Colorado History

Denver's Mayoral Race Is Heating Up

Former mayors Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper came out in support of Michael Hancock.
Former mayors Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper came out in support of Michael Hancock. Westword
With the election runoff three weeks away, on June 4, Denver's mayoral race is heating up...and not just because of the unseasonably warm sun that was beating down on back-to-back press conferences this morning. Jamie Giellis, who came in second to incumbent Michael Hancock in the May 7 vote, earning a spot in the runoff, had already announced that she would be on the steps of the Denver City & County Building with two former rivals, Lisa Calderón and Penfield Tate, at 10:30 a.m. this morning, when Hancock's team announced that he would be across the street in Civic Center Park at 9:30 to announce the support of three former mayors.

One, Bill Vidal, beat the heat by sending his support in letter form; Wellington Webb read that missive before introducing John Hickenlooper. (Ironically, if not for Hickenlooper, Hancock might not be mayor at all; Hickenlooper had appointed Vidal, Denver's popular director of the Denver Department of Public Works, to the deputy mayor position, which meant Vidal became mayor when Hickenlooper left to run for governor. There was a little kerfuffle when Vidal subsequently explored making his own run at City Hall; Hickenlooper said that he wouldn't have appointed him if he'd known, because he didn't want to give anyone a head start. In the end, Vidal did not run, and Hancock, who'd been elected to Denver City Council the same year Hickenlooper was first elected mayor, wound up in a runoff with Chris Romer in 2011.)

There was plenty of history at the mic this morning: Webb had first run for mayor in 1983, when Federico Peña  was elected, beating incumbent Bill McNichols, then going for a fourth full term. Incumbents have wound up in runoffs before: Peña and Webb were both in runoffs, but ultimately won their second terms (and Webb went on to a third). And Hickenlooper came up from behind in a big field to be elected in 2003.

"The success Denver, our residents and our neighborhoods have experienced over the past eight years doesn't happen by accident," said Hickenlooper. "It doesn't happen without leadership, and it doesn't happen without intentional effort. We need a mayor who has the experience making sure Denver's prosperity is shared by everyone."

Webb, who promised to campaign for the incumbent across the city, pointed out that Hancock had grown up in Denver, and "understands the heart of Denver...he is not some kind of Johnny Come Lately."

Or Jamie Come Lately?

Giellis's tenure in Denver (she's lived here longer than Peña — who was not part of the Hancock rally — had when he ran for mayor) will certainly come under scrutiny during the runoff. So will her position on the urban camping ban, which Giellis has promised to lift and replace with other policies. And so will her work background: As Hancock, Webb and Hickenlooper all noted, part of the job is to supervise a team of 11,000 employees, while much of Giellis's work has been as an urban consultant, working with community groups but not supervising them.

"We're going to stay focused on the facts of the record," Hancock said. "If you have a record."

click to enlarge Supporters of Jamie Giellis, Lisa Calderón and Pen Tate gathered at the City & County Building. - WESTWORD
Supporters of Jamie Giellis, Lisa Calderón and Pen Tate gathered at the City & County Building.
Half an hour after the Hancock speeches ended, the Giellis #UniteDenver rally began on the steps of City Hall.  While Hancock took under 39 percent of the vote in the first round, Calderón, Tate and Giellis collectively won 58 percent...which means keeping most of those supporters united will be key on June 4.

Lisa Calderón, who came in third on May 7, cited Abraham Lincoln's "team of rivals" in explaining why she'd come out in support of her former competitor. (Apparently I'm not the only one who's read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, which I'd mentioned during the post-election discussion on Colorado Inside Out May 7.) Calderón, a many-degreed college professor, cited Giellis's commitment "to building a diverse cabinet," dealing with the homeless crisis by pulling the issue out of city silos, fixing a broken public safety system, working on climate change, hiring a labor liaison, and making this a city for "everybody...not just people with homes."

For his part, Tate, who's served in the state legislature (and also been a regular on Colorado Inside Out), said that the decision to back Giellis had been "easy." Between 32 forums, meetings and debates, he'd talked "about stuff" with Giellis, and discovered she was not "poop," but "the real deal," someone who could push to make government accessible, ethical and transparent. It was time, he said, "for different folk to drive the engine."

"This city needs to focus on people first," Giellis said, thanking Calderón, Tate and all their supporters for coming out. But she also realizes that she's the person who'll be the focus of the most attention, as others "paint me as someone I am not." So she talked about her sixteen years of urban planning work, but also pointed to the considerable experience of Calderón and Tate, who together have more experience than Hancock and will continue to be intrinsic not just to the campaign, but contributing ideas for a Giellis administration.

Echoing Peña's "Imagine a great city" slogan, she concluded with this: "Imagine the greatness of Denver when the people are a priority."

Yes, this campaign is going to get hot — so hot that Giellis had to move into the shade for questions, so hot that my phone fried while I was at the rallies, so hot that the only shade from this campaign may be under the yard signs popping up again all over town.

And the runoff is still three weeks away.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun