Lisa Calderón’s mayoral platform puts affordable housing and a less powerful mayor’s office front and center

The candidate said she will rely on “people power,” not a fat bank account, during the campaign.
5 min. read
Lisa Calderón holds her first rally after announcing that she will run for Denver mayor. City Park, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Lisa Calderón will run for mayor on a platform centering on affordable housing, "resident-led" development, decentralizing the mayor's office, and women and workers, the longtime educator and activist said Wednesday.

She made her announcement under the stone eyes of Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks, two statues at City Park, as Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" faded into the background and a crowds chanting "Lisa" went quiet.

Affordable housing is at the top of Calderón's list. Asked how she would create more of it, the candidate said she would demand that developers commit to below-market-rate units before the city hands out any incentives.

"It should not be negotiating on the back end, and that's what's been happening now," Calderón said.

More broadly, she would ensure the government operated with a "housing-first lens" by consolidating scattered housing initiatives embedded in various departments.

"Every public agency has some aspect of housing that is not coordinated," Calderón said.

The Hancock administration created the city's first affordable housing fund and plans to double the contribution with marijuana money. Housing advocates say it's a start, but it's not enough.

Calderón received the loudest cheers after committing to repeal Denver's urban camping ban. (That's something she can stump for as a candidate, but voters could get first crack at that law in May.)

I asked Calderón how "resident-led development" meshes with the fact that Denver's housing shortage demands more housing, which means more buildings.

"We need to look at what does each community need in their neighborhood," she said. "I can tell you right now I don't need a big behemoth building shadowing over all of the other units, but there is a way to build for density that still takes into account community."

Calderón pointed to an organization called Broadway Housing Communities in New York, a development model that blends education, living, and working by building apartments with things like daycare and art galleries. The residents live in, work in, and run the building, she said.

"There are ways to do density that really centers a community in it, rather than a developer's idea about cramming so many people in there."

Brandon Pryor speaks to a reporter after Lisa Calderón held her first rally after announcing that she will run for Denver mayor. City Park, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Aside from housing and development stuff, Calderón said she would decentralize the mayor's office. Specifically, she aims to downsize the city's public safety agencies and make them more independent, including the position of sheriff, which she wants Denverites to elect. Right now the mayor appoints the sheriff.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the jail population and increase treatment services, according to her website, launched Wednesday.

Calderón said she would also update policies to ensure equal pay for women workers and add protections against discrimination, sexual or otherwise.

This candidate does not have a war chest, but she thinks she'll have "people power."

Mayor Hancock has already raised more than $700,000 from sources all across the board -- from developers to activists, according to campaign finance reports. Calderón's campaign will rely on volunteers (and donations).

"We've gotta do with people what they do with money," she said. "So that means that we are relying on people power, getting our voice out. There are a lot of people who don't vote, and not because they don't care about our democracy, but because there's no one they're excited about in the race that they would come out for."

Count Brandon Pryor excited. The education activist showed up at Wednesday's rally because he thinks Calderón will help rehabilitate the public school system, which he said is being privatized with charter schools.

Margaret Fogarty speaks to a reporter after Lisa Calderón held her first rally after announcing that she will run for Denver mayor. City Park, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"I'd like to see this reform agenda come to a halt," said Pryor, who lives in far northeast Denver, where he says the majority of schools are charters. "Our views align and I think it's time for change in Denver, new leadership. And I think she's more than qualified to take this position and she has my full support."

Same with Margaret Fogarty, who told me she attended the rally as a resident in "listening mode."

"I'm just trying to see how the table is going to get set on this mayoral race, and it's time for a leadership change," she said. "Lisa is the one candidate that I have seen so far who is prioritizing the issues that are critically important to me and to the community."

Calderón will face Hancock, Kalyn Rose Heffernan, Penfield Tate III, Stephan Elliot Evans (better known as Chairman Seku), Marcus Giavanni, and Kenneth Simpson in the May 2019 election.

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