In northeast Denver, sprawling Denver City Council District 8 includes East Colfax, Park Hill, Stapleton and portions of Montbello.
It’s a pretty big area, and reflective of its size is the variety of concerns residents have: Development (take your pick), food deserts (Montbello), youth violence (Northeast Park Hill), and in at least one neighborhood (Stapleton) there are concerns about the name’s connection to the city’s racist past.
Incumbent Councilman Chris Herndon is facing five other candidates from several neighborhoods within the district. They include Miguel Adrian Ceballos-Ruiz, LaMone Noles, Erik Penn, Blair Taylor and Patrick Floyd Thibault.
Most are taking an anti-establishment approach toward the seat, framing themselves as doers who will not be swayed by developers or the mayor’s office. A few have questioned whether Herndon listens to residents. This is not a group afraid of openly criticizing the incumbent, which some of them have done in previous interviews with Denverite.
Ceballos-Ruiz grew up in Montbello, a neighborhood that sits in both District 8 and District 11. The area has been a food desert for several years. It’s an example of how Ceballos-Ruiz feels the neighborhood has gotten the short end of the stick.
He told Denverite last year he will focus on cutting back the influence of developers and pursue new housing options and the expansion of housing programs to provide more down-payment assistance. He has concerns about displacement, including the kind affecting East Colfax.
“Young, progressive people of color are the future of the Democratic Party,” Ceballos-Ruiz said. “We need to come and we need to talk about the changes that we’re going to see, to start to attack the inequities that we see, and start building a more socially conscious community at the city level.”
He’s a critic of Herndon, and said last year he “hasn’t kept an ear to the ground.”
Herndon has been serving as a councilman since he was first elected in 2011 to District 11. After redistricting, he ran and was elected in District 8. The U.S. Army veteran and Stapleton resident is now seeking his third and final term.
“What I’ve always said is this has always been about service. We are public servants,” Herndon said. “That’s what this has always been about, is serving the people I represent.”
He cited affordability, growth and sustainability as some of the focuses of his final campaign. He believes the city as a whole has done a good job of balancing responsible growth and planning that aligns with the city’s Denveright plan. His district is included in recommendations in the East Area Plan and the Far Northeast Plan, which help provide a blueprint for growth. He said he’s worked with community members to make sure they get a voice in the planning process, especially when it comes to conversations about where growth is appropriate and where it isn’t.
Housing is one area Herndon believes he’s helped improve in the district. He said there’s been housing added in every neighborhood in the district, including affordable housing and senior living spaces. It includes affordable units at Park Hill Station and the senior living community Meadows at Montbello.
“That’s something to be proud of,” Herndon said
Noles’s motivation for running is linked to the City Council as a whole. It’s gotten too “corporate” and is no longer responsive to the community’s needs, Taylor said in an earlier interview with Denverite.
“There’s a conversion going on and I dread it every time I see a ‘For Sale’ sign going up. I know who’s going to buy it and it’s not anyone from my community,” Noles said.
A self-described grassroots organizer, Noles will push for more resident involvement in local government decisions, including taking a closer look at the district’s neighborhood plan. She wants to end what she called “predatory expansion” and plans to advocate for increasing the opt-out fee for affordable housing. She would like to see the money raised through this contribute to the city’s permanent fund for affordable housing.
Noles is a medical support assistant at the VA Denver Primary Care Clinic.
A project manager at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Penn has served as co-chair of the Montbello 20/20 neighborhood organization. He feels that the community’s voice is being ignored, which has led to the city not doing enough to attract things like a grocery store.
“I had a rougher childhood coming up. By the time I was 25, I had moved 26 times,” Penn said last year. “We were a low-income family that struggled. … That experience of seeing hardship, across state lines, from city to city … that lived experience that I have, tied to seeing [my parents’] hard work ethic, it fused together for me.”
He says he would lead by taking public input and turning it into useful data, a goal that includes bringing more services to single-family neighborhoods in the district. He wants to see more road widenings, an improved sidewalk network and transit in the district’s neighborhoods. He’s a fan of accessory dwellings but isn’t a fan of the “predatory” home-buying tactics often seen in Montbello. He questioned if Herndon was doing enough to listen to district residents.
Taylor has lived in Park Hill for 10 years and now serves on Greater Park Hill Community Inc. board. One of her biggest focuses for the district will be on land use concerns.
“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.”
She feels the district is lacking in “community-driven leadership” she feels she can bring to the table. She has experience working on land use and zoning initiatives in the district. One of the ways she hopes to improve things for her district is by helping to bring more efficiency in the way various city services work together. She noted this could be helpful in cases involving traffic concerns, which she said areas of Park Hill will likely face due to construction for nearby Interstate 70.
She wants to address over-development, as well as making sure people who call Park Hill home still feel welcome there.
Patrick Floyd Thibault
A fourth-generation Coloradan calling himself an “East Colfax kid,” Thibault has past experience working on policy at the state level and is currently Political Action Chair for the NAACP Denver.
“Some of my biggest motivations are the community itself,” Thibault said in a previous interview with Denverite. “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.”
Citing housing concerns as one of the reasons he wants to represent the district, he said he likes the idea of more mixed-used development along Colfax and creating housing for all income levels. It’s a plan he feels he can start working on Day 1, thanks to his past policy experience. He worked with state Rep. Dominique Jackson on the efforts to introduce a statewide affordable housing fund.
He wants to keep his home neighborhood stays diverse, though he acknowledges that like other areas in the city, it’s threatened by gentrification. He wants to combat this by ensuring development in the area has a focus on the history of the neighborhood.
Who’s got money?
Herndon’s got quite a war chest: His campaign has raised $72,374.34 during this election cycle, including $66,609.14 on-hand at the beginning of the most recent reporting period.
Taylor’s campaign has raised $27,684.53 during the election cycle, according to the latest available finance report. It includes more than $7,000 Taylor has donated to her own campaign. Her campaign had $16,539.48 at the beginning of the reporting period.
Thibault’s campaign has brought in $15,640 during this election cycle, with $3,571.94 on-hand during the beginning of the previous reporting period.