Giellis, Hancock Trade Accusations Over Who Is More Like Trump

Jamie Giellis and Michael Hancock will go head-to-head in the June 4 runoff.
Jamie Giellis and Michael Hancock will go head-to-head in the June 4 runoff. jamiefordenver.com/hancockformayor.com
The Denver mayoral runoff got even weirder over the weekend.

A video of Jamie Giellis speaking about Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resulted in back-and-forth accusations about which candidate is more like Donald Trump.

In a new ad, the Michael Hancock campaign likens Giellis to Trump for a statement she made about immigration. The ad, which also includes a reference to how Giellis could not recall what the NAACP acronym stands for during an interview, comes after a difficult week for Giellis. Fresh off endorsements from past rivals Lisa Calderón and Penfield Tate, Giellis spent last week defending herself amid allegations of racial insensitivity.

But Giellis's campaign also went on the offensive, responding to the ad on Sunday, May 19, by comparing Hancock to Trump over the issue of sexual harassment.

The comment from Giellis that sparked the recent mud-slinging came during a mayoral forum hosted by the Denver Republican Party in March. The moderator asked the candidates, which included Calderón and Tate, about their thoughts on sanctuary city policies and the city of Denver having a "DENVER [HEARTS] IMMIGRANTS" poster on the City and County Building.

A day after the forum, a YouTube account from someone named John Denver posted a six-second video of Giellis responding to the moderator's question.

"We won't tolerate crime or criminal activity. We will comply with authorities, we will comply with ICE in that regard," Giellis said.

The Hancock for Denver campaign posted the ad — which included the clip and a narrator saying, "Like Trump, she called undocumented immigrants criminals" — over this past weekend,

The clip was a snippet from a longer response that Giellis gave to the moderator's question. Read her full statement here:

"This is not about doing things that protect people who have taken illegal actions here. This is about the conversation about immigration. About the fact that, as [Lisa Calderón] said, that we are a country of immigrants here, and to that end, I don't have a problem with the sign. I don't have a problem with celebrating anybody who is a member of our community. I do think that there are things that we can do [and] things that we do need to address as a city. One of the issues we have is that there are people who are here legally who are working to become citizens who time out. There's a backlog in the system. They are trying to do the right thing. They are employed. They are trying to have businesses here. They are trying to be members of our community, and we can help in that regard. And I think it is those positive moves to say we won't tolerate crime or criminal activity. We will comply with authorities, we will comply with ICE in that regard. But immigrants and people coming into our community do provide rich opportunity for diversity that we see other cities really working with. The city of Philadelphia has created a whole economic strategy around really supporting immigrants who are there legally, who invest in small businesses and grow the local economy. We have an opportunity to do that, thoughtfully, obviously, following the law, and doing so in a way in which we help people who want to become legal members of our community thrive and survive in Denver."

Giellis responded by commenting underneath the video: "[It] is an edited statement from a mayoral forum taken completely out of context."

Giellis noted that she supports Denver's current policy regarding cooperation with ICE. In 2017, Denver City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits most city employees from complying with ICE or collecting information about an individual's immigration status. The ordinance also codified the city's policy of not obliging requests from ICE to hold individuals past their release dates without judicial warrants. The ordinance also prevents ICE officials from accessing non-public areas of jails without judicial warrants.

We asked the Hancock campaign to explain the ad. Here's what a spokesperson said:

"I'm not sure what you're asking for here. These are her words. They were clumsy at best, ignorant at worst. It is the way Donald Trump describes the issue in order to create the impression that undocumented refugees and immigrants violate criminal law. Here’s the point: It was another case of her very shallow appreciation for the issue. If you are an undocumented immigrant and you hear words like that, the impression is that you are being lumped in with criminals. She used these words at a Republican forum for a reason."

Giellis's campaign shot back at Hancock's by accusing it of misrepresenting her actual position.

"Now, since the mayor is desperate, he’s falsely twisting my words to deceive you and divide us," a spokesperson for Giellis wrote Westword in an email.

Runoff ballots will arrive in mailboxes this week. The Denver Clerk and Recorder position and five city council seats are up for grabs in the June 4 election.

A spokesperson says the Giellis campaign isn't investing in attack ads like Hancock's team is, though it's still slinging mud.

"Michael Hancock got one thing right: Denver doesn’t need a leader who resembles Donald Trump, including one who sexually harasses women. As the first woman mayor of Denver, I will make sure women have stronger workplace protections against gender discrimination. I will also eliminate secret settlements, such as the $1.5 million paid by Denver taxpayers to cover up Michael Hancock’s sexual indiscretions."
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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.