Amanda Sawyer first moved to District 5 in 2016 in search of a good place to raise her family. Now, she represents the district on the Denver City Council to make sure she advocates for all Denver families .
Sawyer, known as the councilwoman with purple hair, grew up in the mountains and attended the University of Colorado Boulder before moving away for over a decade, building her experience in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship and business strategy.
After returning to Colorado, she quickly took Denver by storm, unseating a two-term incumbent and former council president to earn her city council position in 2019.
Halfway through her first term on the council, Sawyer talked to The Denver Gazette about representing District 5 – comprised of the East Colfax, Hale, Hilltop, Lowry Field, Montclair, Washington-Virginia Vale and Windsor neighborhoods.
What made you want to become your district’s city council representative?
I’m a licensed attorney in Florida and Colorado and I also have my MBA. My husband and I opened a consulting firm and when I was doing some work for a client, I ran across a story about a development up the street from my house. When I started looking into it and asking why we would do that there, I ran into a lot of things that were really concerning to me. So, I said to my husband one day, “Do you think I should run for office?” And he said, “I think you’d be crazy to do it, but you totally should.” And I did and I won.
When I ran, I ran to be the voice of the families in our neighborhoods that people felt like were getting drowned out. I ran on a mission of bringing the voice of the people back to city council and city government. We live by four core values: transparency, accountability, customer service and good communication. We’re not perfect, but we try really hard to make sure we’re doing a good job.
How has your experience as a council member been so far?
I would describe this as the greatest, most wonderful, most horrible job I have ever had. It is such an honor to be in this role and to be the person who is representing my community, but these are extraordinary times and there are some really ugly, divisive narratives out there. That, I didn’t sign up for and my family certainly didn’t sign up for it. So that’s been an adjustment.
Every day is different. I’m always talking to someone new or doing something different. I’m constantly learning. It has been my challenge and greatest accomplishment to have earned the respect of my colleagues and coworkers because of the way I came into office, beating an incumbent who was well-liked and established and representative of the establishment. When I came into office it wasn't easy, but I’ve tried to keep my head down, do the work and live my mission and core values. And I think and hope I’ve been successful in doing that.
I wrote two of the ballot initiatives on the November ballot, 2E and 2F. 2E was council approval of mayoral appointees which is a transparency and accountability measure, and 2F was to modernize the charter and allow us to create a remote meetings policy. I am extremely proud of those, especially 2E. There was a lot of opposition towards it, people tried to make it something it wasn’t. There were thousands of dollars spent against it ... and I won anyway. That’s something I’m extremely proud of. That will be in Denver's charter long after I’m here, long after anyone who comes after me is here, and that’s a huge deal.
As a council member, what are your priorities for the future?
When I ran for office, I knocked on over 14,000 doors and what I heard was that there were three main concerns: development, traffic and crime. At the end of 2019, we sent a survey to the community and the concerns were the same but in a different order: traffic first, then crime and development. In 2020, we sent the same survey and it was: crime, traffic and development. Having this information allows me to be responsive to those needs.
Up in East Colfax, I wrote a grant with the District 2 police department commander for a pilot program that will put foot patrols on East Colfax between Monaco and Yosemite between 11th and 17th, which is an extremely high crime area. In 2020, that block area saw a 123% rise in violent person-on-person crime. East Colfax as a neighborhood had a murder rate of over 10% last year but it only makes up 1.5% of the population of Denver. I’ve been able to work with the police to try to find a balance between recognizing people feel over policed but also that there are these crime statistics and extraordinary concerns that we need to address.
When it comes to traffic, I took advantage of some vacancy savings that I had from last year and am working with (the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure) to do a traffic study of 8th Avenue from Colorado Boulevard to Quebec so we can figure out how to put in some traffic calming measures, some better crossings and look at data to see what we can do to enhance safety along that corridor.
And as we look at COVID-19 and the overwhelming number of people who are facing evictions — one in four people in Colorado are facing evictions right now — when the eviction moratorium finally ends, there’s going to be a lot of people in an extraordinary amount of pain. As a city, the money we spend on post-eviction services like homelessness and sheltering is astronomical. So, it makes sense to take care of our people upstream and do a better job of supporting them before they get evicted. So, I’m working with Councilwoman (Candi) CdeBaca on drafting a formal right to legal representation for evictions in Denver for people who make under 80% AMI. That will come to committee in mid-May.
Those are the things I'm working on that hopefully are making a big difference in our community. I want my legacy to be one of integrity, where I ran for office on my mission and operated my office under my core values. That the legislation I moved was responsive, the issues I worked on were responsive and that I did what I said I was going to do, which is represent my community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.