What we know about how the next Denver City Council will look and work — and how it could be different

What are the dynamics at play? How do the council members line up with the mayor?
7 min. read
Denver’s City Council chambers. Feb. 24, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

There's still a lot we don't know about what the lineup on City Council will look like, especially with four Council races heading to a runoff.

But with votes from the April election mostly counted, here's what we do know about what City Council will look like and how it will (or won't) work with the mayor's office and each other.

While Denver is a strong-mayor city, Council has the potential to make life difficult for the mayor, depending on how political alliances shake out.

With one win and three runoffs, Democratic socialists could grow their coalition on City Council -- but would likely butt heads with the mayor.

Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough are headed to the runoff for mayor. Both are centrist candidates with free market-focused solutions to big issues like housing and homelessness.

Democratic socialist won't be able to count on a Lisa Calderón mayoral administration, as the candidate ended in third and missed out on the runoff again, so they will have to work with a mayor whom they might disagree with often.

Two Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) candidates also lost: Tony Pigford to Diana Romero Campbell in District 4, and Tiffany Caudill to incumbent Councilmember Kevin Flynn in District 2.

Still, voters in the city hoping for more DSA and progressive influence on Council still have some hope. Three candidates are heading to the June 6 runoff.

Shannon Hoffman beat out Noah Kaplan in a tight race for second place in District 10, and will compete in a runoff against incumbent Councilmember Chris Hinds. Incumbent Candi CdeBaca will compete in a runoff against Darrell Watson (in 2019, CdeBaca came in second and then won the runoff for District 9 against incumbent Albus Brooks).

And former RTD Board member Shontel Lewis also moved into first in the tight race for District 8, and will compete in a runoff against Brad Revare. Plus, Sarah Parady has just about wrapped up one of the two Council at-large seats.

The question remains how much sway DSA candidates could have if elected, since Council needs a nine-vote supermajority to override the mayor. In her first term, CdeBaca became known for often being the sole no-vote on policies voted through by Council. But she also collaborated with colleagues on legislation including wage theft protections for workers, decriminalizing jaywalking and efforts to prevent displacement from mobile homes.

"Growing up the way that we grew up, you're a minority and you get pretty used to what it feels like to be a minority voice. So just because you changed the context and you're a minority voice now on council, it doesn't change the feeling or the level of perseverance you have to have just to survive," CdeBaca said about the makeup of Council.

"My method to combating it is to just bring more of us in. If you can't change it through the people who are there, change the players. Change the players and then maybe we can change the game."

Regardless of how the runoffs shake out, there are also other progressives representing the city.

"Don't be distracted by the brand name, progressivism is alive and well on the Denver City Council," said outgoing at-large Councilmember Robin Kniech about the focus on DSA, compared to the dynamic of Council as a whole.

Serving three terms, Kniech approached progressive policy through working with the mayor's office and state leaders, while unaffiliated with groups like DSA. Looking at early election results, she thinks it means Denver voters want councilmembers who will take a similar approach, pushing for progressive policy while working with the mayor, who has more power.

Kniech pointed to Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez as an example. She was Kniech's sole endorsement and looks to have won the race for Council at-large.

"I think voters are looking for people who are progressive on issues and effectively able to govern," she said. "I think that people want someone who's progressive, but they also want someone who can work with others."

A lot of the familiar faces will return as most incumbents retained seats after running unopposed or by avoiding runoffs.

Incumbent Councilmembers Jamie Torres (District 3), Paul Kashmann (District 6) and Stacie Gilmore (District 11) all ran unopposed. With three other incumbents winning their seats without runoffs, it looks likely that about half of Council, or six out of 13 people, will be incumbents (that number could rise if CdeBaca and Hinds win their runoffs in June).

The last iteration of Council did not push back against the mayor too often, and with at least six incumbents, perhaps we could expect to see something similar. But with a new mayor, there's definitely some unknowns.

Here are the specifics:

District 2 faced the opportunity for some of the biggest change on Council, with incumbent Councilmember Kevin Flynn facing a challenge from Caudill and Chris Herr, who has made climate his focus. One of Flynn's main focuses is pushing back against "inappropriate redevelopment," so a candidate advocating for more density could have meant change for District 2 and Council. But in the end, Flynn won with almost 72% of the vote.

Like Flynn, incumbent Councilmember Amanda Sawyer has also cautioned against too much development in District 5. She looks likely to keep her seat without a run-off, with around 65% of the vote, compared with Michael Hughes' approximate 35%. Sawyer has also made transportation and traffic safety her focus, which she says she plans to continue in a future term.

In District 1, incumbent Councilmember Amanda Sandoval ended election night with around 82% of the vote against Ava Truckey's almost 18%-a win that will allow her to continue her focus on modernizing zoning and preserving neighborhoods in the face of gentrification.

We know some who will for sure not be back at City Council.

Councilmembers Debbie Ortega, Kniech and Christopher Herndon are term-limited, and Councilmembers Jolon Clark and Kendra Black decided not to run for reelection.

Council without Ortega will be the end of an era; she first joined City Council as a district representative in 1987. She was elected at-large in 2011, serving on Council for almost 28 years in total. Ortega has focused over the years on environmental and safety issues, most recently examining development around railroads (though her legislation on this has been postponed). But she also butted heads with Mayor Michael Hancock, who threatened a veto over a plastic bag ban, and vetoed flavored tobacco legislation she sponsored. She sought to take the office herself this election cycle, but landed in seventh with 4.48%.

Kniech's departure from Council leaves a hole for a progressive legislator who knows how to work with the mayor's office and state lawmakers. Kniech joined Council in 2011, and has spearheaded legislation like raising the minimum wage and initiatives around affordable housing and homelessness. Her only endorsement this election was Gonzales-Gutierrez, who brings legislative experience from the Colorado State House.

And here's what's yet to be determined about the next City Council.

Four races are headed to run-offs, with three DSA candidates and two incumbents. They'll determine how much of Council will stay the same, and how much of a voice Democratic socialists will have:

  • In District 7, Flor Alvidrez won with 38.43% of the vote, and will run against Nick Campion with 19.21% (though we will update if this changes).
  • In District 8, Lewis won with 35.63%, and will run against Revare with 33.55%
  • In District 9, incumbent CdeBaca won with 44.24%, and will run against Watson with 42.98%
  • In District 10, incumbent Hinds won with 35.62%, and will run against Hoffman with 27.01%

Read more about those races here.

Time will show the exact dynamics among council members and between them and whomever the new mayor will be. This all means Denverite will have plenty of work to do.  We'll keep covering the race, plus everything going on at City Hall after the runoff, so stick with us.

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