Arguably the most powerful elected job in Colorado is open. Everybody wants it.

It’s getting a little crowded in here.
7 min. read
Denver’s City and County Building. Aug. 10, 2021. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The race is on for mayor of Denver. It's arguably the most powerful political position in Colorado, due to its strong mayor form of government, collection of downtown businesses, and ownership of the state's largest single economic driver: Denver International Airport.

More than a dozen candidates are in (with more to come), representing a wide range of experience, politics, and upbringing. This is the first election that Denver taxpayers will match certain contributions, giving a lifeline to candidates who don't necessarily have access to large donor lists.

Many of the candidates haven't fleshed out their full platforms, some don't even have websites up yet. But most say they are focused on some of the city's biggest problems: homelessness, crime, and affordable housing.

Ballots will be mailed to voters starting March 13th, 2023. If no candidate clears 50%, then the top two candidates will enter a two month runoff.

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Here's a full list of who's in so far (in order of when they filed paperwork to run):

Jesse Parris: Well known to anyone who frequents city council meetings, Parris is an advocate for the homeless and social justice issues. He ran unsuccessfully for an at-large city council seat in 2019, finishing last among the group of six candidates with just under 15,000 votes. Parris indicated he would accept Fair Elections Fund money, but he hasn't qualified for a match having raised less than $2,000.

Terrance Roberts: The former gang member turned anti-gang and anti-police brutality activist, Roberts has raised his profile considerably thanks to the release of Julian Rubinstein's book and documentary "The Holly." It chronicles Roberts' life, the north Denver neighborhood he came up in, and a 2013 shooting where Roberts was acquitted of attempted murder. Roberts has raised only $17,174 in contributions, but received more than $50,000 in Fair Election Fund campaign cash.

Ean Tafoya: A strong community voice and environmental advocate, Tafoya was a leader of the successful "Waste No More" city ballot initiative in November, requiring recycling in apartments and businesses. Tafoya would have struggled to raise as much money as the top candidates, but he's benefited from matching contributions from the Fair Elections Fund, with taxpayers kicking in most of his $98,069 raised so far.

Andre Rougeot: Pitching himself the law and order candidate, Rougeot runs RG Maintenance. The company is based in Arvada, and specializes in maintenance on storage facilities, security and fence construction. Rougeot is new to politics, but leads the field in contributions after loaning his campaign $250,000.

Kelly Brough: The former head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce also served as a chief of staff for then-mayor John Hickenlooper. She's a strong candidate in part because of her experience in city politics, and in part for her ability to raise money. Brough leads the contributions race, having raised $129,445 in direct campaign contributions, and she received a payment of another $135,495 from the city's new Fair Elections Fund.

Debbie Ortega: She's served almost three decades on city council, including three convincing wins for the citywide at-large seat. Ortega has probably received more votes in her career than all the other candidates combined. During her first stint on city council, representing parts of downtown, she was active as neighborhoods like LoDo developed. Ortega's fundraising, though, has lagged so far. She's collected just a third of the amounts Brough and Herod have.

Thomas Wolf: An investment banker whose only previous political experience is running for mayor in 2011. He finished seventh in the voting. Wolf said homelessness and crime were holding the city back, and that's why he's running again. Wolf has maximized the Fair Election Fund with 83% of his $105,905 in campaign cash coming from it.

Leslie Herod: A progressive champion at the state legislature, Herod led the way on major reforms of policing and incarceration. But she also served on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, which writes much of the state budget, and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce has endorsed her in the past. Herod has raised nearly as much as Brough so far, totalling $241,318 in contributions, including Fair Elections Fund payments.

Aurelio Martinez: A small business owner, Martinez owns a boxing and MMA publication called Inside Boxing. According to his website, Martinez grew up in Five Points and went to Metro State. He doesn't appear to have been deeply involved in politics before. He believes the city is broken and needs strong leadership. He also believes that the community hasn't been adequately involved in development decisions.

Lisa Calderón: Her second attempt at running for mayor, Calderón starts with much stronger name identification this time around. She gained a larger profile feuding with Mayor Michael Hancock over a reentry contract she lost. Calderón claims in an on-going lawsuit against the city she lost the contract after making critical comments about the Hancock administration. She currently leads Emerge Colorado, an organization that prepares women to run for political office. (Herod is an alum on Emerge). Calderón announced her candidacy last month, and so has not reported any contributions yet.

Chris Hansen: A state senator known for his advocacy of climate and environmental issues, and worked in the energy sector for about two decades. Hansen has served in both chambers of the state Capitol representing Northeast Denver, and he's had powerful assignments, like serving on the Joint Budget Committee. Hansen filed recently, and has no campaign contributions to report.

Mike Johnston: Former state senator, former gubernatorial candidate, and former U.S. Senate candidate, Johnston has been searching for a political landing spot since leaving the state legislature. He has spent about three years at Gary Community Ventures, a foundation. Johnston, like many in the field, highlighted homelessness as the urgent problem.

Trinidad "Trini" Rodriguez: Raised in West Denver by a single mother, Rodriguez defines himself as a city builder, who has financed affordable housing, schools, health clinics and other projects. His approach is based, in part, on his own experience growing up in Denver Housing Authority housing. He's served as a commissioner for DHA and also worked with groups like the Downtown Denver Partnership. He's been a policy advisor for both Colorado's Department of Natural Resources and the Governor's Policy Office and the Office of Energy Conservation. He announced in late November, and so far, he has not reported raising any money.

David Stevens: A small businessman with no previous electoral experience or much of a political profile in the city said he jumped into the race because he's passionate about education. Though Denver's mayor doesn't have direct authority over Denver Public Schools, the mayor can have substantial indirect influence. Stevens said he is running a money-free campaign and won't solicit contributions.

Paul Fiorino: A ballet dancer and advocate for the arts is running for office ... again. Fiorino has run for governor five times, U.S. Senate once, and mayor in 2011 and 2015. He has never won. Fiorino said he's most passionate about preserving the arts in Denver. He wants to strengthen nonprofits that provide homeless services.

Alex Valdez: The state house reprehensive founded a residential solar company called EcoMark. He left the CEO role after winning election to the legislature in 2018. Representing northwest Denver, Valdez has served as chair of the Energy & Environment committee and has been active in the Latino and LGBTQ caucus.

And a few more who have filed and some who are rumored:

There is a group of candidates who have filed paperwork intending to run for mayor, but Denverite wasn't able to contact them immediately and they lack a campaign website and contribution data. They include Alex Cowans, James Walsh, Marcus Giavanni, Ken Simpson and Danny Lopez.

Who's left? Big names who've long been rumored include former police chief Paul Pazen, Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien and hotel magnate Walter Isenberg.

Kyle Harris contributed to this article.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct how long a possible runoff would last.

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