For the first time in 12 years, Denver voters will pick a new mayor in April 2023.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s three terms in office coincided with rapid growth and massive redevelopment across the city.
Would-be candidates (both declared and those still weighing their options) are lining up to run from the more progressive left of the current administration. Those candidates see a city that has become less diverse and more unaffordable for working-class people and are eager to shape Denver’s nearly $1.5 billion annual budget in a way they feel will better meet those challenges.
Meanwhile, a spike in crime in the city has public safety at the forefront of many voters’ and potential candidates’ minds. That could open up a lane for a more centrist candidate that prioritizes law and order in their messaging to voters.
Thus far, six people have filed their candidate paperwork with the Denver Elections Division for the April 4 election. They include some familiar faces. More established Denver political names — names like Leslie Herod, Kelly Brough and Penfield Tate — with the potential to tap into deeper wells of money and resources could soon jump into the race.
Here is who has filed their paperwork thus far:
Jesse Lashawn Parris
Parris is a fixture at Denver City Council meetings, regularly appearing online to speak during comment sessions or public hearings. He regularly uses his time to decry the city’s urban camping ban and treatment of unhoused people living on the city’s streets. The 35-year-old was unhoused on and off for 10 years, he said.
Parris said he is running for mayor to bring radical, revolutionary change to the city.
“This city is no longer for people like myself, native and Black people,” Parris said. “It’s become the mile-high-income city. You have to have a mile-high income to live here.”
Roberts has been known in Denver for his community activism, working to stop gang violence in the city after walking away from his life as part of the Bloods street gang. In 2015, Roberts was acquitted of attempted murder in the shooting of a man who came to one of Roberts’ peace rallies in 2013.
Roberts, 45, now works as a residential and commercial property inspector. His campaign will be focused in part on doing more for unhoused people in Denver and community-based ways to bring down crime rates, he said.
“We feel like we can shift some of the budget around, especially some of the public safety budget, to meet not only the needs of our law enforcement but also the needs of our constituency,” Roberts said. “I do have a progressive platform but I do believe it’s a sensible plan.”
Simpson, 61, is mounting his third campaign for mayor, though he didn’t make the ballot in 2019.
The technology consultant was born on a U.S. military installation in Germany and lived in a handful of states before eventually moving to Colorado in 1983. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado Denver in 2009.
Now a resident of Cherry Creek, Simpson said his campaign will be focused on housing — including a housing-first policy to address the city’s homelessness crisis — and bringing down crime rates. While he previously worked for the city of Denver as part of its 311 customer service phone operations, Simpson has never held elected office before.
“I believe it is time for a regular citizen to become mayor to look out for regular citizens,” he said.
Ean Thomas Tafoya
Tafoya, 36, ran for the District 9 City Council seat in 2015. Now the environmental activist, who leads the Colorado chapter of GreenLatinos, is campaigning for the top job in the city’s power structure.
Having worked for all three branches of government at the local level, Tafoya says that while environmental policy and combating climate change are at the forefront of his candidacy, he will work to ensure Denver follows through on its long-range community plans and partners with neighboring municipalities on big problems.
“It’s about regional cooperation, coming together to regionally lead,” Tafoya said. “Water, air, transportation, housing, these are all regional issues.”
Anna Burrell and Marcus Giavanni round out the candidates that have filed paperwork thus far. Both declined interview requests from The Denver Post at this stage in their campaigns.
In a post on her campaign Instagram account, Burrell highlighted what she sees as a need for more collaborative and transparent leadership in Denver. Housing, food security, education and infrastructure are issues that she says Denver residents have already presented good solutions to.
Giavanni has run for Denver mayor before. He came in second to Hancock in 2015, garnering 8.5% of the vote. He has a background in search engine optimization. His campaign site describes him as the “metahuman candidate.” He defines that as someone who matches search engine meta tags with “experiences, actions, credibility, relevance and most important the wisdom to have known better.”
Some recognizable names remain on the sidelines as April draws closer. Here is a look at candidates that could shake up the race if they chose to enter.
She hasn’t appeared on the municipal ballot before but Brough has held some influential positions in the city of Denver. She was then-Mayor (now U.S. Senator) John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff in 2009 before departing that administration to start a 12-year tenure as the head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. She was the first woman to lead that organization.
She has previously denied having political aspirations, but Brough told The Denver Post this week that she is now considering a run for mayor. Her focus now is on meeting with residents around the city to hear their concerns. Affordable housing, homelessness and public safety are the three issues that have consistently come up in those meetings, she said. She’s not ready to put forward any specific policy proposals at this stage.
“I’m really in a listening mode right now and really want to respect how our residents see those issues and share some of my ideas with them to get their feedback,” she said.
Calderón came in third in the 2019 mayor’s race before Hancock defeated Jamie Giellis in a runoff.
Since then, the 54-year-old has served as chief of staff for District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and been a key member of a task force dedicated to reimagining policing and public safety in Denver. She is now the executive director of Emerge Colorado, an organization dedicated to recruiting, training and helping elect progressive, Democratic women to office, especially women of color.
Calderón said she is still weighing her options for the 2023 race but said the city of Denver is ripe for a woman mayor.
“I am strongly wanting to see a woman of color in that seat,” Calderón said. “If there is someone who has a very strong chance and reflects my values then this isn’t about me.”
State Sen. Chris Hansen is also “taking a very hard look” at running for mayor in 2023.
Hansen, who represents a wide swath of east Denver, prides himself on his involvement in environmental legislation at the capitol. His private sector background includes more than two decades working with energy companies and governments to improve operations. He has also served on the influential joint budget committee at the statehouse.
Hansen mentioned public safety, particularly downtown, and a housing shortage as priorities in the city.
“I think people are really wanting a city that works well, that is functioning and really thriving as we all try to recover from the pandemic,” Hansen said. “I think this election is going to be critical for really setting the direction. The right leadership team is going to make all the difference.”
Another joint budget committee member, Rep. Leslie Herod, is also considering a mayoral run in 2023.
Herod was the first Black LGBTQ person ever elected to the state legislature when she won her northeast Denver seat in 2016. Since then, she has been at the center of some major pieces of legislation during her time in the general assembly including the 2020 police reform bill, which she co-sponsored and helped usher through both chambers with overwhelming support.
Herod told The Denver Post she is having conversations about her political future but has yet to make a final decision about running for mayor. She raised an issue no other potential candidate interviewed for this story did: how workforce shortages could stifle innovation in the city.
“Denver, I think, needs leadership that is focused on solving our most challenging issues in a collaborative way,” Herod said. “I think we need to have a real conversation about where we are going and what our shared vision is for the future of the Mile High City.”
Penfield Tate III
Tate was also on the ballot in 2019, coming in fourth right behind Calderón.
The former state legislator, who stepped down from the Colorado Senate in 2003 to run for mayor, said he is considering another campaign next year. Running for an at-large City Council seat is also on the table.
Tate and fellow members of the community group Save Open Space Denver celebrated a big win in November when voters supported a ballot measure that protects the former Park Hill Golf Club from redevelopment without approval in another citywide election.
“I think this is an important time for Denver,” Tate said of the 2023 election. “We still have a lot of work to do to rebound from the effects of the pandemic and now some of the effects we are feeling financially. But the guide star needs to be doing what’s best for people in their community and by doing that we’ll get a better city.”
Other potential candidates
Other legislators, including state Rep. Alex Valdez, have been mentioned as potential candidates waiting for their opportunity to jump into the race. Valdez did not return calls seeking an interview for this story.
Speaker of the Colorado House Alec Garnett is not planning to join the mayoral fray. Not yet, at least.
With three young children, ages 6, 4 and 1, Garnett said he doesn’t feel he can be the father he wants to be and the mayor Denver needs at the same time. Right now, he’s focused on the upcoming general election.
That doesn’t mean a run is out of the question.
“I have told folks I would reanalyze things after the November election, but right now I am leaning towards not running,” Garnett said.
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