 2018. The measure raised the city sales tax, with extra revenue earmarked for mental health programs. Some of that money now funds the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program, which sends a paramedic and a mental health clinician to crisis situations that don't merit a law enforcement response. Herod, who notes that she's more introverted than most people assume, is now hoping that the skills she honed in the legislature will carry her into the mayor's office.

Why are you running for mayor?

I’m running for mayor because Denver needs a leader who puts results over politics and is both willing and capable of working with a diverse group of stakeholders to move our city forward. Denver can do better, and we must engage all parts of Denver’s community to ensure that we are doing what’s best for everyone who lives here.

What is your plan to tackle homelessness?

It’s time to rethink how we address living space for our unhoused neighbors. We know that helping people get back on their feet requires stable housing, but the very first step is getting people inside to safe places — ones where they feel comfortable and secure. In addition, we will expand street outreach, addiction treatment and harm reduction to ensure that people facing a crisis are aware of these new solutions. Bold action is required to change the trajectory of the city, and we can develop solutions that are both safe and caring. I have a track record of real accomplishment on these issues, such as creating the Caring for Denver Foundation, which helps fund mental health and substance use services.

Would you end homeless encampment sweeps?

One of the first orders of business of my administration will be to replace Denver’s camping ban with a compassionate solution that works. The current policy has failed from all sides. It hasn’t reduced encampments on our streets, and it is harmful for our unhoused neighbors. Eighty to 90 percent of unsheltered people would rather be in housing, and it costs $200 to $500 per day to house someone in the Denver jail. Denver voters don’t want to continue with failed policies of the past. We must develop a new response that includes comprehensive housing and safety programs.

What is your plan to improve public safety in Denver?

Every person in Denver deserves to feel safe in their community and in this city. From our parks to our schools, whether you’re protesting in front of the Capitol or you’re an unhoused person facing a crisis, Denver can do better. Whether it is preventing gun violence, training law enforcement, reducing car thefts, or helping people that are living on our sidewalks, we can and will make our community safer for everyone, no matter what part of town they live in. Denver can be the safest major city in the nation. A vibrant city for all its residents demands a transformational approach to public safety. That includes ensuring that each agency in the Public Safety Department is well-resourced, including police, firefighters, dispatchers, sheriffs, community corrections and youth program services. I have a proven track record of being a champion of true criminal justice reform, and will continue to fight to ensure that our system is fair and just for all people that encounter it.

We must also increase support for the STAR program, an alternative policing program to deploy trained mental health workers and paramedics to respond to 911 calls involving mental health crises and substance misuse.

Highlights of the plan include 1) improving relationships and trust with our police while holding them accountable, 2) alternatives to jail, 3) curbing youth violence, 4) getting guns off our streets, 5) safer solutions for our homeless population, 6) supporting mental health, 7) eliminating hate crimes, 8) zeroing in on theft and vandalism and 9) addressing the root causes of crime.

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

If we don’t have a strong education system, we don’t have a strong city. We need to ensure that Denver Public Schools are serving our city’s children and parents in the best way possible. Denver students, teachers and families deserve an education system that works for them and provides the support they need to succeed and thrive. Our schools are facing upheaval and uncertainty, and we need strong leadership to bring people together to best serve our kids. I have a proven track record of putting people over politics to get results, and I will prioritize collaboration and community involvement to move our schools forward.

Every parent wants a quality education for their children, and time and time again Denver voters choose to support our public schools. Despite this, there is much discontent among parents and community members whenever decisions are made. I will use my leadership style of collaboration and community involvement to put people over politics and help move forward a positive agenda for the City of Denver that makes sure that all of our voices are heard.

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

Conservation easements are an important part of our state’s efforts to protect open spaces and ensure that we retain areas of natural beauty. In the legislature, I voted for strengthening conservation easements in the state (HB19-1264). They also provide legal protections that, in many cases, can only be overturned by a court. I am opposing Ballot Measure 2O. While I agree that we need more affordable housing, grocery options and intelligently developed neighborhoods, one cannot overlook the gross miscarriage of taxpayer dollars in this deal. Ballot Measure 2O is a bad deal for Denver.

How can Denver significantly expand its affordable-housing stock?

Housing affordability impacts everyone, and costs are out of control in Denver right now. Safe, healthy, accessible, affordable housing is a human right. Yet a stable home has become a luxury that many in Denver cannot afford. We need a bold, creative leader who will prioritize the needs of Denverites. I will fight for resources to create truly affordable housing and end chronic homelessness; zoning reforms to prioritize fair housing and affordable homes for families, developing public land into housing units, protections to stabilize tenants; and ways to expand permanent affordability, such as community land trusts.

We need a multi-pronged approach to this crisis that ensures that current renters and homeowners can afford to live here, while ensuring our unhoused neighbors have access to both housing and supports to help get them back on track.

I have a bold vision that will combine smart urban planning with help for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues. I’ve gotten real results — like a successful alternative policing program that deploys trained health-care workers and paramedics to respond to mental health calls, and creating the innovative Caring for Denver mental health and addiction foundation. I will use this collaborative, bold and innovative vision to solve Denver’s housing and homelessness problem.

Smart density is key to Denver’s future growth and to quality planning for the future. Denver has a 50,000-unit housing gap. In order to provide these additional units, I believe Denver must leverage vacant and underutilized land and buildings it already owns and partner with communities on projects that will help provide additional housing opportunities at all levels -– ensuring that we revitalize and renew our neighborhoods while preserving their unique character. We must also eliminate the development-permit backlog in order to keep up with the pressing housing demand.

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.)?

I envision a Denver in which car ownership is no longer a prerequisite to getting a job or just getting around. Many residents will still have cars, but they will be operating them in an efficient transportation system that is shared equitably with other modes of transportation. Creating a balance will benefit our economy, reduce pollution, increase safety and help ensure that our city is fair for everyone that lives here. We will ensure that our neighborhoods are smartly designed to be walkable and have access to groceries and child care.

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

Denver Broncos fans are the greatest football fans in the nation, and the Denver Broncos organization is lucky to have such a loyal and dedicated fan base. My administration will work with the Denver Broncos to keep them in the city.

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.?

I will work with our communities, local businesses, law enforcement and all stakeholders to determine the balance that works best for our city. Staggered closing times would be an option that’s on the table.

What question do you wish we'd asked?

One thing we don’t talk about much on the campaign trail is ensuring that reproductive rights are not only protected in Denver, but services are safe and accessible for all who need them. This includes Denverites of all income levels, of course. But Denver has become a safe haven regionally for people needing reproductive health care. With the loss of constitutional protections from Roe v. Wade, we only have pro-choice leaders in the state and federal government to protect us from those that want to impose their will on our bodies. As mayor, I can guarantee that I will do everything in my power to protect people’s reproductive health-care rights within Denver, including ensuring that the needed providers can actually afford to live and practice safely in our great city, regardless of who is in charge at the state and federal level.

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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