Jan 20, 2023 - News

Denver mayoral candidates pitch downtown comeback

From left: Denver mayoral candidates Kelly Brough, Chris Hansen, Leslie Herod, Mike Johnston and Debbie Ortega during a business forum on Jan. 19. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

A number of Denver's mayoral candidates agree that crime must be addressed to bring life back to downtown.

Why it matters: Downtown is the economic heart of the city, but people staying at home for work and worries over public safety have left it on life support.

Driving the news: Five mayoral candidates spoke on a panel Thursday hosted by the Denver Business Journal.

  • They collectively agreed that people must feel safe downtown, but offered varied ideas on how to make that happen.

Details: Kelly Brough, Chris Hansen, Leslie Herod, Mike Johnston and Debbie Ortega participated in the panel. As of yesterday, 10 candidates had been certified for the ballot. 

  • Johnston said to prevent crime, he wants to focus on treatment for people who have mental health disorders or addiction.
  • Ortega wants to see more coordination between reentry programs, especially those getting money from the city, which she said can prevent repeat offenses. Reentry programs are designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released from jail or prison.
  • Brough said she'd like to see resources like city-funded safe outdoor spaces for people experiencing homelessness, noting that keeping unsanctioned camping downtown can lead to people feeling unsafe.

Of note: Some candidates support converting office buildings into housing — a major need in Denver — which could have a positive effect on the city center.

  • Herod said if this happens, there must be housing options for people across all income brackets.
  • Brough noted she would explore tax incentives to make it easier to convert office buildings into housing, which can be costly.

All five candidates mentioned adding police officers to improve safety downtown.

  • Hansen said he would focus on improving recruitment for police and sheriffs by creating job pipelines.
  • Yes, but: Candidates noted that adding more officers has to come with added accountability, while ensuring new recruits are ethnically diverse.
  • "People in Denver want to feel protected, they don't want to feel policed," Johnston said.

Between the lines: The five candidates were chosen based on feedback from local experts.

  • At least one contender took issue with the way the panel came together.
  • "The voters deserve an opportunity to hear from all candidates who've done the hard work to compete on an even playing field," mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón tells Axios Denver.
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