In the race for reelection, the challengers against current District 8 City Councilman Chris Herndon are starting to stack up.
Since the last time we checked in on the district, three more people have filed to run to represent a big swath of northeast Denver. The district includes East Colfax, a portion of Montbello, Stapleton and Park Hill. And as we’ve previously noted, it’s a district facing a mixture of Denver’s modern issues like gentrification, development concerns, food deserts and a connection to Denver’s dark past.
The new candidates include LaMone Noles, Blair Taylor and Patrick Floyd Thibault. They join Miguel Adrian Ceballos-Ruiz and Erik Penn as challengers to Herndon, who is running for his third term. With the May election still months away, there’s a chance we might see new faces pop up in this race and others across Denver. But let’s get to know the newcomers now.
Noles calls herself a second-generation Denver native. She moved to Park Hill when she was 10 and the city was dealing with concerns about segregation at Denver Public Schools that led to students being bused out to other schools.
Before moving to Park Hill, her family had lived near Steele Street and Bruce Randolph Avenue. Her parents were from Five Points and were “victims of redlining,” Noles said.
More than 50 years after her parents faced the notoriously oppressive mortgage lending practice, Noles still sees the remnants. Her biggest concern, and biggest motivation for running, is that she feels the Denver City Council has “a corporate feel” and is no longer responsive to the community’s needs.
She wants the city government to involve residents in their decision making. She personally wants to take a closer look at some of the neighborhood plans in place for the district, including the East Area Plan.
“There’s a conversion going on and I dread it every time I see a ‘For Sale’ sign going up,” Noles said. “I know who’s going to buy it and it’s not anyone from my community.”
Noles, who works as a medical support assistant at the VA Denver Primary Care Clinic, is president of City Park Friends and Neighbors. She calls herself a “grassroots organizer.”
She is an opponent of the Fairfax land swap and a critic of the way the I-70 expansion was brought to residents’ attention.
“The neighbors are still not being heard,” Noles said. “The city seems to be on a forward path to keep this development going strong. … I understand, some parts of the city need to be refurbished, but predatory expansion feels like an invasion.”
A recently proposed sale of a local property fueled one idea she plans on introducing if elected. When developers presented their designs to local community groups, residents learned the design didn’t include plans for affordable housing units. The developers announced they were opting out. They chose to pay the opt-out fee of $1.55 a square foot. Noles wants to increase the fee to help contribute to the city’s permanent fund for affordable housing.
“If these developers coming into Park Hill want to be good neighbors, then they need to reevaluate that fee,” Noles said. “The fee is too low.”
Taylor came to Denver from New York City in 2007. She traveled cross-country and ended up staying in Denver to earn an MBA in strategic partnerships at DU.
She’s lived in Park Hill for eight years. She’s currently a small business consultant and graphic designer. She serves on the Greater Park Hill Community Inc. board and completed work with the organization that earned her the J. Carlton Babbs Award, a local honor for her work in the community.
Now, she’s poised to take a giant step forward by bringing her attention to land use issues into Denver City Council.
“I want to bring people’s voices to the table,” Taylor said. “I want them to understand when decisions are made, how they affect them. We have a possibility in Denver right now of being an amazing place, of being livable, sustainable, innovative.”
Taylor was cited for her work in addressing zoning issues when she received the award. So perhaps it’s not surprising that what triggered her run was related to a development project — specifically, the controversial Fairfax land swap. It resulted in a clash between people like Taylor who opposed the swap and those who saw it as an opportunity to gain a park in the neighborhood. She felt the change would further feelings “of disparity” among some local residents.
“The park was meant to be on this side of the street,” she said, referring to the western side of Fairfax Street. “Once you give the land to developers and embed it into their development, it really becomes theirs, as opposed to a neighborhood park.”
Taylor said there’s a lack of “community-driven leadership” in the district. She said it’s something that’s lacking in District 8 and, really, the whole city.
“I think that’s absolutely a quality that I can bring to the table,” Taylor said. “I’m a person who’s on the ground. I’ve already worked in a bunch of different land use initiatives. I’ve worked in zoning initiatives. I’ve worked in parks initiatives.”
Neighbors in the district have growing traffic concerns: She noted the “squeeze of I-70” construction, which could lead to more traffic on residential streets. She’s hoping to improve the way the city’s various services work together, which could help fix traffic concerns quicker.
Other concerns her fellow residents have expressed to her are worries about not being able to stay in their homes, feeling unwelcome in their neighborhood, and over-development that could lead to fewer parks and open spaces.
“One of the greatest things about Denver is it’s a manageable city that has all of these amenities,” Taylor said. “We need to nurture these and not try to make it something it’s not. It doesn’t need to be New York or Los Angeles. It needs to be Denver.”
Patrick Floyd Thibault
For Thibault, the candidacy is a chance to “represent the communities that raised” him. He said he’s a fourth-generation Coloradan and calls himself an “East Colfax kid.” His background includes doing policy work for political candidates. He currently serves as Political Action Chair for the NAACP Denver.
“Some of my biggest motivations are the community itself,” Thibault said. “This is where I grew up. I’ve seen it change and evolve over the years, in some good ways and in some ways that definitely (are) a little different.”
He doesn’t like to call changes “negative” but he definitely has some second thoughts about some of the projects in the district. They included the Starbucks on Colfax near Ivy Street.
“I feel that this space was a failed opportunity,” Thibault said, adding the city failed to capitalize on a chance “to address housing.” He would have recommended building a mixed-use development including commercial and housing space (while making appropriate zoning requests).
He mentioned the city’s interest in turning a former strip club site into a mixed-use development with affordable housing as an example of a good idea, though he questions the timing of the proposal since it happened closer to election season.
Thibault feels the part of east Denver he grew up in has been “uniquely inclusive” for generations. The area has a mixture of people from “all walks of life,” but it’s being threatened by development. He put things more bluntly: He said no neighborhood in Denver is safe from gentrification.
When considering new ordinances and growth, Thibault said he wants an attention to history. He thinks it’s important for folks moving to the area to understand it before they try to change it.
Creating housing at all income levels is one of his campaign focuses. He believes his background working at various stages of the state legislative process gives him a bit of an edge because he feels it’ll give the ability to get to work on day one.
He formerly worked as a chief of staff and a policy director, working with former Denver state Sen. Linda Newell and state Rep. Dominique Jackson, whose district includes Aurora. He’s worked on housing policy before, including legislation that would have created a statewide affordable housing fund housing fund (the bill ultimately failed).
“I’m not just painting pretty pictures about what I’m going to do,” Thibault said. “I can actually talk about what I’ve been able to accomplish legislatively.”