Denver City Council: Incumbents sputter, Latinas soar

Challengers ousted all three incumbents in Tuesday's runoff

Candi CdeBaca beams among supporters during her watch party. (Photo by Austin Fleskes)

In an apparent a rebuke of the status quo in a city with serious growing pains, all three incumbent City Council members lost their seats in Tuesday’s election. And when the new council is seated, five of the 13 members will be Latinas, a historic first.

“That is monumental,” said Jamie Torres, who won the westside’s District 3 seat against Veronica Barela. “I’m fighting back tears. It’s huge, and just being a part of that wave and seeing an unprecedented number of Latinas and Latinos run is inspirational.”  Latinos make up about one-third of Denver’s population.

District 1’s new city councilwoman, Amanda Sandoval, pronounced the night “historic,” noting that June 4 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

District 9

In probably the most closely watched — and perhaps the ugliest — council races, final unofficial results from the Denver Elections Division had challenger Candi CdeBaca with 52.4% of the vote and incumbent Councilman Albus Brooks with 47.6%. The district includes historic neighborhoods of north-central Denver that long suffered from disinvestment and now are battling gentrification and displacement. The tension that comes when revitalization threatens to slide into a wholesale remaking of communities was a flashpoint in the race.

Brooks was seeking his third and final term and has been among the names of possible future mayoral contenders. CdeBaca has been one of the most outspoken community organizers fighting against the reconstruction and widening of I-70 through the Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, which are among the most polluted in the city.

At her election party, a chant went up with the first results.

“Show me what community looks like!” shouted volunteer Elisabeth Epps.

“This is what community looks like,” the crowd cheered in response.

“Show me what democracy looks like!”

““This is what democracy looks like!”

“Show me what victory looks like!”

“This is what victory looks like!”

In a speech to supporters, CdeBaca said: “When we show up for ourselves, we have power.”

Brooks, gathered Tuesday night with family and friends at Dunbar Kitchen in Five Points just a few blocks from the CdeBaca celebration, said he knew it was going to be a tight race. “Hats off to Candi’s team. They worked really hard. We worked really hard.”

On the referendum on his performance: “I just think District 9 is under incredible transformation. Anyone who helps lead that transformation, you’re gonna get a mixed bag, a mixed review.”

District 1

Growth and the challenges that come with it, including the lack of affordable housing and clogged roads, are also at the forefront of the District 1 council race in the northwest corner of the city, where incumbent councilman Rafael Espinoza did not seek reelection.

Amanda Sandoval, perhaps best known as the daughter of the late Colorado lawmaker Paul Sandoval, a north Denver institution, took an early lead against Mike Somma, a Denver firefighter and also a longtime northsider. The unofficial final returns showed Sandoval with 66.6% of the vote to Somma’s 33.4%.

Sandoval, speaking in the midst of her celebration, said “It takes a village. I’ve said that from the very beginning and I’m just proud to be part of this village.”

Asked what set her apart from Somma, she said: “Throughout the campaign, I continued to talk about the policy, continued to stay positive and I just talked from my heart. I know northwest Denver, I know the people. I know the issues.”

Were her dad still living she said, he would have already had poll data in hand and called the race. “He would have been, ’S—, I knew it.’” she said, laughing. And then, she said, he would have told her not to drink too much tonight.

 

District 5

Across town in east Denver and the tree-lined, lush single-family district that includes Hale, Montclair, and Hilltop, political newcomer Amanda Sawyer defeated two-term incumbent Mary Beth Susman, 58.2% to 41.8% (as of the 1:50 a.m. count). Susman called Sawyer earlier in the evening to concede.

“It is official, I will be the next District 5 …” Sawyer began her victory speech Tuesday, but her words were drowned out by the cheers of the crowd in a scene captured on Facebook. “Holy cow! This is real,” she continued, fanning her face with her hands. Her victory, she told the crowd “was about you, the people who live in the neighborhoods, the people who asked for a new representative, the people who wanted and were ready for change.”

Here, too, the race revolved largely around what neighborhoods should look like, how they maintain their integrity and sense of community when housing is in short supply. 

This was the only council race in which an incumbent finished behind a challenger in the May election.

District 10

District 10 City Council candidate Chris Hinds with a supporter Tuesday night, June 4, 2019. (Photo by Austin Fleskes)
District 10 City Council candidate Chris Hinds with a supporter Tuesday night, June 4, 2019. (Photo by Austin Fleskes/The Colorado Independent)

District 10 sprawls from the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods in the Country Club and Cherry Creek to North Capitol Hill, one of the densest neighborhoods in the city. Challenger Chris Hinds, who lives in the northern side of the district, was facing an uphill battle against Councilman Wayne New, who is seeking a second term and has staunch support from the southern half of his district. This was a nail-biter, but in the end, Hinds pulled off a 53.4% to 46.6% victory.

Both cited housing affordability, transportation needs and homelessness as the district’s top issues.

Hinds, who put his cell phone number on his campaign materials and website and handed it out freely in forums, answered a call from The Independent, just before 9 p.m. Tuesday. He sounded pumped up, saying that based on the votes so far — and equally important, where those votes have come from — “we’re feeling pretty good… What’s left now is the area [New] did not capture on May 7 in the northern part of the district.”

Outside the mayor’s race, Hinds said the results so far reinforce what he said he heard throughout the campaign, that Denverites are concerned about the city’s direction, about who wields power and about who is shut out.

“In general, people are saying we need to make sure we grow, but grow in a way that makes sense for the city. Government is supposed to represent the people, not special interests and wealthy developers.”

Should he win, Hinds said, the challenge will be to unite the entire district. “It’s obviously a very close election, so the question is how do we cross that divide, and I think that divide is Cherry Creek and the Country Club versus the rest of the district. But I have made it clear I am here to represent the entire district.”

District 3

And finally, back across town, to the city’s heavily Latino westside. This was City Councilman Paul Lopez’s district, who was term-limited. Jamie Torres, director of the city’s office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and a first-time candidate, is in a tough battle against Barela, a community leader who long headed Newsed, a community development corporation. The district is one of the last bastions of affordable housing and includes many neighborhoods identified by the city as under threat of gentrification.

Torres took 57.4% percent of the vote to Barela’s 42.6%.

In a conversation earlier in the evening, Torres was overcome with emotion, uncertain of how the race would play out, but moved by what her run has meant to her family.

“It hasn’t settled in, the gravity of what I am doing, she says. “The representation I am giving to my family, the example to my nephews and nieces. No one in my family has ever run before. I was the first to go to college. This is all new ground. That’s starting to hit me, no matter what the outcome is, what we’ve been able to do is really powerful.”

 

Austin Fleskes and Alex Burness contributed to this report.

Tina is The Colorado Independent's managing editor. She was a city columnist for the late great Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. She left Denver for Richmond, Virginia in 2012, where she worked as a news editor at the city's alternative newspaper, Style Weekly, and its premiere city mag, Richmond Magazine. She was also a staff writer for the Washington Post and its Storyline public policy/narrative journalism project. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She's a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.

1 COMMENT

  1. Unmentioned race — Denver Clerk & Recorder. 140,000 votes cast, and a margin of about 250 in the update I saw this morning. Termed-out councilman Paul López passed Peg Perl in the most recent count.

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