Last week, I went to Denver to meet with colleagues. As I arrived, I was struck by how glad I was to not to live in Denver — at least not right now.

Clearly, I’m one of the few people not running for Denver mayor, or I’d never admit to that thought. But I share the sentiment not to disparage what Denver is or can be, but rather to highlight the heaviness that I think at least some undecided voters might be feeling. Hear me out.

I’ve spent years working in and around Denver. I want to like the city; I love what urban centers can offer, including arts, culture and dining. 

But it’s no secret that Denver doesn’t feel as happy as it once did. For all the incredible things it has to offer, there are a lot of serious problems that need to be addressed; and few of these issues appear to have a quick fix in sight.

Polls increasingly reflect this sentiment. Voters express crime, homelessness and affordability as the top issues in mind this year. Needless to say, these are a slate of topics steeped in a level of seriousness that’s tough to match.

A quick walk around the city reveals why: Sidewalks are littered with trash, and construction blocks popular throughways. Once-vibrant storefronts have been boarded up, surrounded by wire fencing with no transition in sight. On many days, a brown cloud hovers above. 

People are experiencing homelessness at appalling rates with no meaningful help, safety is increasingly an issue, and lately, it seems that for every beautiful home, another smaller one is threatened by gentrification. It’s a Denver that took years to make and a Denver that will take years to leave behind.

This heaviness is palpable, and I believe a lack of hope for meaningful change is at least part of why many voters can’t decide on a candidate for mayor. It’s been a rough go lately, yet no candidate is successfully translating their short-term policy goals into a long-term vision of what Denver could look like.

When I listen to the mayoral candidates, I don’t hear differences in values so much as debates on solutions. And to an extent, that’s great. But most voters also need long-term vision and values to anchor the discussions. Without this, enthusiasm wanes, andI’m not sure I could accurately define what any candidate envisions Denver to look like in 20 or 30 years. 

When I imagine what Denver could be, it’s so much more than what’s being discussed. I dream of a Denver that I would want to live in; one that is futuristic, bold and vibrant. I want a candidate for mayor who inspires me to think bigger and has a tantalizing vision of a 21st-century urban paradise.

What is an urban paradise? 


It’s a complete shift from past thinking on American cities. It’s car-free neighborhoods, seamless public transit and architecture that is carbon-negative, union-built and with a keen eye for human-factor design.

It’s urban vertical farming, local businesses and mini-villages of tiny homes with community centers and walkable grocery stores. It’s art, music and the end of homelessness. It’s clean, safe and filled with lush greenery no matter your ZIP code.

More experienced political pundits will offer other reasons why no candidate is running away with the race. These typically include too many candidates and no candidate having a clear lane, both true.

But I can’t help but wonder if some voters also feel a bit let down, that despite meaningful policy differences, the outcome of the Denver mayoral race feels somewhat inconsequential if the only goal is to get back to where we were. It’s not because the race doesn’t matter; it does, but if no candidate can successfully translate a more hopeful version of what we’re aiming for, does it really matter which one wins now? 

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Of course, it does matter, and several candidates do stand above the crowd. Most notably, Dr. Lisa Calderon appears to offer the best combination of education and experience, and policy solutions that are likely to get Denver closest to a newer version of itself. I suspect it’s part of what she’s aiming for with her phrase of reimagining Denver.

But given that so far no candidate has been able to reach me, and I suspect others, with a better vision of what Denver could be, is this the ticket for someone to break out in the race? 

With only mere weeks left, who is my champion for an urban paradise?

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation's top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.