What to make of an election in which the message for city council was “out with the old,” but the message for mayor was “more of the same.” So, I asked our Facebook community how it explains the mixed messages.
The consensus, not only on our Facebook page, was that Hancock defeated Jamie Giellis simply because she was a weak candidate. She failed to show she knew enough – or cared enough, given her failure to vote in several previous elections – to run the city.
But that outcome, readers and others said, in no way diminishes the larger message voters sent on May 7, when Hancock failed to win the 50% of the vote he needed to avoid a runoff. It was the same message voters sent on June 4, when they replaced the three sitting council members with people who have never held office and who have been sharply critical of Hancock’s handling of the city’s growth.
When I spoke Wednesday with Councilwoman-elect Amanda Sawyer, a political newcomer who ousted two-term Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman, she brought up residents’ complaints about the development and traffic in the district. This does not mean they, or she, for that matter, are anti-growth, she notes. It means they are anti-unplanned growth, growth with no mind to the consequences.
What she heard on the campaign trail, she says, was that Denverites wanted a council member focused on the integrity of their neighborhoods and the quality of life within them. “People are hungering for that.”
“I have three kids who are in DPS and on sports teams,” she told me. “People see me cheering my kids at the side of the pool during swim meets on Friday mornings. I’m on the soccer fields in Lowry and at the flag football games at Cranmer Park. We’re out eating dinner at our local restaurants and having coffee at our local coffee shops. People see I am part of the community and I think that’s really valuable.”
Sawyer is getting to something intangible but powerful here. She is speaking to the way in which the regular rhythm of a neighborhood or a community can reassure us of our place within it, the sense of being anchored and connected. She is also speaking to the fear that much of that connection is at risk.
Our neighborhoods have mushroomed skyward in dense clusters that churn with change. In the best cases, new development has injected block after block with vibrancy and optimism. In the worst, the seemingly ceaseless growth has outpaced, outthought, and outmaneuvered City Hall. Displacement and replacement have splintered long-standing and vital bonds. Ink Coffee posted a sign boasting of gentrifying Five Points in late 2017, but the controversy still came up in the council campaigns because people are still wounded by it. Native Denverites still remember a neighborhood called Auraria that became a cluster of college campuses with the same name. They still remember the old Curtis Park where for generations, extended family members lived next door to each other. And they know in these memories of histories swallowed whole that changes politicians sell as progress do not necessarily mean their progress. They rage at the expectation of their sacrifice and the assumption that lofts and co-working spaces for people other than themselves will achieve some greater good. They bristled at Hancock’s implication on the campaign trail that Denver will either keep growing as it has been or become “a dying city.”
If Tuesday’s results seem confusing, it may be because voters want a more balanced in-between. They envision a city led by people who know the conflicting impulses that inhabit the path forward, and who understand that Denverites need to believe there is still a place here for all who want one.