Lisa Calderón is stepping away from City Council to train new leaders with Emerge Colorado

She’s joining Emerge Colorado as executive director, where she will train women who want to run for elected office as Democrats.

Lisa Calderón speaks during a mayoral candidate forum on LGBTQ issues at the Exdo event center, RiNo, Five Points, April 4, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Lisa Calderón speaks during a mayoral candidate forum on LGBTQ issues at the Exdo event center, RiNo, Five Points, April 4, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rebecca Speiss.

Lisa Calderón, a Denver advocate serving as Councilmember Candi CdeBaca’s chief of staff, announced Wednesday she will be leaving her position to join Emerge Colorado as executive director.

Emerge Colorado has helped Democratic women get elected throughout the state by offering training courses tailored to running for public office. Calderón’s official start date is July 12.

The group’s alumnae include Denver City Council members Amanda Sawyer and CdeBaca. Others from the program making big Denver decisions include Colorado state representatives like Denver’s Leslie Herod and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez. According to its website, Emerge’s alumnae have had a 90 percent win rate since 2013, when the Colorado chapter of the national organization formed.

Calderón brings a lot to the table as director, including four degrees and over a decade of experience working with the city. She has been involved in politics since 2005, when she said her son was a victim of police brutality. She felt then-councilmember Michael Hancock wasn’t listening to constituents, so she began organizing with her neighbors to combat aggressive policing.

Now, she said she’s proud to have risen from a community organizer to running a statewide organization to help women just like her get into office. We asked her if she was looking at any specific seats with Emerge.

“One, we’ve never elected a woman to sit in the Senate. That has been something on the radar for forever,” she said. “This new congressional district that we will be getting, we definitely want to have some strong women in contention for that.”

“We consider ourselves a progressive city, but have never had a woman for mayor,” she continued. She said Emerge would be keeping an eye on larger seats as well as “the school board races, the RTD races; I mean, we really have to look at the whole continuum of electing women.”

It’s not decided who will fill her position on CdeBaca’s staff, but Calderón was clear that she didn’t want the door to shut behind her.

“We also want to bring up and mentor other women … who want to learn about the behind-the-scenes of how to run a council office, the nuts and bolts of City Council,” she said. “How do we pull people through as we’re also ascending?”

Before working as CdeBaca’s chief of staff, Calderón ran for mayor against Michael Hancock in 2019. Her platform centered on affordable housing, resident-led development and limiting the power of the mayor in Denver’s strong-mayor system. She eventually came in third, behind Hancock and Jamie Giellis, despite running a campaign with less than 20 percent of the money Giellis had and less than 6 percent of Hancock’s funds.

In 2007, Calderón started working for a Denver re-entry program for people released from city jails. She eventually became the director of the community program but lost the city contract to other nonprofits in 2018. The over-$500,000 annual contract had been renewed every year up to that point.

She alleged this was in response to her vocal criticism of the Hancock administration and the sheriff’s department. The city argued it was a standard competitive bidding procedure conducted every three to five years.

After losing the bidding process, Calderón sued Mayor Hancock, the city and the sheriff in 2018, alleging discrimination. The complaint was thrown out by a judge in September 2019, saying that technically she had no standing. The decision was returned to a lower court in March 2021 and the case is ongoing.

“My case is actually going full-steam ahead now,” she said. “Like Stacey Abrams, I definitely believe in ‘legislate, litigate and advocate for your rights.'”

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