Denver City Councilwoman-elect Candi CdeBaca said she believes the five new council members elected this spring have the potential to change the dynamic between the governing body and the mayor’s office.
“I sure hope so,” CdeBaca told Colorado Politics.
“I think that all of us really ran on the need for checks and balances,” she said. “And so, I hope to see our council really strengthen its backbone against the mayor to make sure there is some accountability.”
CdeBaca, a social worker from the Swansea neighborhood, defeated incumbent Albus Brooks in the June 4 runoff election to represent city council District 9, which includes part or all of downtown Denver and the Five Points, River North, Cole, City Park, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.
Brooks, one of three incumbents who lost their seats, was a close ally of Mayor Michael Hancock. The two men went door-to-door campaigning in the district.
CdeBaca’s family has deep roots in Swansea. She lives in a house that once belonged to her great-grandmother. She has lived in different houses on the same corner for most of her life.
She credits that community for her upset win over Brooks, who narrowly finished first in the May 7 general election contest in a field of four candidates.
“We did with people what they do with money,” she said, noting that her opponent had raised more than double the amount of contributions raised by her campaign.
CdeBaca said her experience as a social worker and a community activist led her to get into the race.
“I recognize that when we didn’t necessarily have all the resources that the city is saying that we have,” she said. “Or the problems were much bigger or more challenging than the city was letting on.”
“I felt like I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer,” she added. “I felt compelled to run and especially because, you know, most people who we had asked to run for years, they didn’t feel that it was possible to unseat an incumbent.”
“And I’m the kind of person who, I take on the impossible. And it’s a consistent habit of mine,” she said.
When asked about the anti-incumbent trend of the city council races versus the mayoral race where Hancock won a third term, CdeBaca said she did not think voters were sending a mixed message.
“Voters were very clear on May 7 [the general election] that they wanted a change in Denver,” CdeBaca said, noting than Hancock won the general by less than 39% of the vote in a field of six candidates.
“What I see happening with the mayoral race was that we just didn’t have a [challenger] that made the jump worth it,” she added.
“You know, my grandma used to always to say, ‘Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire,” she said. “We know that Denver does not want the mayor that we have. Denver’s stuck with the mayor that we have because we didn’t have a better option.”
The varied nature of District 9, with some 23,000 mostly apartment-dwelling newcomers downtown and longtime residents in Globeville, called for different kinds of campaigning.
CdeBaca said she relied mostly on flyers mailed to downtown residences because it was not easy to go door-to-door to their multistory apartment buildings.
But now that she’s representing both ends of the district, she does not see much of a disparity in the kinds of people who live there.
She said it’s a misconception to think that people in her old Swansea neighborhood are so different from the newcomers who live downtown.
“When I started the campaign, I had that fear that it would be too many opposing interests, too many different desires,” she said.
“And what I found throughout the campaign is the really everybody has the same desires and concerns,” she added. “People wanted to be part of a community. People wanted the power to shape the community around them. And they wanted to feel powerful.”
“The things that they are dealing with are very different. But there are some common themes,” she continued. “The housing crisis is affecting everybody. The cost of living affects everybody. Traffic and pollution affect everybody. And transparency and accountability affect everybody.”
“I’m proud to have been elected by the percent that we were elected by because what it really shows me is that our message resonated. … People want power in the city to shape the city we’re building,” she said. “So that’s where I think we can find common ground across the neighborhoods.”