A rally calling for Mayor Michael Hancock’s resignation using the hashtag #TimesUPHancock is being planned for next Wednesday, March 7, on the front steps of the City and County Building at 9:30 a.m.
The rally is part of the fallout (see this Westword story for a complete roundup) after Hancock issued an apology for sending inappropriate text messages — including discussions of pole dancing — to a female member of his security detail, Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, six years ago.
In an interview with Denver7, which broke the story on February 27, Hancock said that he did not sexually harass Branch-Wise but apologized for “blurring the line between being a friend and a boss.”
That apology does not sit well with a group of women, including Lisa Calderón of the Colorado Latino Forum, who are organizing next week’s rally. “We were really disturbed because of the fact that he did not take full accountability for his actions,” says Calderón. “For him to say that it wasn't sexual harassment because he didn't touch her means that he doesn't know the meaning of sexual harassment."
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Calderón says she felt compelled to help organize the March 7 demonstration, where she’ll be one of the keynote speakers, to support any woman who comes forward with harassment allegations in the workplace. “First is to express support for any woman who comes forward and talks about being harassed in a government workplace," she explains. "That's difficult for anybody to do, especially when you have the power of a city agency coming down on you in retaliation.”
Calderón claims that Hancock's administration has retaliated against her. Denver City Council and the Denver Board of Ethics are looking into allegations that a rehabilitation program she ran, the Community Re-Entry Project, did not have a $550,000 contract renewed last year because Calderón had been a vocal critic of the mayor and officials in the Department of Public Safety. The charges are serious enough that Denver City Council voted last week to delay awarding the contract as they look into the matter. "I've been targeted by Mayor Hancock,” Calderón says, “so when Hancock said [Detective Branch-Wise] shouldn't have been afraid to come forward, that doesn't ring true with many of our experiences. Those of us who have spoken up against the mayor and attempted to hold him accountable were retaliated against.”
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A second reason for organizing the Time's Up rally, Calderón says, “is to address Hancock directly. We are not only dissatisfied with his response, but he seemed to do some victim blaming — or at least share responsibility of his bad actions — by saying 'I thought we were friends,' 'She never told me it bothered her.' That really took the responsibility off of him and made it seem like [Branch-Wise] should have done something different to call attention to his behavior. That's not acceptable.
"The third reason is to raise the issue of a double standard,” Calderón adds. “Why should the mayor not have to resign when other people — in cases he has overseen — have had to undergo investigatory leaves, and he doesn't have to? That's not okay. He's setting a different standard for himself than other city employees."
Calderón says that the hashtag #TimesUPHancock was created by her and other women, such as Five Points activist Candi CdeBaca, who are organizing the rally.
"We're starting with a public call for his resignation, and we want to hear his response," says Calderón. "If he doesn't resign, then I think we look at what other recourses are, including political recourses. That includes having someone run against him — and maybe it's time for a woman who would be more sensitive to these issues."