This is the fifth in a series of profiles of Denver mayoral candidates.
Kalyn Rose Heffernan’s campaign for Denver mayor started out as an April Fool’s prank.
It began when she and a group of friends posted a video on April 1, 2018. The video showed the friends carrying Heffernan in her wheelchair up the west steps of the state Capitol for a mock announcement.
“Day 1 – end the Urban Camping Ban!” she said to piped-in applause while speaking from a makeshift cardboard podium on her lap.
“Day 2 – it’s time for Denver to have rent control!” she said, to more piped-in applause and cheering.
The two-minute video, she said, was more an act of political theater than an actual campaign announcement.
Heffernan donned her “mayor’s outfit.” She drew a pencil-thin mustache across her upper lip.
And she sported a black bowler hat, similar to the kind former Denver Mayor Robert Speer used to wear back in the early 1900s when he was promoting “The City Beautiful.”
LISTEN to John C. Ensslin's interview with Kalyn Rose Heffernan below.
An artist, Heffernan even designed her own logo for the video – a rose instead of a hand in a clenched fist power salute.
Time went by and the video got about 3,000 views on YouTube.
And then something interesting happened, Heffernan said: Her friends talked her into doing the campaign for real.
“I’ve been asked to run for politics many times and the joke is always I can’t run for anything," said Heffernan, who was born with a disability called Osteogenesis imperfecta, which left her with brittle bones and short in stature.
“The reception was so good and big from the community that I felt like I had to jump in the race,” she added.
“I’m the only candidate rolling for mayor,” she added. “I’m not running for anything.”
This is her first bid for elective office, not counting when she was elected class president at Brown Elementary School.
As her website points out, she would be Denver’s first “queer disabled activist woman rolling for mayor.”
“I’ve always joked that I already am the mayor because I’m so recognizable and I’m in the community so often and I ride the bus,” she said. “So I’m already kind of the mayor.”
A sit-in at a Senator’s office
It’s been an uphill roll.
Several mayoral candidate forums have excluded Heffernan and fellow mayoral candidate Stephan “Chairman Seku” Evans, citing their lack of “viability” as candidates and the fact that they have unable to raised $50,000 in campaign contributions.
So far, Heffernan’s campaign has raised $4,087, some of which has been used to feed homeless people, she said.
She may be the only mayoral candidate, however, to field a contribution from one of the Flobots, a hip-hop rock band from Denver.
A musician herself, Heffernan is with Wheelchair Sports Camp, a band that started after she moved back to Denver from Los Angeles.
The band has been on hiatus during the campaign, except for taking part in a fundraiser/kickoff concert for Initiative 300, a ballot question that would repeal Denver urban camping band and assert the right of homeless people to live in public spaces.
April Fool’s prank or no prank, Heffernan said she seriously began considering running for mayor after she and a group of activists were arrested in June 2017 after a two-day sit-in at Sen. Cory Gardner’s Denver office a proposal to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act. The protestors chanted they would rather “got to jail than die without Medicaid.”
“I guess it’s been like a lot of community pushing me to do it,” Heffernan told Colorado Politics. “The requests and the push to go for office got bigger.”
“And then [when] my band was on tour in Albuquerque, we got on a conversation about the future of Denver and the Denver mayor," she added. “And I felt like I had to I guess. It became less of a choice.”
Shortly before an appearance at a recent forum on LGBTQ issues hosted by One Colorado, Heffernan advocated for requiring that developers set aside housing units for low-income residents.
“I would mandate every new development to provide more affordable units,” she said. “And I would prioritize the affordable units for people making under 30 percent of the average median income because right now our average median income does not reflect the general population of working-class people.”
And while advocating for Initiative 300, she said the homelessness problem in Denver is difficult to solve.
“You know it’s a pretty complicated problem because we don’t have housing right now and our shelters are very inaccessible and unsafe,” she said. “So, a lot of people would rather sleep outside than they would be in a shelter.”
“Most people experiencing homelessness have a disability of some sort. People who are dealing with PTSD or anxiety or are triggered easily can’t be in these places that are loud and unsafe,” she added. “So, there are many reasons why people are choosing and being forced to live outside.”
Heffernan said she has been protesting the urban camping ban since the city council adopted it in 2012 in response to the Occupy Denver encampment in Civic Center Park.
“As a person who uses public transportation and is in the streets a lot, these people aren’t very far removed from me,” Heffernan said.
“And me being an educator, I see my students and their families be threatened with homelessness every day. I actually have a student right now who is homeless,” she added. “So, you know, it’s really gross to me that we’ve disconnected ourselves from humanity.”
“To me this isn’t about money,” she added. “This is about humanity.”