State Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is running for Denver City Council at-large. She joins nine others in the race for two seats, both of which are open, with incumbent Councilwomen Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech being term-limited.
Gonzales-Gutierrez grew up in Denver and has represented House District 4 since 2019. She was re-elected during the November 2022 midterms. She also runs the city’s collaborative management program, which helps families navigate systems like child welfare and juvenile justice, and receive preventative resources to support vulnerable children.
She’s spent the majority of her career working with families, including as a juvenile caseworker for Denver Human Services. Gonzales-Gutierrez said she saw firsthand the impact of political policy on people struggling, and was initially asked by community members to run for state office.
“I can only go so far, do so much, to help them before we ran up and up against a barrier,” she said of her work with families in Denver. “That barrier was usually embedded in policy, something that I didn’t have the power to change, but I could only navigate around or through or around or over.”
During her time in the State House, Gonzales-Gutierrez has worked on legislation involving affordable housing, crime prevention programs for youth, healthcare access and protections from air pollution. This past spring, she led a failed push to pass a bill preventing police from lying to children to get confessions. She also co-sponsored the recently passed ballot measure providing free meals for all public school students by taxing residents earning over $300,000 a year.
For Gonzales-Gutierrez, issues like affordable housing are personal.
She’s the third generation of her family to live in Denver. Her mother lived in Auraria, before the city displaced the majority Latino community to build what is now the Auraria campus. She said she’s seen people pushed out of city neighborhoods over the decades.
“North Denver is ground zero for gentrification,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “We’ve actually experienced it, and fortunately for us, we’ve been able to live through that.”
After attending Colorado State University, Gonzales-Gutierrez and her husband rented a house in the city, but when they wanted to buy, they had to look outside Denver to find someplace affordable. “It took us some time to be able to move back to the community that we love,” she said.
In the State House, Gonzales-Gutierrez co-sponsored a bill letting municipalities require new developments to include a certain percentage of affordable housing. Denver City Council voted to implement a version of the policy in June.
Now, she wants to continue that work on City Council herself.
“Because Colorado is such a local-control state, a lot of the work we do is leaving work up to the locals to then implement and put forth,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said of her decision to switch to local office. “I really want to go in and focus and hone in on the city and county of Denver, the place I’ve called home pretty much my entire life, am raising my family in, and continue to work with the kids and families that I worked with over the years.”
Gonzales-Gutierrez cited her work with families and her policy experience as reasons why she wants to run at-large. “It’s not just specific to one area of Denver, it is the entire city and county of Denver,” she said.
In addition to affordable housing, Gonzales-Gutierrez pointed to mental healthcare and programs to address the root causes of crime as top issues she would want to tackle on Council. She said she’s always known from a young age that her goal was to work for the city.
“Having the deep roots that I have in the city are really what drives me,” she said. Her grandfather was Chicano Rights activist and boxing star Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, and her parents were involved in community work as well.
“What keeps me going at the end of the day is literally standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, from my grandparents, to my parents, to now me, and now I have the next generation under my roof,” she said. “Now I get to carry that torch forward and continue a lot of the work that they started.”