Denver Councilwoman-elect Amanda Sandoval remembers a lesson she learned from her dad – legendary North Denver power broker Paul Sandoval – when she was in high school and working in the family restaurant.
Back then there was a homeless man living behind the restaurant in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood.
Every Monday morning Paul Sandoval would sit down with the man and ask him about what happened in the neighborhood while the restaurant was closed.
At the end of that conversation, Sandoval would give the man six tamales.
“One day I said, why do you do that pop? I don’t understand,” the daughter recalled.
“And he said, “Everybody’s important. Everybody plays a role in society. From the homeless person living behind the restaurant to the president of the United States,” she added.
“And the way you make them feel when they leave is the power that you have. That’s what you can do in life. Interact with people. When they walk away, how did you make them feel?
“Do I make them feel homeless? Or do I recognize his humanity?”
Her dad, a former state senator, died in 2012.
Amanda Sandoval says she thinks about her dad and that lesson as she prepares to represent District 1 in northwest Denver on the city council. The district also includes part or all of the Sunnyside, Highland, Sloan's Lake and West Colfax neighborhoods.
“That is a lesson that I have taken with me throughout my entire life,” she told Colorado Politics.
Sandoval emerged as the top vote-getter in a crowded field of seven candidates, vying to replace Rafael Espinoza, who chose not to run for another term. She formerly worked as Espinoza’s chief of staff.
She then defeated Michael Somma, the legislative liaison for the Denver Fire Department, in the June 4 runoff.
The crowded field of people wanting the job is a sign of discontent among the district’s residents, Sandoval said.
“I think the reason why we had seven candidates is people are hungry for democracy,” she said. “People feel disenfranchised, they feel their voice is not being represented.”
Concerns over explosive growth and development in the city was high atop residents’ concerns, Sandoval said. But so were other issues like transit, open space, parks and transportation, she said.
Sandoval said she thinks that discontent about not being heard may have been factor in the defeat of three incumbents in other council districts.
She recalled how unusual it was when Espinoza defeated an incumbent to win the seat in 2015.
Looking back, she wondered if that was a sign of a changing political landscape in Denver.
“When you have a seat as a council person, it’s not the old days where you can just sit back,” she said. “You have to really earn that … and make sure that you’re thinking outside of the box with what your constituency feels is needed.”
But she’s also been pondering why that discontent over development did not extend to Mayor Michael Hancock’s successful re-election to a third and final term.
“I feel that a lot of people, as unhappy as they were with some of the development going on, … they also felt like Denver was booming,” she said.
“And they also felt that Denver was successful in accomplishing a lot of economic diversity,” she added. “People were nervous about having that change.”
After she is sworn in on July 15, Sandoval said she has three specific goals.
• She wants to relocate the district office from the city offices in downtown Denver to a location within the district.
• She wants to host a multi-generational town hall that will help her shape the direction of her office over the next eight years.
• And she wants to see future development subject to a planning tool called an “overlay” a way for the city to extract more concessions on the details of a finished building.
She is also hoping to work with her council colleagues to change the way developers help create affordable housing. She would like to see them build affordable units on projects of a certain size.
She also hopes to approach the job with her father’s old advice in mind.
“Just meeting people where they are and doing my best not to judge them,” she said. “And finding the common denominator that we have in common and … working towards that.”