Councilman Paul López is leaving his seat on the Denver City Council, opening a rare opportunity to join the city’s leadership. Now, two new candidates have stepped up to represent Denver’s western neighborhoods in a critical time of change and development.
They are Jamie Torres, a longtime city employee who created a new program for immigrants, and Annie Martínez, a relatively new resident who works as a public defender and an attorney for vulnerable children.
It’s shaping up to be an interesting and engaging campaign in District 3, and there’s still about a year to go before the election. Here’s what we heard from the two new candidates.
Torres, 41, is the chair of the board of the Denver Housing Authority, the director of the city’s Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs and the deputy director of the city’s agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships.
Born on the west side, she was unavoidably aware of Denver’s intense class divides, she said. At age 10, she won a scholarship to the affluent Graland Country Day School, a school she attended even as her own family lost their apartment and lived between others’ homes.
“I really became aware of my surroundings, my space within those surroundings,” she said. And that experience keyed her interest in anthropology at Colorado College and, later, in her graduate studies at CU Denver of how people access health services.
She joined the city government in 2001 as an investigator for a police oversight group. And, in 2005, she became director of a community support office and transformed it into a program that serves and supports immigrants and refugees.
“Immigrants and refugees were not explicitly identified as the community that needed our attention, that demanded our attention,” she said. The result was a new commission, grants that funded community projects, new efforts for translation services and more. Her office also worked with Mayor Michael Hancock to find a private donor and hang a message of support for immigrants from the City and County Building.
“It was both educational and incredibly exciting to talk to folks and get this on their radar …. and to do it in partnership with really strong community members.”
As a council member, Torres said, “I think you’ve got to be both optimistic, inspirational, and still have a healthy sense of skepticism,” she said. Her mission would be to keep current residents in place during a time of heavy development and investment in places like Sun Valley.
“The communities have fought really hard for a rec center in Westwood. I want them to still be there when the rec center in Westwood is built,” she said.
She wants the city to continue its investment in affordable housing and protections for renters while also ramping up the socioeconomic support that helps people find better jobs, she said, and she describes herself as seeking a middle-ground on development.
“There’s going to be development in west Denver, and what we need is to get a handle on what it looks like responsibly. And we don’t have a handle on that,” she said.
Annie Martínez, 32, moved to Denver from Miami after completing law school four years ago. She is the daughter of Cuban immigrants, born in Chicago and raised outside of Miami in Hialeah.
“I’m the first college graduate, the first high school graduate, I’m the first everything, I guess, in my family,” she said. “I saw a lot of things that my parents went through … Whatever the system was, whoever was making the rules, they weren’t fair — or at least they weren’t fair for my family and families like mine.”
Today, she works as a guardian ad litem in Arapahoe County — an attorney responsible for the best interests of children in cases ranging from abuse to divorce. She also works part-time as a public defender in Denver’s jail system.
That work has led her to believe that Denver is wrongheaded in its approach to homelessness, she said. She is opposed to the city’s urban camping ban, which forbids people from using blankets, tents and certain other survival gear in public spaces.
“They kind of just keep cycling and picking up tickets because they have nowhere to sleep, nowhere to stay,” she said. Martínez also is a member of the board of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association and the Denver Justice Project.
With the bar association, she provides free legal advice in west Denver each month — an experience that has connected her to the residents of her district.
“I’m really trying to hear the voices of the community, and trying to be the referee between development and profit and community,” she said. Overall, she said that the city needs to accelerate its anti-displacement efforts.
“There are some individuals who really do come from a good place and are working very diligently,” she said.
“For the most disenfranchised out there, that forward motion is not fast enough … To me, development without community isn’t progress — and I don’t want that to happen to the west side.”
López cannot run again because he will hit his term limit as his third term on council ends. Instead, he’s considering a run for city clerk.
Raymond Montoya was the first candidate to file for the open seat. Here’s what we wrote earlier about him:
Montoya, 36, works as a transportation specialist for Sheridan School District #2, driving buses and accompanying children to events. Raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., he has lived in Colorado since 2002 and currently resides in Mariposa, the mixed-income community near the 10th & Osage station.
Montoya named affordable housing as his top priority. “It’s a crisis in our district, and I think in all of Denver,” he said. “I just think that we need to do more. I think it’s coming along, but we need to do more, and more quickly.”
He suggested that the city could try to pay to place people who need housing into vacant apartment units, an idea similar to the “LIVE” project announced last year.
Montoya also hopes to get the city to invest in capital projects for west Denver, he said. “I think west Denver has been off the radar for so long. Paul (López) has done a great job of us getting noticed,” he said. “I want to follow that.”
A fourth registered candidate, David Dean Roybal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.