The races for Denver City Council matter. Here’s why we’ve talked to every single candidate on the ballot
Yes, the mayoral race is a big deal, but Council can make or break a mayor’s agenda.
UPDATE: Out full voter guide is now live and you can read it by clicking here.
The big talk of this election season has been the race for mayor. With 17 mayoral candidates vying for the spot, it makes sense that our coverage is highly focused on that race. Plus, Denver’s mayor, in the past, has been described as the most powerful elected official in Colorado. So, makes sense.
However, the mayor is nothing without City Council.
We’ve dug deep into the all of the council races from the stacked At-Large, District 7 and District 8 races to those running unopposed. And we’ve got you covered on what these candidates stand for and why council may be equally as important as the mayor.
So, in a mayor-run town, here’s why City Council important:
Denver is a “strong-mayor” city, which means the mayor is ultimately at the head of the ship, setting the city’s priorities.
But a ship’s captain is only as great as their crew.
Council is composed of 13 people, and 11 of them are the voice of your district, your neighborhood. At least they’re supposed to be, which is why electing council members are so important.
While the mayor creates the budget, City Council can make amendments, changes and will ultimately approve it. Checks and balances happen like this across the spectrum.
There are A LOT of positions throughout city government that the mayor is required to hire, but City Council gets the last say, such as the heads of Department of Parks and Recreation, Community Planning and Development, along with Denver Fire, Police and Sheriff’s Department.
City Council creates the laws of the city, such as the new wage theft ordinance or the decriminalization of jaywalking. The mayor has veto powers, but Council can override that veto with a minimum of nine “yes” votes.
City Council is also responsible for the way your neighborhood looks, zoning-wise. Look at all of the recent neighborhoods rezoned for accessory dwelling units. That’s a Council responsibility.
To get back to the original point, City Council members interact with the public more than the mayor does, you’ll see some members at community events, some attend neighborhood organization meetings and some have open office hours. Sure, you can email the mayor but they’re usually busy with city-wide tasks. Council members are responsible for the city as well but really they’re responsibility is in representing their district.
How’s it all work?
The city will mail ballots to voters March 13. You’ll have until April 4 to return them to a drop-off box. In the at-large race, the top two vote-getters are elected on election night. But in the District races, to win outright, a candidate has to get at least 50% of the vote, otherwise the race will go to a runoff between the top two candidates. That will happen on June 6.
If that all feels earlier than usual, you’re right. Voters decided to move elections up from May to April, after a 2019 election almost ran out of time to count military and overseas voters. (Side note: be sure to check your current registration status here.)
City Council is guaranteed to have five new members this year. The two At-Large seats, along with Districts 4, 7 and 8.
Councilmembers Robin Kneich, Debbie Ortega and Chris Herndon, who represent the At-Large and District 8 respectively, are term-limited. Councilmembers Kendra Black and Jolon Clark, who represent District 4 and 7 respectively, have decided not to run again.
Three current council members will remain on the dais because they’re running unopposed. District 3’s Jamie Torres, District 6’s Paul Kashmann and District 11’s Stacie Gilmore.
With five open seats up for grabs and three that could change, the direction Council may go in in the future could be completely different than usual.
And that’s why we’ve spent so much energy on these races!
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
We’ve had elections on the brain since candidates started putting in their applications last April. We’ve talked to every person running for every district who made the ballot — almost 40 people — from incumbents to grassroots candidates just getting started in politics. In some cases, we’re the only ones talking to these folks.
Since then we’ve talked about donations and the Fair Elections Fund. The setup has made races more expensive than usual and has caused folks to campaign quicker like in July when the money-making races were the At-Large and District 9 races skyrocketed. And no, candidates don’t keep election funds if they withdraw or lose.
Speaking of District 9, we wrote about one mailer that painted a candidate in a certain light but didn’t disclose who paid for the mailer or what organization they represent.
We’ve written about some council endorsements and we’ve covered some debates. The At-Large debate focused on housing. while the District 10 debate raised accessibility issues.
In lead up to all this coverage, we spoke to every single council candidate and got their views on what’s wrong with the city and how they intend to fix it. Here they are listed by district and in the order they appear on your ballot. (Not sure your district? Check here. And keep in mind that the boundaries have changed.)
David Roybal (Write-in)
Here’s what we have coming up for our City Council election coverage:
We’ve published a series of profiles of every district. In these profiles, you can learn about key issues in each neighborhood and where each of your candidates stand. You can find them all here on our voter guide.
We’ll continue digging into candidates and issues. Like the mayor’s race, many of the same topics dominate: housing, homelessness, affordability and public safety, just to name a few. But the District races also provide a chance for us to talk to candidates about important issues that get less attention or are more neighborhood-specific, like transportation networks, food deserts and small businesses.
As we keep our eye on these races, we’ve got lots of future story ideas. But we also want to hear yours too-nothing’s too big or too small to catch our eye. You can find us firstname.lastname@example.org.