The Indy 500: Team of Rivals (emphasis on rivals)

In a city whose political rhetoric generally is limited to rote sound bites, these challengers have been forcing each other to talk.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new twist in Denver’s mayoral race: That Lisa Calderon and Penfield Tate – the third- and forth-highest vote-getters in last week’s municipal election – are backing political newcomer Jamie Giellis in her bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Michael Hancock.

The “Team of Rivals,” as the trio is billing itself, gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning for a unity rally during which they all sang each other’s praises in the lead-up to the June 4 runoff. When Giellis needed to step aside because of heat exhaustion (it was a scorcher), Calderon and Tate kept the rally going as her proxies as if she had been their best buddy forever.

In the warmth and fuzziness of their new political alliance, it would be easy to overlook that, until last week, the rivalry among them – particularly between Calderon and Giellis – was not just fierce, but also personal and at times caustic.

Take, for example, the exchange between the two at The Colorado Independent’s “No Bullsh*t Mayoral Debate” on April 25 (video 1 hour 18 min). Calderon asked Giellis why she had treated a Healing the Hood event – which sought to address issues around gang violence – as a “photo op.” Calderon noted that she had lost a friend to gang violence in Park Hill and that that loss helped spur her political activism.

“I’ve done the work in my community around trying to reduce gang violence… What have you done to reduce gang violence before you went to that park to take a photo with folks whose lives are impacted, sometimes tragically, around those issues?” she asked.

“Do you know that I was invited to the park?” Giellis responded.

“That was not my question,” Calderon shot back.

“It wasn’t a photo opp,” Giellis started, explaining who invited her.

“My question is what have you done…” Calderon interrupted.

“I will answer your question, I’ll answer your question but I’m gonna clarify the statement first, Lisa. So don’t put words in my…” Giellis said.

“I asked you a question. I asked you a question,” Calderon kept pressing.

“You’re not great at answering questions, either,” Giellis responded.

The moderator (yours truly) reminded them, “Hey guys, you’re wasting your time…”

But the two kept sniping at and speaking over each other, with Giellis finally saying she went to the event to listen.

“That’s what leaders do. I can’t have been in everybody’s shoes. I’ve never been in a wheelchair, but I understand Kalyn,” she said of Kalyn Rose Heffernan, one of the candidates on the stage.

“I’ve never had anybody impacted by gang violence, but I need to listen to people who have,” Giellis continued. “I’ve never been on the streets. But I’ll work with people on the streets. It’s my job to show up and listen. I didn’t ask for my photo to be taken. ….”

“You answered my question,” Calderon said, when Giellis finished speaking. “Nothing.”

Clearly, these are not women likely to become close anytime soon.

Nor do they need to.

I was struck that evening, as I was at their rally today by how tough each is in her own way, and how determined they both were to be heard in a race for a seat that has never been held by a woman.

Beyond gender, I am also struck by what Giellis, Calderon and Tate – as well as Heffernan, who has decided not to sing kumbaya with the team of rivals – have achieved this election cycle. In a city whose political rhetoric generally is limited to a rote sound bite from the mayor or press release from his staff, these rivals have been forcing each other to talk about messy, emotional issues like race and privilege and inequality with a kind of candor and urgency that this moment in Denver requires.

My hope is that they’ll prod Hancock do the same.


  1. Two terms are enough. He’s done alright but not knock it out of the park, we NEED him to be here! great. Time to give someone else a shot and hopefully someone who’ll have legs beyond this office. Hancock isn’t going on to higher office,

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