Hancock and Giellis will face June runoff for Denver’s mayoral seat

Initiative 301 to decriminalize 'shrooms passes. Voters rejected Initiative 300 to lift Denver's urban camping ban.

A ballot going into a ballot box in Colorado (Photo by Alex Burness)

Denver’s incumbent Mayor Michael Hancock will face a June 4 runoff election against RiNo redeveloper and political newcomer Jamie Giellis.

Hancock drew 39% of the vote and Giellis drew 25% as of the release of final, unofficial results late Wednesday afternoon. The two-term mayor failed to glean enough support to pull him over the 50 percent margin that he or any of his five challengers needed to win the seat without a runoff.

“The people of Denver have made it loud and clear that they want a change in leadership,” Giellis told The Independent Tuesday night. “The big challenge going forward will be to unite all the candidates in the race. I started tonight by making phone calls in hopes that we can do that.”

Those phone calls were to Lisa Calderon, who drew 18% of the vote; Penfield Tate with 15%; Kalyn Rose Heffernan with 2%; and Stephan “Seku” Evans with less than 1%.

Hancock is trying to frame a potential Giellis mayorship as a step backward.

“For the next 28 days, voters will now have a clear choice: Keep moving the city forward, so we can do something extraordinary together. Now is not the time to pause our progress and turn back the clock,” he told his supporters Tuesday evening.

Ballots for the runoff election will be mailed on May 20 and due back to the Election Division by June 4.

About 44% of registered voters cast their ballots in Tuesday’s election. That’s 15% higher than in 2015, when Denver last had a mayoral election.

Initiated Ordinance 300 to lift Denver’s urban camping ban lost with a resounding 81% no-vote.

Initiated Ordinance 301, which would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, claimed a narrow victory with 50.6% of the vote. Denver is the first city in the U.S. to take this step. A statement from the mayor’s office said Hancock respects the decision of the voters and the Denver Police Department will enforce the law accordingly.

Here are returns in other races: 

  • Denver clerk and recorder: Paul Lopez at 37%, Peg Perl at 33%, and Sarah McCarthy at 30%. As it stands, Lopez and Perl would face a runoff.
  • City Auditor Tim O’Brien had no challenger and was elected to a second term
  • At-large city council members: Incumbent Councilwoman Debbie Ortega is the top vote-getter with 36% and incumbent Councilwoman Robin Kniech is the second top vote-getter at 28%. There will be no runoffs for the at-large seats.
  • Council District 1: Top vote-getters are Amanda Sandoval at 31% and Mike Somma at 17%. They will face a runoff.
  • Council District 2: Councilman Kevin Flynn ran unopposed and was re-elected
  • Council District 3: Top vote-getters are Jamie Torres at 40% and Veronica Barela at 36%, both likely to face a runoff.
  • Council District 4: Kendra Black beat Colleen Zahradnicek with 78% of the vote and was re-elected.
  • Council District 5: Top vote-getters are Amanda Sawyer at 41% and incumbent Mary Beth Susman with 36%. They’ll face a runoff.
  • Council District 6: Paul Kashmann ran unopposed and was re-elected
  • Council District 7: Jolon Clark ran unopposed and was  re-elected
  • Council District 8: Top vote-getters are Chris Herndon with 51% and Blair Taylor with 20%. Herndon, the incumbent, was re-elected and will face no runoff because he took home more than 50% in the final vote count.
  • Council District 9: Top vote-getters are Albus Brooks with 45% and Candi CdeBaca with 43%. There will be a runoff in that race.
  • Council District 10: Top vote-getters are Wayne New with 39% and Chris Hinds with 30%. There will be a runoff.
  • Council District 11: Stacie Gilmore is leading Christine M. Alonzo with 74% of the vote and was re-elected.

Denver’s strong-mayor form of government gives the mayor’s office power to set the budget and to veto laws passed by the city council. Hancock has held the seat since 2011, and hoped for an easy win tonight without having to face a June 4 runoff for his third and final four-year term. 

The mayor’s race has been widely seen as a referendum on Hancock’s eight years running the city and managing its explosive growth. His fans credit him with helping Denver achieve unprecedented economic gains, while his detractors – including the five candidates who’ve been vying to unseat him – say he has been a poor champion of lower- and middle-income families, neglecting the need for affordable housing and allowing developers to move too quickly gentrifying wide swaths of the city. They’ve also criticized what many describe as his “pay-to-play” style of governance and disregard for civil rights and government transparency. Those issues, as well as a controversy involving him sexting a female police officer who was assigned to his security duty, likely will come up in the runoff.

“Denver’s success is hard earned, and while there have been challenges, it’s a record I’m more than happy to defend,” Hancock said Tuesday night.

Giellis, for her part, helped develop Denver’s RiNo Art District, an area booming with new breweries and apartments. She blames Hancock for poor development choices and wants the city to invest more in housing. In a runoff against Hancock, she’s likely to face criticism for having courted Republican voters, for failing to vote in several previous municipal elections, and for apparent hypocrisy in calling to “stand up to developers” when she has made a living representing development interests. She’s also likely to face scrutiny of her call to build a trolly system in Denver.

“Denver wants a fresh start and a new leader with new solutions to the problems we face as a city,” said the candidate who has spent months touring Denver’s neighborhoods in a 1970s-era school bus driven by her dad from Minnesota.

Although all four of the other mayoral contenders have said anybody but Hancock would be an improvement for the city, it remains unclear to what extent – if any – they will support Giellis.

Calderón, an activist and educator who has co-chaired the Colorado Latino Forum, has been an outspoken critic of Hancock and accused his administration of retaliating against her by ending her nonprofit group’s contract to provide reentry services for Denver parolees. She, more than the other mayoral contenders, has openly sparred with Giellis at public forums. 

Tate, a former state representative and senator, made gentrification a top issue of his campaign. He told The Independent on Tuesday that he has been struck by “the level of anger… and disfactisfaction” in the city. “It’s beyond palpable. When you’re on their front stoop, (people) don’t mind giving you the unvarnished truth. People are pissed off” about Hancock’s leadership “and the lack of ethical standards,” he said.

Heffernan is a human rights activist and rapper who put improving access for disabled people and ending Denver’s urban camping band at the top of her platform. Evans is a former black panther who has called for “burning down our system” of city government.

Hancock has dominated the fundraising haul this election cycle, hauling in much of his support from real estate developers. He brought in more than $2.1 million, compared to Giellis’s $506,000, Tate’s $302,000 and Calderón’s $122,000.

The race is non-partisan, but Hancock, Calderón, Giellis and Tate identify as Democrats. The last Republican to win election as mayor of Denver was Richard Batterton (R) in 1959.

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