State Rep. Beth McCann easily snags Democratic nomination in Denver DA race

A woman will run the Denver District Attorney’s office for the first time in its history. Which woman, however, remains to be decided.

Rep. Beth McCann won enough votes tonight to snag the Democratic nomination for the office. As of this posting, she garnered 52.6 percent of the vote compared to Michael Carrigan’s 36 percent and Kenneth Boyd’s 11 percent.

“I’m thrilled with how this turned out,” McCann told The Independent. “It shows that hard work, experience and qualifications do count and that Denver Democratic voters really responded to that.”

She’ll face off in November’s general election against Helen Morgan, a chief deputy DA who has worked for 22 years in the DA’s office. Morgan is a lifelong Democrat who is running as an independent because, she says, party politics should have nothing to do with the job.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan position,” Morgan said.

Longtime Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey will be term-limited out of office in January. It’s a testament of his sway in the race – and his influence in city politics more generally – that the candidate he endorsed, senior deputy district attorney Kenneth Boyd, received the least amount of votes in today’s primary election. Morrissey was the target of an unsuccessful recall effort last year.

It’s also noteworthy that the candidate Mayor Michael Hancock and former Denver mayors Wellington Webb and Federico Pena favored for DA handily lost this evening. Corporate attorney and University of Colorado Regent Michael Carrigan had endorsements from all three mayors, as well as groups representing communities of color throughout the city. Of the three Democratic contenders, he was most critical of Morrissey and his record.

Although this year’s district attorney race has garnered more attention than any other in Denver history, Denverites were largely unengaged. McCann told The Independent that she found most voters knew very little about the race and were largely disinterested in the DA’s office.

“We had so much trouble getting people to focus on this race,” she said.

Morgan, for her part, said voters often mistake her for McCann.

“Odd, huh?” Morgan said. “We couldn’t be more different.”

Those differences will be fleshed out over the next four months as McCann and Morgan debate one-on-one about how best to lead an office that has come under fire for not criminally prosecuting any Denver police officers or sheriff’s deputies who have killed suspects or jail inmates on the job.

McCann has called for far more transparency about how those decisions are made. She also has called for an analysis of how the DA’s office and Denver’s justice system deal with race and racial profiling.

McCann used to serve as a deputy and chief deputy district attorney in Denver, and later as the city’s Safety Manager under former Mayor Wellington Webb and Chief Deputy Attorney General in the Colorado Attorney General’s office. She’s completing her fourth term representing east-central Denver in House District 8.

Morgan has distinguished herself in the DA’s office as a tough but fair prosecutor. She is lauded by both co-workers and members of the criminal defense bar for her work on mental health and drug addition issues. She has cited her current position in the DA’s office as a reason for refusing to weigh in on specific cases. She plans to take a leave of absence starting later this summer so she can campaign full time. Should she lose this fall, Morgan has said, she’d likely resign, saying it’s doubtful McCann would want her around.

McCann was outspent in the primary race by Carrigan, who raised $590,000 in contributions and loans compared to her $360,000.

Personal injury lawyer Frank “The Strong Arm” Azar funneled $50,000 into an independent expenditure committee working to elect Carrigan. That committee sent mailers to voters that slammed McCann for waffling on election issues. Even more noteworthy was the mailer’s especially unflattering photo of McCann.

That mailer may well have backfired. Women voters throughout the city – including some who had supported Carrigan – decried use of the yellow-tinted McCann pic as a raunchy campaign tactic. Older female voters were by far the most sought after voting block in the Denver Democratic primary, and likely gave McCann the boost she needed to win.

Photo credit: