Denver mayor's race: What you need to know about the candidates
Denver's mayoral race is so crowded the candidates would fill half a city bus. (Seriously, we checked.)
State of play: 17 candidates qualified for the April 4 election and another handful are write-in contenders.
- A handful of candidates are emerging at the front of the pack. Kelly Brough, Leslie Herod and Mike Johnston are dominating the fundraising campaign and narrowly edging other candidates in polling.
- One – Kwame Spearman – later dropped out of the race.
- If the winner doesn't receive more than 50% of the vote, the top two-contenders will compete in a run-off election June 6 to replace term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock.
Be smart: Keep reading for a quick primer on the candidates for Denver mayor in the 2023 election.
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Meet the candidates
About: Calderón is the executive director of Emerge, a nonprofit that trains Democratic women to run for political office. Calderón has also worked as chief of staff to Denver City Council member Candi CdeBaca. She also has worked as a university professor for 15 years.
What to know: She challenged Hancock in 2019 and finished third with less than 20% of the vote.
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- Meet Lisa Calderón in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Calderón talks with our partners PBS12
About: A longtime volunteer for progressive causes, Rodriguez worked in the public finance sector most recently.
What to know: Rodriguez once worked as a bike messenger before getting a job with state government.
About: Wolf is the managing director at investment firm Crewe Capital and served on local volunteer boards, including at MCA Denver.
What to know: He ran for mayor in 2011 and finished seventh.
About: A former Bloods gang member, he is the subject of the award-winning book "The Holly" about his transformation into a community activist and anti-violence leader. A jury found Roberts not guilty of attempted murder in 2015.
What to know: His campaign slogan is "Save Our City" because he believes "corporate greed" has pushed the city into a housing and public safety crisis.
About: A late entry to the race — he joined Jan. 7 — Spearman is the co-owner and CEO of the Tattered Cover. He worked in the corporate world after receiving degrees from Yale and Harvard.
- He later dropped out of the race.
What to know: He is endorsed by Jamie Giellis, who finished second to Hancock in the 2019 mayoral contest.
- Kwame Spearman, CEO of Tattered Cover, exits Denver mayoral race
- Watch: Kwame Spearman talks with our partners PBS12
About: Hansen is serving his second term as a state senator representing parts of downtown and the central east side of the city. He previously served two terms in the state House.
The intrigue: He is positioning himself as the environmental candidate, leaning on his experience in the renewable energy sector as an engineer, and wants to make the city government more green.
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- Meet Chris Hansen in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Chris Hansen talks with our partners PBS12
About: Johnston served two terms in the state Senate until 2017 and previously worked as a high school principal.
- He most recently was CEO of Gary Community Ventures, a local nonprofit that pushed Proposition 123 in the 2022 election to increase affordable housing.
What to know: He ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2020.
- Mike Johnston running for major office for third time in five years
- Meet Mike Johnston in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Mike Johnston talks with our partners PBS12
About: He works as an environmental activist in Colorado and across the globe, as state director for Green Latinos
What to know: He ran for city council in 2015 and lost.
About: A former U.S. Army officer, Rougeot owned a small business that did maintenance for self-storage facilities before selling the company in July. He is a registered Republican.
What to know: He is self-funding his campaign, loaning himself $500,000 — giving him more campaign cash than all candidates entering the election year.
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- Meet Andy Rougeot in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Rougeot talks with our partners PBS12
About: First elected to the state House in 2016, Herod is a longtime Democratic player, dating back to her days at the University of Colorado. She is the first LGBTQ African American elected to the state Legislature.
What to know: Her legislative record focuses on overhauling the criminal justice system and helped lead efforts to boost police accountability after the murder of George Floyd.
- Inside Leslie Herod's leadership that some say led to toxic workplace culture
- Meet Leslie Herod in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Leslie Herod talks with our partners PBS12
About: As an at-large member of the Denver City Council, Ortega is the only candidate who has been elected citywide — three times, in fact. She previously served on the council from 1987 to 2003, when she was termed out.
What to know: Her daughter is a major in the Denver Sheriff's Department.
About: Brough most recently served as CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, leading the economic development organization for 12 years.
- Before that, she worked as a chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper for three years before he became governor. She says that experience gives her the edge because she knows how to run a city.
Of note: A lesser known side of Brough is her difficult upbringing after her father was murdered when she was an infant and her family needed government assistance for food and school lunches.
- Kelly Brough makes a political about-face in Denver mayor's race
- Meet Kelly Brough in 13 fun questions
- Watch: Kelly Brough talks with our partners PBS12
Of note: Candidates need only 300 registered voter signatures to qualify, a low bar that makes it easy to get on the ballot. Other candidates who qualified for the ballot but are running less visible campaigns:
- Renate Behrens
- Al Gardner
- Aurelio Martinez
- Robert Treta
- James Walsh
Worthy of your time
- Early voting behind pace a week ahead of major Denver election
- Political Pulse: Denver mayor candidates report large incomes
- Who's winning the money race for Denver mayor: 5 numbers to know
- Some Denver mayoral candidates call for more control over schools
- The top takeaways from the PBS12 debate moderated by Axios Denver
- Denver's next election could be its most consequential
- Denver mayoral candidates pitch downtown comeback
- Shootings push leaders, mayoral candidates to revisit police in schools
- Denver's public campaign financing system providing key funding to mayoral race
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information and links.
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