Updated Mar 10, 2023 - News

Denver mayor's race: What you need to know about the candidates

Illustration of the Denver City and County Building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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.

Go deeper:

Meet the candidates

The top candidates are listed in order of how they appear on the ballot, which was decided by random selection.

Lisa Calderón

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.

Go deeper:

Trinidad Rodriguez

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.

Go deeper:

Thomas Wolf

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.

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Terrance Roberts

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.

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Kwame Spearman

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.

Go deeper:

Chris Hansen

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.

Go deeper:

Mike Johnston

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.

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Ean Thomas Tafoya

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.

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Andy Rougeot

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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Leslie Herod

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.

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Deborah "Debbie" Ortega

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.

Go deeper:

Kelly Brough

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.

Go deeper:

Other candidates

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:

Worthy of your time

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information and links.


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