Feb 27, 2023 - News

The top takeaways from the latest Denver mayoral debate

Denver mayoral candidates answer a question during the PBS12 debate. Screenshot.

In a wide-open race, Denver's candidates for mayor are working to separate themselves from the crowd, and staking out new positions to do so.

State of play: The top 10 contenders landed big lines at the PBS12 debate — moderated by Axios Denver's Alayna — that aired Sunday, but it's not clear whether it will move the needle in a race where 60% of voters are undecided.

  • Here are our top takeaways from the discussion.

1. What's new: A series of yes-or-no questions forced the candidates to pick where they stand on hot issues.

  • All candidates except Andy Rougeot agreed to limit their tenure to eight years, or two terms, forgoing a third four-year term allowed in Denver.
  • A handful of candidates said they would back a ban on flavored tobacco products in the city — a measure current Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed. Three — Rougeot, Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston — would not pursue the policy.
  • The expensive — and questionably effective — ShotSpotter network to detect gunshots and alert police is supported by most candidates, except three: Leslie Herod, Lisa Calderon and Ean Thomas Tafoya.
  • Trinidad Rodriguez distinguished himself in two ways. He's the only candidate who pledged to support a five-year moratorium on new sales tax hikes, and he expressed support for moving Denver Public Schools to mayoral control if the district can't improve student performance.

2. Reality check: The influence of developers on the next mayor is a hot topic in the race, particularly as Denver residents prepare to vote on whether to build on the former Park Hill Golf Course.

  • The candidates were asked whether they are receiving donations from Westside Investment Partners and its related entities pushing to develop the golf course. All said no.

Yes, but: Three of them — Johnston, Debbie Ortega and Chris Hansen — have taken $500 donations from Westside's founder Andrew Klein, Denverite reports.

3. Of note: More than policy positions, the candidates stood out for how they are describing the city's challenges.

  • Kwame Spearman, the CEO of Tattered Cover, said the city needs "fresh leadership" and blamed current leaders, such as Brough, the former head of the Denver chamber, and Ortega, a City Council member, for the current problems. "We've become a magnet for people that want to be chronically homeless," he said.
  • Rougeot blamed the lack of affordable housing on the current administration, saying without evidence that "corruption and money is buying our zoning decisions."
  • Most of the candidates endorsed hiring more law enforcement officers, but Calderon disputed the notion, saying her rivals need to stop perpetuating "the myth that more police creates more safety."

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