With safe streets in mind, Councilmember Amanda Sawyer is running for reelection in District 5

Sawyer faces Michael Hughes for the East Denver seat.
7 min. read
District 5 City Council member Amanda Sawyer in her office. Feb. 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Councilmember Amanda Sawyer has lived in Denver and Colorado off and on for several years, but in 2016, she settled down in the city. With concerns of development, traffic and crime, she decided to run for the District 5 seat, beating incumbent Mary Beth Susman and becoming the third candidate in, now, 36 years to unseat a Denver City Council incumbent.

Those same issues are still on her mind as she runs for reelection for the East Denver seat against Michael Hughes.

Sawyer is a licensed attorney with an MBA, who previously worked in marketing and sales through her consulting firm.

A few years after she moved back to Denver, a proposed development that would have increased density in the Hilltop neighborhood, prompted Sawyer to run for council.

The project would have created 23 "relatively moderately-priced condos." Opponents to the development, like Sawyer, said it would increase traffic and make the roads unsafe.

Sawyer previously said, "Denver is going to have to continue to develop, and it should, because we need housing, but on the other hand, we've got to be more thoughtful about this and building the infrastructure around it to support it."

District 5 City Council member Amanda Sawyer in her office. Feb. 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Addressing transportation needs, Sawyer said, has been one of the many accomplishments over the last three years.

"Having the space to be creative about solving the challenges that face our residents has been an extraordinary opportunity that I've really enjoyed," Sawyer said. "It's allowed me to do things like hire traffic engineering firms to work with our neighborhood organizations to institute traffic calming measures. It's something that really matters to our residents. It's something that is a visible difference and it's a space that DOTI [Department of Transportation and Infrastructure] really needed the support on in terms of staff time and budget dollars. So being able to fill that gap to better the lives of residents has made a big difference."

Sawyer said she's focused on the "local collectors" in her district because DOTI typically focuses on arterial roadway. The local collectors are similar to arterials in that they are major roadways, but they don't move as many people. However, Sawyer said the local roadways are equally important because they can have a negative and unsafe impact on neighborhoods. Some traffic studies her office has helped fund included an 8th Avenue investigation from Colorado Boulevard to Quebec Street, which found that due to narrow sidewalks folks were concerned with speeding down the corridor and with the amount of cars, there weren't adequate gaps for pedestrians and bikers to cross.

She also helped fund studies of 6th Avenue between Colorado Boulevard and Quebec Street, South Dayton Street between Alameda and Mississippi Avenues. Sawyer wants to work on a study on Uinta Way from 11th Avenue to Lowry Boulevard before the elections and if she is reelected.

District 5 City Council member Amanda Sawyer in her office. Feb. 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Sawyer said her most impactful initiative was her gun-buyback program that launched last year seeking to curb gun violence.

Looking at the crime statistics during the pandemic, Sawyer noted the increase in gun violence and domestic violence in the city. In 2021, 82 people died from gun violence in Denver out of a record-breaking 96 homicides.

Sawyer partnered with Denver Police, Aurora City Councilmember Curtis Gardner and the Denver Broncos to host several buyback events in both cities and ultimately collected more than 900 weapons. DPD Chief Ron Thomas previously said that was the first buyback event since 1993. The group also partnered with RAWtools, which turned discarded guns into garden tools.

According to Sawyer's website, 57% of the guns were classified as semi-automatic or automatic.

"Certainly, we didn't expect that people engaging in criminal activities were going to turn in their weapons," Sawyer said. "But [we focused on] the incidence of domestic violence escalated because of the presence of a weapon in the home. The incidence of suicide, the incidence of accidental death to gun violence in the home. If I can have made a difference in those kinds of incidents, then it's something I couldn't be prouder of."

Sawyer said her biggest hurdle the past three years was navigating the city and her district through the pandemic. But with the hurdle, Sawyer said she ended up connecting with her community in a new way that helped paved engagement for the future.

"There was no experience to rely on," Sawyer said. "But being able to hear from our residents on the ground about the challenges they were facing. The fears that they had, the confusion that they had, where there were gaps in response, all of those different kinds of things really allowed me to be able to help support my community in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do."

City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer speaks to people in attendance at a meeting about Denver's East Area Plan at Johnson and Wales' campus in South Park Hill, Nov. 23, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Other policies Sawyer said she's proud to have worked on include the wage theft ordinance, the right to counsel bill, a voter-passed measure that allows council to have the final approval on 14 appointees in key city positions and an ordinance exempting diapers from city and county sales tax.

If reelected, Sawyer said she wants to continue working on traffic patterns, mobility issues and making sure new developments create walkable and safe environments, especially in Cherry Creek. With redistricting, District 5 lost East Colfax but gained Cherry Creek.

The neighborhood is booming development-wise, but Sawyer said that booms comes with infrastructure issues, such as traffic and mobility concerns. There's also public transportation concerns. Sawyer said retail spaces in the area are having a hard time keeping staff and one of the reasons is because staff don't live in the area and they are reliant on public transportation, which doesn't run late.

"They can't afford to pay an Uber to get them there and public transportation just isn't reliable," Sawyer said. There are some big transportation challenges that are happening there and some big developments that are happening, Cherry Creek West being one. With that comes the traffic and mobility and infrastructure challenges that comes with adding so many people and office spaces that right now has a Bed Bath and Beyond in it."

District 5 City Council member Amanda Sawyer in her office. Feb. 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Sawyer is also looking to work with Councilmember Paul Kashmann on adding an "Active Centers and Corridors Design Overlay" to parts of Leetsdale Drive. It requires new developments to include retail on the first floor, which Sawyer said makes the road more walkable. She also intends to work with the state to install bus rapid transit along the corridor.

On the neighborhood level, Sawyer is working on accessory dwelling unit rezoning for the Montclair and Mayfair neighborhoods. She also wants to work with the Orthodox Jewish community on the border of Hilltop and Washington Virginia Vale to create a historic cultural district, similar to the one Councilmember Amanda Sandoval has proposed in her district. Nothing is in the works as of yet, but Sawyer said it should span from the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center to the Mizel Museum.

"We have an extraordinary history in District Five with our Orthodox Jewish community," Sawyer said. "They are still very active to this day. So I'd like to have a conversation with the community about creating a cultural overlay."

Sawyer said that community rapport is important to her and she hopes to continue that next term.

"I'm very lucky. I have a lot of community support and I am the kind of council member who is in the community all the time. I have had relationships with many of my residents for the last four years in office and that will continue," Sawyer said.

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