Denver’s mayoral race began in earnest on February 9 at Regis University, where 16 out of 17 candidates speed debated in front of their constituents. Candidate Al Gardner couldn’t make it because his daughter gave him a grandchild earlier in the day.
The debate was hosted by CBS Colorado, and lasted a little over two hours. Because of the number of candidates, each one only had 30 seconds to respond to the questions. Each candidate was given three rebuttal cards that they could flash in order to respond to the current speaker’s remarks, and most were used in the first half of the debate. Audience members found the debate informative, but also criticized its rapid tempo due to the amount of candidates.
“I think it was hard for them to answer the way they wanted to answer, it was just too fast, ” said Sue Felton, a volunteer for Dr. Lisa Calderon’s campaign “But I enjoyed the exposure to other candidates, so I’m glad I was here.”
The debate focused on three issues at the core of constituents’ concerns: homelessness, affordable housing, and sustainability. Homelessness and affordable housing dominated most of the debate, with standouts from the left including Calderon, State Rep. Leslie Herod, and Ean Thomas Tafoya, who all condemned Denver’s camping ban and sweeps on encampments.
“I feel that people who support the camping ban have never gone out and served the unhoused directly, and the other is a failure of creativity,” said Tafoya. “I’m hoping we can center on public health and humanity, and we can offer solutions people need.”
Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman and Andy Rougeot are in support of Denver’s current policies for people experiencing homelessness and want to double down by increasing police funding.
“As Mayor, I will add more police officers to our streets and increase their funding so they are properly trained,” said Rougeot. “I will fight for our future by keeping our streets safe.”
Rougeot is a registered republican, and while many support his and Spearman’s approach, it was Terrance Roberts who spoke most poignant about his past experience with organized crime, choosing to focus on the more systematic issue causing the increase in crime.
“I am the only ex-gang member running for such a high municipal position,” said Roberts. “We need more dedicated youth spaces, and get the youth involved in the arts for positive affectation.”
Both Denver Councilmember Kelly Brough and Leslie Herod took some credit in Denver’s STAR program, which sends mental health specialists and EMTs to certain public disturbances instead of police, and believe in expanding the program further. However, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca of District 9 disputed Brough and Herod’s claim, citing the fact that, while they did help with the STAR program, it was first and foremost a community led initiative that was brought to everyone’s attention by Former Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen.
Former State Sen. Mike Johnston agreed with STAR’s efficacy, and pitched a unique idea from his fellow candidates.
“You can’t move people off a street if you have no place for them to go,” Johnston said. “We have to provide permanent supportive housing for them to move to. We do that by opening micro-communities, 40-60 tiny homes where people have built-in mental health services, addiction treatment, and workforce training to get back in the field.”
Jim Walsh, a grassroots candidate and teacher whose campaign team consists of his students, is focusing his campaign on the rights of Denver workers.
“Which side are you on?” asked Walsh in his closing remarks. “Why have we never had a mayor on the side of workers in this city? I hope to be that mayor, and support union density and worker centers. Denver workers first.”
Trinidad Rodriguez, the son of Former Denver Councilmember Rosemary Rodriguez, differentiated himself from other Democratic candidates with his more conservative beliefs, such as increasing the police budget. Rosemary Rodriguez was shocked but happy when her son announced his candidacy, and became Trinidad’s campaign chair.
“I don’t know if I inspired him, but I definitely modeled it,” said Rosemary Rodriguez after the debate. “I thought he did well, but it’s hard to encapsulate a policy in just 30 seconds.”
While each candidate brought their unique perspectives and disagreed respectfully on many issues, each one could agree with Rosemary that the debate’s format left them with little time to properly espouse their ideas and policies. Ballots will be mailed to voters on March 13, with the last day to vote is on April 4. Check if you’re registered to vote at GoVoteColorado.gov.