Denver Government

Kwame Spearman Drops Out of Denver Mayor's Race

Kwame Spearman has dropped out of the mayor's race.
Kwame Spearman has dropped out of the mayor's race. Yumi Matsuo
And then there were sixteen.

Kwame Spearman, one of the seventeen candidates on the Denver mayoral ballot, has dropped out of the race.

"I think we got such a groundswell of support, and I'm honored for that," says Spearman, CEO of the Tattered Cover bookstore chain. "I think we were behind on time."

Spearman entered the already crowded mayoral field in early January and never quite caught fire, as so many candidates are still hoping to do before the April 4 election. A recent poll commissioned by 9News, the Denver Gazette and Metropolitan State University of Denver showed Spearman lagging behind other candidates, with just 1 percent of the likely voters surveyed responding that they planned to vote for Spearman.

Because a 2 percent polling threshold was instituted for the March 14 9News debate, just eleven mayoral candidates made it onto the debate stage. Spearman, whose name will remain on the ballot, was not one of them.

Having now dropped out of the mayor's race, Spearman has endorsed Kelly Brough, the former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, to be Denver's next mayor.

"I feel very aligned with her. I don't agree with everything she's said on the campaign trail, but that's the point of democracy," Spearman says. "I think she was incredibly well researched and understood the nuances of those conversations."

Spearman notes that he originally got into the mayor's race because he thought other candidates were not "having authentic, tough conversations with Denver voters around issues that were really key," such as "homelessness, safety and affordability."

Spearman ran into trouble on the campaign trail on February 23 when he appeared on conservative talk-radio station KNUS and was asked whether the City of Denver should cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Spearman said that he believed cooperation between the city and ICE, which has been largely nonexistent since Donald Trump was in his first year in office in 2017, should restart, as long as that didn't violate principles of Denver being a "sanctuary city." His statements were picked up by Kyle Clark at 9News.

Although the definition of "sanctuary city" is something of a moving target, cooperating with the feds on immigration enforcement would definitely mean Denver was no longer a sanctuary city.

Spearman, who wishes that Clark had reached out to him for comment before tweeting out what Spearman had said on KNUS, took immediate flak from political leaders in Denver, a city that is famously friendly toward immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

"Just to be clear, I support Denver being a sanctuary city. I support migrants. I support undocumented workers," Spearman says now. In the aftermath of a subsequent 9News story, Spearman spoke with immigrant community members who told him about living in fear of ICE.

"I do believe that the only way we were going to come together as a community was if we allow our leaders to listen, to process and to evolve. And that's what I did," Spearman says, noting that the controversy that stemmed from his remarks on ICE had nothing to do with him dropping out of the race.

Since Spearman had planned to take time off from the Tattered Cover into June, as he had hoped to be competing in the runoff that month to replace term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock, the CEO plans to focus full-time for the next few weeks on helping out Brough.

"I'm really, really focused on the mayor's race right now. I want to use my platform and my time right now to get Kelly as our next mayor."
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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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