Andy Rougeot has lots of money, few donors and an uphill-looking battle to be Denver’s next mayor

If elected, he would hire 400 additional police officers, speed up permitting, cut regulations on new development and enforce the urban camping ban that makes unsheltered homelessness an arrestable offense.
8 min. read
Andy Rougeot, his wife, Rosalie, and one of their daughters. (He didn’t let us take our own photo ahead of his campaign.)
Courtesy: Andy Rougeot

Andy Rougeot currently has the most money from campaign contributions of anybody in the 2023 mayoral race, according to public records. But that number isn't quite what it seems because he's largely self-funded through loans.

While he currently lacks the name recognition of his competitors, that could change fast because he has big money to spend on ads to boost his law-and-order brand.

Currently, Rougeot's in third place in total campaign financing, knocked down by both Kelly Brough, with $756,963.37 and State Rep. Leslie Herod, with $576,034.36, after the latest Fair Elections Fund disbursement. Those two have each benefited mightily from the public fund, which matches donations up to $50, at a nine-to-one rate in taxpayer dollars.

Rougeot, on the other hand, has not participated in that.

And outside of loaning $500,000 to himself, Rougeot hasn't raised much compared to others.

The $32,526.96 he has brought in from donors came from fewer than 100 people, many writing $1,000 checks.

Compare that to the vast majority of candidates on the ballot who are participating in the Fair Elections Fund and have stricter limits on how much they can be given. Those candidates, which include a former Blood gang member turned community organizer, a bookstore chain owner, a labor studies professor and an investment banker, have had to collect at least 250 donations a piece to qualify.

At least a dozen hopefuls hit that mark: Terrance Roberts, Ean Thomas Tafoya, Brough, Debbie Ortega, Thomas Wolf, Herod, Lisa Calderón, Chris Hansen, Mike Johnston, James Walsh, Trinidad Rodriguez, Kwame Spearman and Aurelio Martinez.

In a recent poll from Ortega's campaign, Rougeot's name was one of many who have not reached 1% of support.

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In the lead, according to that polling of 500 residents: Ortega with 16% and Herod and Calderón with 8% each. Almost half of the city's voters are still undecided.

Rougeot has the distinction of being the rare registered Republican running in a city with 197,360 active unaffiliated voters, 197,220 active Democrats, and just 43,104 active Republicans, with a sprinkling of others committed to third parties.

The mayor's race is non-partisan, so name recognition, platforms, debate performance and shoe-leather campaigning will likely influence the outcome more than simple Blue or Red loyalty.

So who is this guy with so much money in his coffer?

Rougeot prides himself on being a family man who was once a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer who led troops in battle in Afghanistan and once volunteered for a deployment with the Army Rangers. He received a business degree from Harvard. He runs an Arvada-based company, RG Maintenance, with a very specific task: repairing gates and keypads at self-storage facilities statewide. He manages 30 employees.

Up until this week, Rougeot's campaign messaging has included doom-and-gloom assessments of safety in Denver and his upbeat law-and-order fixes.

While he says he's been invited to debates and forums, he's largely skipped them. He has another strategy for meeting the people of Denver: shoveling snow from random people's sidewalks and recording videos to prove it.

Earlier this week, Rougeot launched his policy platform called "Fighting for Denver's future."

His plan lacks the detail of some of his fellow candidates who have released multi-page papers on how they plan to address the big issues, including explanations for funding. But it's more than Denverites have seen from many candidates.

Rougeot has four main priorities: Creating safe streets, solving homelessness, creating affordable housing and building an affordable and thriving economy. That sounds a whole lot like eveyrone else's platform, but Rougeot said he has his own way of doing that.

Safety, comes first for Rougeot, and he blames both Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council for the increase in crime, arguing they failed to support law enforcement.

"The number one job of a mayor and number one job for the city is to provide basic safety for its citizens," he said. "That's something, you know, our mayor's failed at and I think all the other candidates who are running for mayor don't have a policy to actually achieve."

To increase public safety, Rougeot plans to add 400 more police officers to patrol the streets, increase police funding and equip law enforcement with better training. He would raise the number of officers from around 21 per 10,000 people to 26 per 10,000 people, which he says matches the national average for similar-sized cities.

How would he fund such a dramatic increase of the police force?

"Cutting waste and unnecessary spending," he said.

He would also push to end personal recognizance bonds and replace them with cash bonds, which the state banned cities from using for minor offenses in 2019. Critics say cash bonds disproportionately impact poor people, forcing them to stay in jail because they can't afford bail, while people with more money spend less time locked up. Critics of PR bonds say they allow repeat criminals to return to the streets and re-offend.

Rougeot said a lack of funding for officer training has led to an increase in crime and murder, and with more training, officers can better get illegal guns off the streets.

Currently, the police department is authorized to have 1,596 officers and has 1,451 working. There are 74 recruits attending the police academy and the department is continuing to struggle to recruit. That's not just a Denver issue. Nationally, police have been leaving the field, retiring or simply resigning. Departments across Colorado and nationwide have struggled to hire.

Yet Rougeot said the failure to hire in Denver comes down to a lack of funding for 911 and other infrastructure for law enforcement. Rougeot does not believe law enforcement needs higher salaries to attract workers; instead, the police need respect.

"So I've talked to former chiefs, to officers, and they will tell you that the issue is not a pay rate for them," Rougeot said. "The issue why we can't properly staff our police department and the key to adding those 400 officers is having a mayor who actually supports our officers and lets them do their jobs."

He also wants to prevent safe use sites -- places where drug users can consume under medical supervision. Those don't actually exist in Denver or Colorado, though they are permitted by city law if state law changes. He pledged to change that.

Housing is another priority for Rougeot.

He says the key to fixing Denver's housing crisis is deregulating the development process and making it easier to build. Cutting back permitting times in Community Planning and Development by bringing workers back to the office full-time is one of his ways to speed up new builds.

As for slow permitting, "it's a sign of our government not working, the sign of a mayor not paying attention, not caring," he said.

He also supports reducing zoning regulations like parking minimums and opening up the entire city to accessory dwelling units or backyard homes, while removing regulations on ADU heights.

All construction processes, he argued, should be cheaper so more housing can be built and supply will meet the demand, eventually lowering prices.

"If we don't solve these problems, we're going to price out every blue-collar worker, young family, first-time homebuyer out of our city, and we're going to turn into a city [of people] with double income, no kids, with college degrees -- which would be a horrible thing to have happen."

He champions the urban camping ban.

His plans to solve homelessness include enforcing the camping ban, a policy passed during Hancock's first term in office that essentially tickets people who are sleeping on the streets and other public places. Homelessness has risen since it passed.

Several candidates have committed to continuing to sweep encampments and keep the ban, though he claims to be the only one who would enforce the ban as it's written.

Arresting people sleeping on the street, Rougeot said, would push people toward treatment. While there is a shortage of mental health professionals, Rougeot pointed to peer treatment programs like Step Denver that have open beds.

Rougeot opposes the Denver Basic Income Project that gives a universal basic income to qualifying unhoused residents. The city committed $2 million for the project. Instead, he would use that money to fund more mental health and drug treatment services.

Deregulation is his fix for most economic ills.

He wants it to be easier to start a business in the city and says too many forms and fees get in the way -- especially for blue-collar workers for whom English is a second language. That's even as Colorado had a surge of new companies launched in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the Secretary of State's office, which processed 48,806 new entity filings.

Rougeot wants many city jobs to drop college education requirements that he said prevent some of the best candidates, who may have deep experience, from getting jobs.

Ultimately, he's hoping to bring executive competency and a buck-stops-here attitude to the job.

"We deserve a mayor who has experience and has had to make a payroll every single two weeks, has, in my case, led soldiers in combat," Rougeot said. "There is not the ability to tap dance around in the question and say, 'here's why it's not really my fault.' I think we deserve a mayor who can actually get something done in the city instead of just talk about it."

Correction: Rougeot was an Army Intelligence Officer deployed with the Army Rangers, not a Ranger himself. 

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