The same day Democratic State Senator Chris Hansen filed his papers to run for Denver mayor, he stopped by McAullife International, where his kids go to school. McAullife was mourning the loss of a 12-year-old student who had died from gun violence over the weekend. Hansen wanted to speak to the school’s leaders and teachers, drop off bagels and coffee, and listen to their concerns ahead of what would surely be a long day for staff and students.
“Any youth death is tragic, but a 12-year-old getting shot is just a new level of tragedy and the McAuliffe community is reeling today,” Hansen told Denverite.
The increase of violence, crime and homelessness in Denver are just a few of the reasons he’s decided to run for mayor.
“I’ve been using three keywords to organize my campaign and as I’m doing outreach,” he said. Those are “a safer Denver, a more affordable Denver and a greener Denver. And I think those three ideas actually work really well together if we can get the right team in place at City Hall.”
His approach to safety would include keeping the urban camping ban in place and enforcing it and addressing homelessness by creating stronger relationships between nonprofits, like the Salvation Army, and the city, he said.
John Parvensky, the head of at least one of those nonprofits, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, has long opposed the camping ban, saying it makes connecting unhoused people with housing harder.
Hansen views the housing crisis as a supply issue, arguing a lack of housing has caused rent and home prices to rise. He plans to address that by encouraging faster building by speeding up permitting and inspection times and supporting accessible and income-restricted housing programs as he has in the State Senate.
He said he looks forward to working on bus-rapid transit projects along high-traffic corridors and pushing for dense housing construction along those routes.
He said the mayor has two primary jobs: providing great services to the public and leading on the most important issues of the day.
“I’m running as sort of a job interview for the manager of a multibillion-dollar service enterprise,” he said. “I mean, the city government in its day-to-day operations are: Pick up the trash, make sure the streets are in good condition, move the snow out of the way after a bad storm. Responding to customer needs and providing services — that’s what local government is so good at, and I think ultimately … that is the main objective of what the mayor’s office needs to do.”
Hansen’s joining a deep pool of candidates competing to do just that, in the April 2023 race, including State Rep. Leslie Herod, City Council member Debbie Ortega, former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce head Kelly Brough, criminal justice reform advocate Lisa Calderón, anti-gang advocate Terrance Roberts, environmentalist Ean Tafoya, lone Republican Andy Rougeot, and many more.
Hansen’s been a leader in both chambers of the Statehouse.
Hansen, viewed by some as one of several leading candidates, is a Democratic Party favorite who got his start in the Statehouse as a representative and was eventually appointed to take over the seat representing Capitol Hill and nearby neighborhoods, when State Senator Lois Court stepped down in 2020 for health reasons.
In the Senate, Hansen has co-led the Joint Budget Committee in 2020 and served on the Finance, Appropriations, and State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committees. In the House, he chaired the House Appropriates Committee and worked on the Capital Development, House Transportation and Energy, Appropriations, and Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committees.
In the 2021-2022 legislative session, Hansen fought to cut property taxes and pushed for the State to cut ties with companies that do business in Russia. He sponsored a plan to ban gas-powered lawn equipment in a massive climate bill. But the ban was scuttled so the larger bill would fit with Governor Jared Polis’s strategy in addressing climate change, which favored incentivizing green technology over restricting gas-powered tech.
Hansen grew up in a farm town on the Kansas-Colorado border.
His father was a high school teacher, and his mother was a hospice nurse. He has two children, who both attend public school in Denver.
His training is in engineering and economic geography and holds advanced advanced degrees from MIT and Oxford. He’s worked in the energy sector for two decades, focusing on the economics of renewable energy, a subject he has taught in the classroom at the University of Colorado.
Family matters to Hansen, he said, and his experience raising his children has shaped how he thinks about policy.
“I have a diverse family,” he said. “I’m working to raise two brown kids in Denver. My wife’s family is of South Asian descent, and we get to face some tough situations that we’ve had to work through with them as a result of their skin color.
“I want to make sure that folks know that’s part of my experience too, even as a white man,” he said. “It’s a big part of who I am and my family and my wife’s family and, of course, my kids. And so I guess I want to highlight that as another important part of my experience that I am bringing to this race.”
CPR reporter Bente Birkeland contributed reporting.