Denver City Council District 9: The candidates and the issues

Incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson will face off for the District 9 seat, which covers North Denver, and the top two issues are housing and public safety.
11 min. read
Darrell Watson (left) and District 9 Councilmember Candi Cdebaca look likly to head to a runoff.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Out of the three City Council races taking place June 6, the District 9 race between Incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson may be the most intense.

CdeBaca is often seen as the lone wolf on the dais in terms of what bills she brings forward and what bills she votes "no" on. CdeBaca says her votes are based on what she's heard from her constituents and while people may view her as being alone, she feels that she has community support. However, standing steadfast has gained her adversaries throughout the city.

The opposition to Cdebaca is currently backing Watson.

While the two may go back and forth with each other at debates, they actually share some similarities when it comes to the district's biggest issues.

Here's a breakdown of the district, the candidates and the area's top issues.

City Council District 9.
Data Source: Denver Elections Di

What's District 9?

District 9 covers North Denver and experienced the most change during the redistricting process. The current neighborhoods in the area are a portion of City Park, Clayton, Cole, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Globeville, Skyland, Whittier.

The district gained North Park Hill and South Park Hill but it lost Auraria, Central Businesses District, City Park West, Union Station and the other portion of City Park.

CdeBaca was against the new map saying that its design gerrymandered the districts. Several council members drew up proposed maps for redistricting, leaving residents with six maps to comment on.

The city hosted six meetings and ultimately heard from 389 people representing 54 neighborhoods. The map which eventually won was the second-most popular option to residents. CdeBaca's map had the highest support amongst residents.

Who are the candidates?

Darrell Watson

Watson currently serves on the Housing Stability Strategic Advisors board. He's also the board chair of the Denver Park Trust and previously served as a co-chair on the Denver Game Plan for a Healthy City task force, which created a 20-year plan for the city's parks and recreation system.

Watson previously ran twice for council. Once in 2007, when he lost to Carla Madison and again in 2011, when he dropped out of the race due to a cancer diagnosis.

Incumbent Candi CdeBaca

CdeBaca is the first queer Latina and Democratic Socialist to sit on the dais.

Prior to becoming a city councilmember, CdeBaca was a social worker and community activist. She co-founded the GES Community Land Trust, now called Tierra Colectiva, and Project VOYCE, a youth empowerment organization. She also headed the Cross Community Coalition, a group that strongly opposed the Interstate 70 expansion.

CdeBaca defeated incumbent Albus Brooks in the 2019 election. Defeating an incumbent is a feat only five councilmembers have accomplished in 36 years.

District 9 incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson debate at Geotech Environmental Equipment's headquarters in Clayton. May 4, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite


CdeBaca was outpent spent in her 2019 election, and this time is no different. According to city data, about $554,335 has been spent in opposition to CdeBaca.

Out of all the candidates in the city council races, Watson has raised the most money with $393,657. Many of Watson's donors are developers or city/neighborhood influencers such as Dick Monfort, owner of the Rockies, Andrew Feinstein, the CEO and Managing Partner for EXDO Development, and several partners with Westside Investment Partners, the developer that owns the Park Hill Golf Course.

Several old and new councilmembers have also made max donations of $200 to Watson, including former City Councilmember Albus Brooks and current member Kendra Black.

CdeBaca has raised $247,739. Some of her max donors include political leaders such as State Representative Elisabeth Epps and newly elected At-Large City Councilmember Sarah Parady. Some developers have also contributed to CdeBaca's campaign including members of Zeppelin Development.

In CdeBaca's last election, about 20 people gave more than the previous set limit of $1,000 to her campaign. CdeBaca didn't face any penalties because the violation was discovered past the one-year enforcement date.

In all, the 20 donors gave close to $5,600 more than the limit. CdeBaca raised about $145,000 during that campaign, while her opponent, Brooks, raised close to $400,000.

Dynamics & Endorsements

The District 9 race is essentially between an establishment-backed challenger, Watson, and an outlier incumbent, CdeBaca. That's evident in who is funding the candidates and endorsing them.

Also telling is where the support for each candidate came in April's election. CdeBaca won 44.24% or 7,398 votes. Watson was in a close second with 42.93% of the vote.

Data Source: Denver Elections Division

In breaking down where each candidate won, CdeBaca won the north portion of the district that includes Elyria-Swansea, which had a fairly low turnout rate. CdeBaca is from the area and constituents there say they support her ideology when it comes to affordable housing and development.

CdeBaca is also backed by the Working Families Party, UFCW Local 7, Jane Fonda Climate PAC and many others. Individually, former Mayor Wellington Webb, former State Senator Penfield Tate III, State Representative Javier Mabrey and former mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón have all endorsed CdeBaca.

Watson mainly won in the southern portion of the district, which includes Five Points. The area, similar to the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, are undergoing major developments, but Five Point is a part of Downtown, where many residents and area stakeholders have opposed CdeBaca's ideas.

Individual endorsements for Watson include former Mayor Federico Peña, former Colorado Governor Roy Romer and current City Councilmembers Debbie Ortega, Chris Herndon and Jolon Clark. (Ortega, Herndon and Clark will not be a part of the incoming council.) Watson is also being backed by Denver Fire Fighters - IAFF Local 858, Denver Metro Association of Realtors Board of Directors and YIMBY Denver.

Both candidates did well in the new areas of District 9, which include the Park Hills.

What are the Issues?


From Five Points, to the Park Hills, to GES, housing is a big issue for District 9 residents. More specifically, the issues are around a lack of affordable housing, a concern of gentrification and displacement and the need for more homeownership.

Several affordable housing projects are in the works in two areas where residents say they need it: Globeville and Five Points. The latter recently saw the completion of Charity House, a 36-unit affordable housing complex available only to the city's poorest residents, including people who have experienced homelessness or were formerly incarcerated.

In Globeville, 4995 Washington will be a new mixed-use site in partnership with Denver's Department of Housing Stability and Globeville Redevelopment Partners, a group consisting of Evergreen Real Estate Group, Rocky Mountain Communities, and the GES Coalition. There will be at least 170 income-restricted units for those making 30% to 80% of the area median income, which is between $31,650 and $94,950 for a family of three.

Watson and CdeBaca agree that affordable housing is at the center of many issues surrounding District 9, but where they differ is on how they will achieve adding more income-restricted housing to the pool.

District 9 incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson debate at Geotech Environmental Equipment's headquarters in Clayton. May 4, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Watson is a supporter of several policies brought forth by the Department of Housing Stability, which makes sense as a member of the Strategic Advisors board. Watson said the Expanding Housing Affordability policy was a good first step in ensuring that working families have access to housing.

The policy mandates that developers building multifamily projects with 10 or more units must create 8 to 15% of income-restricted housing for households making between 60% and 90% of the area median income -- currently, between $56,592 and $84,888 for a family of three.

Watson also voiced his support for HOST's proposed prioritization policy, which provides "priority access" to affordable housing for those who have been displaced or who are in danger of being displaced.

"[These policies] began within the Department of Housing Stability and our board that I was founding chair of," Watson said. Watson added that the focus of these policies are on middle housing for teachers and nurses, as well as stable housing.

CdeBaca voted against the Affordability policy stating that the mandated number of income-restricted units weren't enough and the AMI levels weren't low enough.

She wants to focus on housing for the lowest AMI tiers, which she says is the city's greatest need. But she would also like to move past AMI housing policies. CdeBaca says forming housing policies around AMI levels will ultimately not work because every year AMI levels fluctuate, causing rent levels to rise. CdeBaca would like to see stronger protections for renters including social housing and rent stabilization.

A political mailer some Denverites received in January 2023.
Megan Verlee/CPR News

Affordable housing was the topic of a mailer sent out in January, with no note of who paid for or sent the ad, pointing out CdeBaca's "no" vote on the Expanding Housing Affordability policy. CdeBaca said the mailer provided no context to her voting tenure because, while she voted no on that policy, she has voted yes on other affordable housing projects.

"I've supported over 4,000 units of affordable housing at the deepest levels of affordability and most permanent levels of affordability," CdeBaca said. "There is a fundamental problem with AMI-based affordability, and I have spoken out on that consistently, and we'll continue to speak out on it consistently because we're tying affordability, for the most marginalized people in our city, to the median income in a changing city."

Public Safety

Both candidates said public safety is an umbrella term for crime, mental and physical health, as well as assisting the unhoused.

Again, CdeBaca and Watson agree that in order to address rising crime, the city has to look at it from a public safety standpoint. All aspects of residents feeling safe fall under that umbrella.

Watson said the first step is to have a collaborative relationship with the Denver Police Department, which includes working with DPD on reform measures, bettering community relationships and ensuring the department has what it needs to protect citizens and solve crime, including property crime such as car thefts.

"Our communities are safer if we are able to have police officers on our streets or in our communities that actually look like us, that support us and that are also part of the community," Watson said. "I support making sure that we have criminal justice reform...that also takes into consideration working collaboratively with police for those outcomes because there is no way we can actually reform the Denver Police without the police being at the table."

District 9 incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson debate at Geotech Environmental Equipment's headquarters in Clayton. May 4, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Watson said other steps include expanding the STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) program to deal with mental health challenges on the street, provide funding to Denver Health so they can also work on mental and physical health challenges and building a relationship with the Denver Public School Board to make sure schools are safe.

CdeBaca agrees with the latter portion of Watson's steps. She's already worked on expanding STAR and a recent ordinance to decriminalize jaywalking, which frees up DPD to focus on other crimes. She added that public safety as a whole includes substance abuse services, mental health services. To go further, she says public health also involves environmental issues, transportation and housing.

CdeBaca said to truly solve the issue of crime and ensure public safety, the city needs to look at why a person commits crime.

"The root causes of crime are going unaddressed and the root cause of crime is directly connected to the economy," CdeBaca said. "We have this growing wealth and income divide, so people are consequently more desperate, more hopeless and are resorting to crime either to survive or because they've given up... [We need to] understand root causes versus symptoms because I think that they get convoluted... If we're going to solve the problem, focusing on the symptom is probably not actually going to solve the problem."

CdeBaca added that looking more deeply into data surrounding crime could also help the city reach the root of the issue. Is that person a repeat offender? What is the offense? Where is the offense occurring?

Location is important, CdeBaca said, because places like downtown and the airport will always be hotbeds for crime because of visitors, transients and the access these places have.

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