Here are the mayoral candidates who qualified for the ballot

Seventeen have qualified — making it the largest field in at least 40 years.
14 min. read
Denver’s City and County Building. Aug. 10, 2021. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The list of names running for Denver mayor appears set, and it's the biggest field in at least 40 years.

Mayor Michael Hancock, who has held what is arguably the most powerful political seat in Colorado, is term-limited after 12 years in office -- and a field of strong candidates are vying to replace him.

Seventeen candidates qualified to have their names printed on the ballot, and four write-in candidates have indicated they are running. The names include political veterans, CEO's, two sitting state lawmakers and even a former gang member.

The last time there was an open mayor election, in 2011, a total of 10 candidates made the ballot.

The order names will appear on the ballot won't be finalized until Feb. 7, when the Denver Clerk and Recorder will hold a lottery for positioning. A 2004 study found that ballot position matters, especially with so many names for voters to choose from. Ballots will go out by mail on March 13, and voters have until April 4 to vote. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote-a likely outcome with so many people running-the top two candidates will compete in a run-off on June 6.

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There's never been a woman mayor of Denver, and this election features four strong candidates who could change that: state lawmaker Leslie Herod, councilwoman Debbie Ortega, activist and professor Lisa Calderón and former metro Chamber CEO Kelly Brough.

So here's the official list of who's qualified, listed in the order the city approved their signatures.

Leslie Herod

Recently reelected State Rep. Leslie Herod has been a progressive voice at the Statehouse, fighting successfully for criminal justice, police and mental health reform and championing co-responder programs. She's the first LGBTQ Black woman to serve in the Colorado Capitol. She has a long track record as a community organizer and legislator, but recently got a state penalty for not filing required personal financial disclosures required of state legislators.

Here's more about her community safety plan, and her campaign's promise if she's elected: "As Mayor, she'll focus on addressing the day-to-day issues impacting our lives: affordable housing, safer streets for our families, and addressing the homelessness crisis. As she has throughout her life, she will bring people together to get things done, meet the moment, and create real change for Denver."

Kelly Brough

Kelly Brough rose from a hardscrabble childhood and early adulthood and has built a successful career in Denver politics and business. She has championed scholarship programs for Denver Public School students and worked to address the lack of equity in business. Her résumé includes a year as the Chief Strategy Officer at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, a decade as CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and time as then-Mayor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff. It's her time at the Chamber, and the litany of conservative positions it took, that could prove challenging to her campaign in a progressive city.

Here's more about her homelessness plan, and her promise if elected: "Kelly has walked a unique path to become Denver's next mayor. She knows this city and knows how to lead it. Her leadership, collaborative nature, and boundless energy is what we need to get our city working for everyone again."

Debbie Ortega

City Councilmember Debbie Ortega has served two stints on Council: one from 1987 to 2003 and another from 2011 to the present. She's fought for environmental cleanup in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea and affordable housing. Between those years in office, she was the first head of the Denver Homeless Commission. She also chaired the 2020 Census. She has voted against Mayor Michael Hancock's urban camping ban and the Denver International Airport Great Hall remodeling plan.

Her promise if elected: "I'm running for mayor because I believe hardworking Denver families need a strong voice in City Hall. Special interests and powerful politicians are not the answer. The people are the answer. That's who I am and who I always will be."

Lisa Calderón

Lisa Calderón, the third-place candidate in the 2019 mayoral race, has been rabble-rousing since childhood. She's received a law degree and a PhD in education. She currently leads Emerge Colorado, recruiting and training Democratic women to win elections. She teaches at Regis University and the University of Colorado Boulder. She's fought the Park Hill Golf Course redevelopment and was Councilmember Candi CdeBaca's chief of staff. She's also filed a federal lawsuit against Denver, after the city canceled a contract for her jail reentry program, a move she claims was retaliation by Hancock for criticism against the city.

Here's her promise if elected: "It's time to reimagine Denver. We need to move away from false choices: renters vs owners, housed vs unhoused, drivers vs bike riders, etc. Multiple truths can co-exist. We need both affordable housing and green spaces; community safety and police reform; and multimodal transportation options. Together, we can reimagine a city that works for all of us."

Andy Rougeot

Andy Rougeot, a former army officer who served in Afghanistan and graduated from Harvard Business School, runs RG Maintenance, a security repair company with roughly 30 employees focused on statewide self-storage facilities. He's been shoveling snow in Denver to spread the word about his campaign and prove he'll roll up his sleeves and get to work. He's running as a law-and-order candidate and is the rare registered Republican in the nonpartisan race in Blue Denver.

Rougeot's promise to Denver: "As Mayor, Andy will Deliver for Denver by cracking down on crime, enforcing the camping ban, and increasing affordable housing."

Ean Thomas Tafoya

Grassroots advocate Ean Thomas Tafoya describes himself as a lifelong public servant who has worked in three branches of local government, served on dozens of community boards, and led successful ballot initiatives. Those include the recently passed "Waste No More," which mandated recycling in apartments and businesses, and the Green Roofs Initiative. He's the current co-chair of the Colorado Environmental Justice Action Task Force and the founder of Headwater Protectors, which provides trash and water services to unhoused people.

Here's his promise to Denver: "Denver and our great region are facing huge challenges - climate crisis, a lack of attainable housing, and a need for improved public health and safety. It's time to come together to find solutions. To do this, our administration will focus on: regional cooperation, housing, environment, public health and safety."

Thomas Wolf

Investment banker Thomas Wolf last ran in 2011. He has worked at JP Morgan in New York and Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley in London. In 1999, he and his wife did "a deep wine-fueled analytical matrix" of where to raise their family and picked Denver. He's currently the managing director of the investment bank and private wealth management company Crewe Capital. Ending street homelessness is his focus. His priority is clear: "Encampments, encampments, encampments."

Here's his promise to Denver: "I will restore competent leadership and attract a superior team to make Denver safer, cleaner and smarter. Fundamentally, I'm drawn to public service to do the greatest good for the greatest number of Denverites -- similar to the common goal of utilitarians."

Trinidad Rodriguez

Trinidad Rodriguez is the son of former Denver City Council and school board member Rosemary Rodriguez, a Democratic Party powerhouse. Rodriguez describes himself as a city builder who grew up in public housing and spent his career financing public housing and other projects. He has sat on multiple boards, including the Downtown Denver Partnership, Urban Peak and the Denver Housing Authority. His most recently worked in finance with D.A. Davidson from 2013 to 2021.

Here's his plan on homelessness and mental health, and his promise to the city: "I have spent the last several months in city builder and community builder mode, listening to community members and leaders and sharing my vision and solutions for Denver's most pressing challenges and what's possible for our city's future. I found that these ideas both resonate and have given reasons for hope over despair... I am ready to develop and implement fair and equitable strategies to achieve real solutions."

Mike Johnston

Former State Sen. Mike Johnston has worn many hats. He's been a high school teacher, an author, a CEO of the foundation Gary Community Ventures, and an architect of affordable housing policy. He's also lost major races He came in third place in the 2018 governor's race, and then he ran for U.S. Senate in 2020, dropping out when now Sen. Hickenlooper entered the race. He's backed a successful initiative to tax cigarettes for social programs, and withdrew a different initiative to tax marijuana for other programs. He's also a prolific fundraiser.

Here's his plan on homelessness, and his promise to the city: "Denver, it's time to come together to build a city that offers a good life. More than that, it's time for us to go back to our defiant roots and prove to America that it is possible to unite and build a remarkable American city-by all, for all."

Kwame Spearman

Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman comes to the race with a background in corprate America. He consulted at Bain, led the food chain B.Good and headed the expansion at Knotel, a real-estate company that filed for bankruptcy in 2021. He's worked to grow Tattered Cover amid financial troubles. But he's also faced allegations of workplace bullying -- a claim he's denied. He's also served on boards including Denver Public Schools Foundation, Denver Health Foundation, the Colorado Education Initiative and Poets & Writers. He says he wants to be Denver's "neighborhood mayor," in the footsteps of former mayor Wellington Webb.

Here's his promise to the city: "Right now what the city needs in this critical stage is a clear vision and policy and most importantly plans that can actually result in action... I think what Denver needs more than anything else right now is a political outsider that not only brings fresh ideas, but real solutions and a willingness to tackle the big problems that the city is facing."

Terrance Roberts

The former Blood gang member turned activist entered the race early, riding glowing media coverage of a book and documentary about him. After serving a prison term in the early 2000's, Roberts was running an anti-gang organization in the Holly neighborhood when he shot and paralyzed a man in 2013 -- a jury found that he was acting in self defense. He's also sued the city for police brutality. Roberts remains a polarizing figure in a community he once served, almost getting in a fistfight on camera during a 9News segment last year.

Here's his promise to Denver: "I'm ready for radical change in the city... me and my team said instead of trying to protest and get things done, we might as well do what we can and try to see if we can get into office and make the necessary changes that we think that we need to do."

Aurelio Martinez

Aurelio Martinez doesn't have your typical political background; he's a former boxer, boxing coach and CEO of Inside Boxing. He grew up in Cole and Five Points, and has worked as a neighborhood organizer, advocating for more input from registered neighborhood organizations. He wants to see more housing for minimum-wage and low-income workers and more youth programs. He doesn't see himself as "anti-development," but he wants neighborhoods to have more of a say. There's one thing he thinks everyone can agree on: "The city is broken."

Here's his promise to the city: "It's been going in the wrong direction for a very long time, and unless we get an administration in place to run this city and change the direction so that we put residents and neighborhood organizations back as priorities in the system, then we're just going to self-destruct. And we're not going to let that happen."

Chris Hansen

State Senator Chris Hansen grew up on a farm on the Kansas-Colorado border. He's been a Democratic leader in both the state House and Senate, most recently representing Capitol Hill. Hansen has advocated for cutting property taxes, ending ties with businesses operating in Russia and banning gas-powered lawn equipment, the last of which didn't make it into the Governor's ultimate climate bill. As mayor, he said he'd keep the urban camping ban, and focus on building housing faster.

Here's his promise to the city: "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."

Al Gardner

When he's not working as an IT professional at Salud Family Health, Al Gardner has spent his time on many boards and commissions throughout Denver. Some of these appointments include on the Denver African American Commission and the Citizen Oversight Board. He also used to work as IT director at Denver Rescue Mission, which previously included anti-LGBTQ language in its employee handbook. "I definitely don't agree with that," Gardner said. As mayor, he wants to focus on affordable housing, safety and homelessness.

Here's his promise to Denver: "I think Denver is going in the right direction from a public safety standpoint, and I think we need to keep that, keep that momentum... increasing wraparound services to the homeless, continuing to partner with those community partners that are willing to broaden the service offerings, and seeing where the city can really plug in to make a difference without sacrifice and safety."

James Walsh

James Walsh brings an academic perspective to the race; he studies immigration and labor movements at CU Denver. He's a grassroots candidate who's staff includes a dozen students, without a typical background in politics. His political experience comes instead from his work with the theater group Romero Troupe, which works with community organizations to create plays about political issues.

Here's his promise to the city: "We're witnessing a movement in the United States today around workers' rights that we haven't seen. Workers are reasserting themselves in their workplace. They're demanding dignity and respect, particularly low-income workers. And I think the city has an obligation to be a part of that movement."

Robert Treta

Robert Treta is a contractor who wants to fix how Denver builds housing. He's built homes in the city for over 20 years, and wants to see faster, more affordable permitting, along with other incentives for developers to build affordable housing. He also wants more infrastructure for electric vehicles, and plants to cut street sweeping tickets to $25 on day one.

Here's his promise to the city: "I can't sit back and watch it happen anymore. I'm a builder. We have a homeless problem. I build homes. I can build cost effective homes... We need to get the people to fall in love with Denver again."

Renate Behrens

We don't know too much about Renate Behrens, who has minimal online presence. An online voter records website, which has the same address for Behrens as listed on her election paperwork filed to the city, says she has no political party affiliation. Denverite could not independently verify that information.


Four people are running as write-in candidates, which means they didn't get enough signatures to qualify, but you can write their name in on election day. Here's who they are:

Long-time Denver activist and City Council public comment regular Jesse Parris, who ran unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat in 2019.

Ballet dancer and singer songwriter Paul Fiorino, who ran unsuccessfully for Governor five times, for Senator once and for Mayor twice.

Abass Yaya Bamba, who runs his own cybersecurity and software company. He's lived in Denver for over 20 years, but in 2019, unsuccessfully ran for President of his native country, Côte d'Ivoire.

Matt Brady, who we haven't been able to connect with yet. There's a few Denver-based Matt Brady's out there, so if you're the one running for mayor, drop us a line!

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