Leslie Herod, a state lawmaker known for criminal justice reforms, has officially announced a run for mayor of Denver.
The first openly gay Black woman elected to the state House of Representatives, Herod has been instrumental in sweeping new laws defelonizing drug possession, and policing and bail reforms. Herod was also a leader behind a voter-approved sales tax in Denver to fund mental health and substance abuse programs.
Those criminal justice positions have made her a champion to many on the left, and raised her profile, making her a top candidate for mayor.
Herod said she began considering a run for mayor in the last few years and the pandemic crystallized for her the impact local communities have on implementing policies, and what can happen when things don’t get moving on a local level.
Herod said Denver is at a crossroads with a lot of obstacles in front of it.
“That excitement about Denver is starting to wane a bit. I think we know that we have to deal with our homelessness crisis head on. We have to deal with making sure our communities are safe. And of course we have to ensure that Denver is actually affordable for everybody.”
Herod said she’s glad she’s not trying to buy a house right now.
“I’m lucky enough to live in Park Hill, if I hadn’t bought my last house during the recession, there’s no way I would be able to represent the district that I’m proud to represent.”
Herod was a formidable force at the statehouse and served on the powerful joint budget committee, which writes the state budget. She was also the leader of Colorado’s Black Democratic Legislative Caucus.
“She’s built a coalition, a following, a profile that’s all pretty impressive. And I think [that] makes her a top tier candidate,” said Paul Teske, the dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver. “She’s got experience in the legislature. Probably the most progressive” of the major candidates for mayor so far.
Those positions open her to criticism, as violent crime, homelessness and drug addiction rise in the city. Business interests, especially downtown, where the social ills have been most visible, are expected to mobilize to try to defeat a progressive reformer, like Herod.
While reform-minded about criminal justice issues, she has shown a willingness to address business concerns, like with the “Ban the Box” bill, which barred employers from asking about criminal history on initial job applications. Following negotiations on that bill, the Colorado Chamber of Commerce endorsed Herod for re-election in 2020.
Herod represents the 8th district in the state house, which is north of Colfax from Five Points to Central Park. She was elected in 2016, succeeding Beth McCann, who became Denver District Attorney.
Aside from notable work on criminal justice reform at the Capitol, Herod has sponsored bills on everything from increased whistleblower protections for employees who raise health and safety concerns, to a program to provide free menstrual hygiene products to students.
Herod was born in Germany, on a U.S. military base, her mother was an officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corp. Herod moved around a lot, before settling in Colorado, going to high school in Colorado Springs and graduating from CU Boulder.
She said she was also raised by what she referred to as her “adopted” parents who now live in Pueblo. Her adopted father worked for thirty years in law enforcement including as a corrections officer at the Supermax prison.
Herod said his influence informed her work on criminal justice reform.
“Because I watched firsthand what it was like for my father to serve, to serve community, but also what it’s like to see when his fellow officers aren’t held accountable for doing harm in community. We have to change that. We’re headed in the right direction.”
At CU, Herod formed New Era Colorado, a non-profit aimed at registering young voters, with a group of political wunderkinds, including congressman Joe Neguse, state senator Steve Fenberg, and Lisa Kaufmann, chief of staff for Gov. Jared Polis.
After college, Herod worked at the Gill Foundation as a program officer, as a senior policy advisor for Gov. Bill Ritter, and in various staff positions in the state legislature. In 2016, she was elected to the state house of representatives District 8 seat.
“I’m excited to be a part of this historic election, and I’m proud to stand with other very well qualified women, presenting ourselves to the city of Denver and asking to be the mayor.”