Mayoral forum reveals candidates’ positions


Denver mayoral candidates Kelly Brough, Lisa Caldéron, Chris Hansen, and Leslie Herod at the March 16 forum

A question-and-answer forum for candidates for Denver mayor sponsored by the Intermountain Jewish News (IJN) and held at the BMH-BJ synagogue in Denver on March 16 drew eight of the remaining 16 contenders (Kwame Spearman dropped out earlier that day). Candidates participating were Kelly Brough, Lisa Caldéron, Chris Hansen, Leslie Herod, Debbie Ortega, Terrance Roberts, Andy Rougeot, Ean Tafoya, and Thomas Wolf. Mike Johnston was scheduled to appear but tested positive for COVID.

As of press time, two candidates have been endorsed by Denver newspapers, Mike Johnston by the Denver Post and Kelly Brough by the Denver Gazette.

Denver mayoral candidates Terrance Roberts and Andy Rougeot. Photos by Freda Miklin

IJN Editor and Publisher Hillel Goldberg moderated. Questions were asked by IJN Assistant Editor Chris Leppek and 850 KOA news anchor Susan Witkin. Leppek and Witkin are both winners of multiple journalism awards. 

Witkin began by sharing that her goal was to give listeners an opportunity to learn something new about the candidates. 

Denver mayoral candidate Ean Tafoya

She asked Leslie Herod to identify the locations where unbuilt lots exist in Denver that Herod has previously said could be used for affordable housing. Herod responded that her campaign website had many specific examples of such properties. The Villager checked that website and found examples of properties identified as being city-owned and available to build affordable/workforce/middle-income housing. It included renderings of housing that could be built on the lots. Herod also pointed to the possibility of land owned by Denver Public Schools and RTD being acquired by the city to be used for housing.  

Denver mayoral candidate Thomas Wolf with KOA’s Susan Witkin

Witkin asked Lisa Caldéron if she was in favor of, “changing zoning to allow multi-family housing or higher density housing in all Denver neighborhoods.” Caldéron responded, “I am. The zoning that we live with today…harkens back to redlining where certain communities were excluded. We are in a housing crisis…Having gentle density where it makes sense and higher density in the transit corridors…We absolutely need to share this responsibility across this state.” 

From Kelly Brough, Witkin wanted to know, “Are you in favor of zoning changes for all Denver neighborhoods to accommodate accessory dwelling units (ADUs)?” Brough answered, “I think we have 78,000 homes in the city of Denver today that have been authorized for ADUs…You have to have the alley or the access to it or the setback that allows you to have it. So, I would not do it citywide, but I would continue to look throughout our city for that opportunity. I think it helps us address gentrification issues and challenges, so I would make it a high priority.”

Terrance Roberts, when asked about allowing ADUs throughout the city, said, “I want to look more into that, but as of right now, not for all Denver neighborhoods.” He pointed out that there are “78 different neighborhoods” in the city.

On public safety, Andy Rougeot said, “The community is frustrated because they think there is not enough police presence and they don’t respond in time.” He talked about a neighbor who had four people trying to pry open his back door on Christmas Eve as he sat on hold with 911. “The police are also frustrated because they feel they don’t have the support they should…We’re not pursuing non-violent crimes,” Rougeot added. 

Chris Leppek asked the candidates if they felt that there was a role for faith-based organizations in helping to solve problems like homelessness. He also asked whether candidates had observed an increase in acts of antisemitism.  All the candidates agreed that faith-based organizations have an important role in helping the city address social issues such as homelessness. Similarly, they all agreed that hate crimes were on the rise, including those that reflect antisemitism. Debbie Ortega pointed out that Jewish people make up only two percent of the population, nationally and locally, and absorb more than their share of hate crimes.  

Asked what the city can do to attract new businesses and keep those that are here from leaving, Chris Hansen responded, “I see one of the silver linings of the work we need to do downtown is…office space available and falling commercial rents that will be attractive to businesses that want to come to Denver…We can offer incentive packages.”

To the same question, Ean Tafoya pointed to the fact that, “There are small businesses that are struggling in Denver who don’t get as much attention…so we should start by supporting the businesses that are here, first,” adding, “I want to incentivize businesses who want to better the world and clean up our air at the same time.” He also pointed to the need for workforce housing.

To the question of how to keep businesses from leaving Denver, Kelly Brough said, pointing to downtown, “We have to commit to end unsanctioned camping…improve downtown so people feel safe and welcome…I spent 12 years at the Chamber (Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce)…doing this work. People invest in our city because we have a smart, talented workforce.”

Thomas Wolfe said that to keep businesses in Denver, “You need to create an ecosystem of capital assets as well as safety.” He noted the importance of the “tourist economy,” pointing out that, “Those visitors are not going to come back to a downtown that’s filthy and unsafe. We need to cure encampments.”

Asked why so many people were running for mayor, several candidates pointed to the need for strong leadership. Chris Hansen pointed to another possibility, explaining, “Ballot access is too easy.” He pointed to the requirement that only 300 valid signatures need to be submitted to get on the ballot, whereas 1,000 valid signatures were required to run for state House or state Senate, “for what is essentially one-eighth of Denver,” concluding, “I think we need some reform here.” Hansen suggested that a candidate for mayor should need at least 1,500 valid signatures to get on the ballot, adding, “And you shouldn’t get Fair Election Funds until you are on the ballot.” 

Lisa Caldéron did not feel that anything should be done to lessen the number of potential candidates from running for mayor, explaining, “A leader is someone who steps up when you have to, when you’re compelled to, not when it’s convenient.” She also pointed out, “The Fair Election Fund was a gamechanger, but it didn’t get rid of dark money.” 

Asked who would support using rank ordered voting for future elections for Denver mayor, Brough, Caldéron, Hansen, Herod, Roberts, Tafoya, and Wolf indicated they would. Ortega and Rougeot said no. Candidates did not have the opportunity to explain their answers.

Rank order voting (ROV) in this election would have saved the taxpayers of the City and County of Denver $2 million. Most importantly, ROV would have resulted in the candidate who is supported by the largest number of voters being elected with no runoff. The system in place will result in a runoff of the top two vote getters, regardless of how small a percentage of the total each receives, potentially creating a race for Denver mayor between two people who were not the choice of the majority of the voters.

Ballots are in Denver voters’ hands and must be returned to the Clerk’s office by April 4.