The most prominent challenger so far to Mayor Hancock’s re-election has raised over $100,000 in campaign contributions, campaign finance reports show.
Kayvan Khalatbari, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who’s well-known for his advocacy around the arts, cannabis and ending homelessness in Denver, raised $69,569 during the first three months of 2018 for the race next year.
Khalatbari announced his candidacy last February, laying out an initial campaign platform in a wide-ranging interview with Westword . At the time, he said, “I can’t hear so many people complain about Hancock running unopposed again. It can’t happen. … I love this city. It’s given me everything I have in my career, friendships, love life and community organizing — Denver afforded me all of those opportunities. But the longer that I do business and [live] in this city, I realize the detriment this city is placing on the people that I care about. I can’t sit by and watch it anymore. I feel it’s incumbent on me as a business leader and community organizer to engage people and give them hope that they can make a difference.”
More than a year later, his campaign is reporting 334 unique contributions, with 117 (35 percent) coming in at less than $50.
Khalatbari is still far behind Mayor Hancock’s campaign war chest; Hancock’s last filing in December 2017 showed his campaign raised $235,272 during 2017, bringing his total contributions to $312,222. But Khalatbari’s fundraising represents a significant change from the last mayoral election, when Hancock ran virtually unopposed in 2015 and none of his handful of opponents raised funds.
The incumbent mayor faces an uphill battle to re-election; the mayor has challengers this time around, including Marcus Giavanni and musician/activist Kalyn Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp, and is still embroiled in scandal after Denver Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise revealed sexually suggestive texts that Hancock sent her six years ago during his first term in office.
Khalatbari says he's not worried about Hancock's lead in fundraising. “We’re going to be more effective with the money we do raise," he says. "We're going to be on the ground and in the community, which is not something the mayor can claim. He seems to be hiding himself pretty well these days."
Khalatbari says his campaign hasn't received more contributions as a result of the text scandal.
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“I wouldn’t say that my fundraising has been directly attributed to that, and I haven't asked for money because of that," he says. "But it certainly has made people more willing to talk. At my last meet-and-greet, I only knew about a third of the people there, so it was encouraging to see how many people I've never met are getting involved in this run."
Khalatbari says that he's had to balance his candidacy with tending to his businesses, which include the Sexy Pizza chain and cannabis consulting firm Denver Relief. But come May 1, "I'm going to be full-time in the campaign."
"So we're just getting started," he promises.