Ballots for the Denver mayoral and city council contests (and a couple of referendums) are in the mail. The Colorado Sun is rounding up our coverage and that of others to help Denver voters make their choices.
We’ll be adding links and stories in the weeks leading up to the April 4 election and through the likely runoff election to be held June 6.
As a bonus, we’re including content from The Unaffiliated, our twice-weekly political newsletter typically only available to premium Colorado Sun subscribers. (There’s plenty more political news where that comes from! Sign up here!)
Voter Guides | Candidate Voting History | Endorsements | Polling | Fundraising | Fun Facts | Ask a Question
Who is running for Denver mayor?
The Colorado Sun’s coverage
“Welcome to Denver”: Meet the 16 mayoral candidates through their airport train greeting
Denver mayoral candidates raised $5.3 million through February. Five candidates got 73% of that cash.
More than 70 candidates are running for Denver mayor or City Council. Here’s what to watch in the 2023 election.
Great voter guides and other resources
What we found in the voter files of Denver’s 17 mayoral candidates:
First published in The Unaffiliated on 3/3/23.
One of the questions we often ask people running for office is: Do you vote regularly?
The answer is sometimes “no,” and that’s true for some of the 17 people who want to be the next mayor of Denver. We pored over each candidate’s state voter file, obtained through a records request, to learn their voter registration history and which elections they did and didn’t cast ballots in.
Here’s a look at the Denver mayoral candidates who have missed or skipped voting in some in Colorado and Denver municipal elections dating back to 1999:
Lisa Calderón is a Democrat who registered to vote in Denver in 1992. She missed the 2010 general election but has voted in every municipal and general election since 2003. She skipped the primaries in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Trinidad Rodriguez is a Democrat who registered to vote in 1999 and missed the 2007 municipal election and runoff. He has voted in all other off-year municipal elections since 1999, as well as all general elections since then. He didn’t vote in the 2000, 2006, 2008, 2014 and 2022 primary elections.
Aurelio Martinez switched his registration to unaffiliated from Democratic in 2020. Martinez’s voter file shows he didn’t vote in Denver’s municipal elections in 2003, 2007, 2015 or 2019, though he voted in the city’s runoffs in 2003 and 2019. Martinez has voted in every statewide, even-year general election since 2008, but didn’t vote in several odd-year statewide elections during that span.
Thomas Wolf changed his party affiliation to unaffiliated from Libertarian in 2019. He didn’t vote in the 2015 or 2007 municipal elections, though he voted in Denver’s 2019 election and runoff. He has voted in every statewide, even-year general election since 2008.
Al Gardner switched his voter registration to Democratic from Republican in July 2019. He was also registered as a Democrat from 2012 to 2014. He didn’t vote in Denver’s 2003, 2005, 2011 or 2015 municipal elections, but voted in the 2019 Denver election and runoff and has voted in every statewide, even-year general election since 2012.
Terrence Roberts changed his party affiliation to Democratic from unaffiliated in 2021. He registered to vote in Denver in 2010, but didn’t vote in the city’s 2015 municipal election, nor did he vote in the 2014 statewide general election. Roberts did vote in the 2019 mayoral election and runoff, and he voted in every general election and primary election in 2020 and 2022.
Kwame Spearman, a Democrat, returned to Denver permanently in late November or early December 2020, after that year’s election, according to a spokeswoman. He didn’t vote in the 2007, 2015 or 2019 municipal contests because, the spokeswoman said, he was attending school or working in other states. He also didn’t vote in statewide general elections in 2014, 2016, 2018 or 2020 in Colorado. Spearman voted in Denver’s 2003 municipal runoff (but not the municipal election that year) and the city’s 2011 election and runoff.
UPDATE: Spearman has dropped out of the race.
Renate Behrens is an unaffiliated voter who registered in Denver in February 2015, but didn’t vote in the municipal election that year. She has voted in every general and municipal elections from 2016 on. She didn’t vote in the 2018 or 2022 primaries.
State Sen. Chris Hansen is a Democrat who registered to vote in Denver in 2010. He hasn’t missed a municipal, general or primary election since.
Mike Johnston, a Democrat, registered to vote in Denver in 2002. He didn’t vote in the 2003 municipal election (though he did vote in the runoff that year) or the city’s 2007 or 2015 municipal elections. He has, however, voted in every statewide primary and general election dating back to at least 2010. Johnston also voted in the 2019 Denver election and the subsequent runoff. (Johnston’s campaign contends he did vote in the city’s 2015 election.)
James Walsh is an unaffiliated voter who didn’t vote in the 2019 Denver runoff. He has voted in all other municipal and even-year general elections since 2003. Walsh didn’t vote in the 2018, 2020 or 2022 primaries.
Ean Thomas Tafoya
Ean Thomas Tafoya is a Democrat who was registered an unaffiliated voter from 2011 to 2015. He didn’t vote in the 2011 municipal election, but did vote in the runoff that year. He voted in Denver’s 2019 election and runoff, and he has voted in every statewide, general election since November 2012.
Andy Rougeot, a Republican, was registered to vote in Colorado Springs until September 2018. He voted in Denver’s 2019 municipal election, but not the runoff that year. He also didn’t vote in the 2016 general election in Colorado — a spokesman said he was living out of state at the time — or state-level primary elections before 2022. He first voted in Colorado in the 2012 general election. Rougeot voted in the 2022 general and primary elections, as well as the 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2020 general elections.
State Rep. Leslie Herod is a Democrat who registered to vote in Denver in 2006 and has voted in every municipal, general or primary election since.
Robert Treta switched his voter registration to unaffiliated from Democratic in late 2022. Treta, who registered to vote in Denver in 1997, didn’t cast a ballot in the city’s municipal elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 or 2015, though he did vote in the 2003 runoff. He voted in Denver’s 2019 election and runoff, and he voted in every even-year statewide general election between 2012 and 2020. He didn’t vote in the 2022 general election. He also didn’t vote in several odd-year statewide elections dating back to 2012.
City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, a Democrat, didn’t vote in Denver’s 2007 municipal election. She voted in every other off-year municipal election since 1999, as well as all even-year general elections. She didn’t vote in a handful of primaries prior to 2012.
Kelly Brough is a Democrat who registered to vote in Denver in 1990. She’s voted in every municipal and general election since 1999. She didn’t vote in Denver’s 2007 runoff or the 2000 statewide primary.
Interesting Democratic factions are born from the Denver mayor race
First published in The Unaffiliated on 2/24/23.
There’s nothing quite like a 17-candidate Denver mayoral race to reveal who is aligned with whom in the Colorado political sphere.
Notable endorsements are starting to fly in the contest, and we were especially interested to see some Democratic political factions forming, including among sitting and former state lawmakers.
Here are some of the most interesting announcements we’ve seen so far:
- Former state Sen. Lois Court endorsed state Sen. Chris Hansen in the Denver mayoral race. Hansen filled Court’s seat in the Senate when a medical issue forced her to resign. “He approaches every issue from an engineer’s perspective, ready to bring solutions to the table that make sense,” Court said in a written statement. “While I have seen so many leaders throughout my career sit back and let time pass them by, Chris always takes the proactive approach, putting the people who elected him at the forefront of every action he takes. And guess what? He gets results.” Sen. Kevin Priola and Rep. Judy Amabile have also endorsed Hansen.
- Former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat and Denver resident, endorsed Kelly Brough, the former head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and who was a chief of staff to U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper when he was Denver’s mayor. “She is the leader we need for the time we’re in,” Ritter said in a written statement. “Kelly is masterful at having the type of community conversations that Denver needs right now, and she has the experience necessary to lead this city.”
- Former City Council President Albus Brooks, now a developer, and John Bailey, chair of the Colorado Black Round Table, both endorsed former state Sen. Michael Johnston. So did YIMBY Denver, which advocates for more housing. (YIMBY stands for “yes in my backyard.”)
- City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega counts among her endorsers state Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, as well as Democratic former state lawmakers Polly Baca, Lucia Guzman, Joan Fitz-Gerald, Susan Lontine and Irene Aguilar.
- Dean Williams, the former head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, endorsed state Rep. Leslie Herod’s Denver mayoral campaign. “I came to Colorado to lead the Department of Corrections because I knew the correctional system in this state could be better — and I found a kindred spirit in Leslie Herod because she was results-driven,” Williams said in a written statement. “Leslie’s experience in the legislature is very important for this new role because experience is going to matter with the challenges that Denver is facing.” Williams’ endorsement of Herod is interesting given the criminal justice focus of the race. Herod is also backed by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.
The lone Republican
One candidate who isn’t getting — and likely won’t get — any big-name Democratic endorsements is Andy Rougeot, who is a Republican. Yes, the mayoral race is supposed to be nonpartisan, but Denver is a Democratic stronghold and Rougeot isn’t exactly hiding his party affiliation.
“We don’t need another insider from Denver’s political class in City Hall and the only endorsement that matters to me is an endorsement from the voters on Election Day,” Rougeot, a political newcomer, said in a statement.
Rougeot is getting support from the Colorado GOP, with Chair Kristi Burton Brown sending an email on his behalf to the state party’s contact list. “Watch his videos and read his plans. He’s taking a courageous, solution-oriented stand on homelessness and crime — two issues that continue to plague Denver,” she wrote.
🧠 Keep in mind: Bennet won reelection in Denver last year by a whopping 63 percentage points. It’s going to be tough for someone tied to the Colorado GOP to win in the Mile High City.
To endorse or not to endorse, that is Colorado lawmakers’ question
First published in The Unaffiliated on 3/7/23.
A lot of big, Democratic political names remain on the endorsement sidelines so far, including the bulk of the legislature. We haven’t seen anything from the congressional delegation or Gov. Jared Polis. Hancock has stayed out of the fray, too.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper hasn’t endorsed in the contest, though he’s featured in a super PAC ad favoring Brough. His office said he was unaware of the ad. Denver Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette isn’t endorsing anyone either. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s office didn’t respond to The Sun when asked about potential endorsements.
In some ways, some of these people’s decision not to weigh in on the race — and for certain candidates — speaks volumes. And as we predicted a few months ago, Denver mayoral race politics have definitely seeped into the Capitol.
🗣️ How are state lawmakers deciding whether to endorse their colleagues or political allies in the Denver mayoral race? It depends on which lawmaker you ask.
The two top Democrats in the Colorado Senate say they don’t plan to weigh in on the contest at any point.
“I don’t plan to endorse,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat. “It’s not my community. I generally don’t get involved in city races in other communities.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said he’s not planning to endorse anyone, either.
But Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, is going a different route. She is supporting state Rep. Leslie Herod’s campaign, despite serving in the Senate alongside another mayoral candidate: Sen. Chris Hansen. Winter’s career has been focused on getting women more involved in politics, so the endorsement isn’t surprising.
Analysis: If you talk to most state lawmakers, they will privately tell you they want nothing to do with the crowded Denver mayoral race. It’s like a big fire: better to watch at a distance than risk getting burned.
First published in The Unaffiliated on 2/28/23.
A poll of 405 likely Denver voters was conducted Feb. 9 and 10 by Cygnal, a GOP pollster, and Chism Strategies, a Democratic political strategy firm, on behalf of A Denver for Us All, an organization formed by Denver startup business leaders.
The poll’s findings weren’t very useful given that 59% of those surveyed said they were undecided. Just three candidates — Kelly Brough, Leslie Herod and Mike Johnston — had a greater share of support than the poll’s margin of error of 4.86 percentage points.
Here’s a look at Denver mayoral fundraising through Feb. 28. The next filing date is March 17.
And here’s spending by mayoral candidates through Feb. 28. The next filing date is March 17.
Here’s fundraising for Denver at-large City Council candidates through Feb. 28. The next filing date is March 17.
The “Fun Facts” portion of this Denver mayor guide
How much does the Denver mayor make?
Denver’s mayor is paid more than $188,000 and council members, who are on what’s likely the second most powerful government body in the state, make nearly $97,000.
Denver’s City Council is slated to consider revising pay for the jobs early next year, with any increase taking effect on July 18.
What about other Denver races?
You can see a list of the candidates for all Denver municipal offices here.
Several lawmakers are running for Denver mayor or City Council. How will they campaign during session?
Three state lawmakers are among the candidates for Denver mayor, while a fourth state lawmaker is running for one of two at-large City Council seats in the city’s April 4 municipal election.
The Colorado Sun reached out to the four Denver Democrats, none of whom immediately plans to resign as they run for municipal office, to ask how they will handle their legislative work while also campaigning.
- State Rep. Leslie Herod will continue to serve on the House Appropriations Committee while running for mayor, but is no longer serving on the Joint Budget Committee. “She expects to fulfill her duties as a legislator, along with running for mayor,” campaign spokeswoman Holly Shrewsbury said. “She’s not the first legislator to run for higher office while still holding on to their seat.”
- State Sen. Chris Hansen also stepped down from the Joint Budget Committee to run for mayor. “I’ve got my bills ready to go, I’ve got a great staff at the Capitol that are assisting me and I feel I can do a good job,” Hansen said.
- State Rep. Alex Valdez said he’s waiting to see how things shake out in the crowded mayoral contest before deciding whether to continue serving at the Capitol. “My plan is to get started and if the campaign takes over, I’ll reevaluate,” he told The Sun. “With as many new folks coming into the legislature it’s good to have people who help get off on the right foot.” (Editor’s note: Valdez has since dropped out of the race.)
- State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is running for an at-large council seat. She is one of 10 candidates to jump into the race thus far. She does not plan to resign while running for council and said she is accustomed to balancing multiple roles. “I feel a duty to continue to serve my constituents,” she said. “All the things I have done over the years, while having another job, while having a family with young children, I’ve been able to deliver for our state.”
State law prohibits lobbyists from donating to candidates during the legislative session, even if they’re running for a city office.
If any of the candidates win their races, they’ll have to resign from the legislature.
MORE: During the 2022 legislative session, six state lawmakers continued serving while simultaneously running for Congress. One of them, U.S. Rep.-elect Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, stopped serving on Senate committees during the lawmaking term.
State lawmakers who have run for Denver mayor in the past
There’s long been a pipeline from the Colorado legislature to Denver City Hall.
Here’s a look at the state lawmakers who have run for Denver municipal offices in past years:
- Federico Peña served in the Colorado House from 1979-82, when he didn’t run again. Instead, he ran for Denver mayor and won in 1983.
- State Sen. Penfield Tate ran for Denver mayor in 2003, resigning from the legislature on Feb. 14, 2003. He finished fourth among seven candidates. Now-U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper won the mayoral contest that year. Tate ran for mayor again in 2019, and is running for an at-large City Council seat this year.
- State Sen. Chris Romer resigned from the Senate on Dec. 31, 2010, to run for mayor in 2011 after Hickenlooper was elected governor. He finished second among 10 candidates, but lost the runoff to current Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who was then a city councilman.
- State Sen. Doug Linkhart ran successfully for an at-large Denver City Council seat in 2003 and resigned his Senate seat after his election.
One similarity among all of the politicians listed above? They’re Democrats.
Interesting data in the Denver mayoral race poll that wasn’t related to the Denver mayoral race
First published in The Unaffiliated on 2/28/23.
Denverites like Gov. Jared Polis but not Mayor Michael Hancock, according to a Denver mayoral race poll that had some interesting data unrelated to the mayoral race.
The poll of 405 likely Denver voters was conducted Feb. 9 and 10 by Cygnal, a GOP pollster, and Chism Strategies, a Democratic political strategy firm, on behalf of A Denver for Us All, an organization formed by Denver startup business leaders.
Seventy-five percent of those polled said they have a favorable view of Polis, compared with 21.5% who said they have an unfavorable view of the governor and 1.4% who had no opinion. When it comes to Hancock, 33% said they have a favorable view of Denver’s mayor, while 55% said they have an unfavorable view of him and 7% said they had no opinion.
“The governor’s image is incredibly strong, especially when you contrast that against Hancock’s image,” said Brett Buchanan, president and founder of Cygnal. “It’s basically like inverse images.”
Nearly 40% of those polled said they view Denver’s City Council favorably, compared with 45% who said they view it unfavorably and 14% who said they have no opinion. The Denver Police Department fared better, with 47% saying they have a favorable view of the department while 45% said they have an unfavorable view and 7.5% who said they have no opinion.
About 45% of those polled said they think Denver is headed in the right direction, while 47% said it’s on the wrong track. Eight percent said they were unsure.
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Reporting by Sandra Fish, Jesse Paul and Elliott Wenzler.
Design by Danika Worthington.