Development and growth dominated the latest debate of Denver mayoral candidates, much as it has through the entire campaign.
The four leading candidates also talked about taxes, improving poorer neighborhoods and who their favorite former Denver mayor was during the forum at the Denver Field House events venue on Federal Boulevard, sponsored by The Denver Post.
But time and again, the discussion at the Field House -- with its panoramic view of nearby Broncos Stadium at Mile High and the city -- kept returning to how Denver can best get a handle on the enormous growth it has experienced over the last decade.
When asked what role a neighborhood should play in determining what kind of development happens, Mayor Michael Hancock and his three leading challengers -- Lisa Calderon, Jamie Giellis and Penfield Tate III -- agreed that neighbors should have a substantial say.
Hancock, who is seeking a third four-year term in the May 7 city election, talked about how he would react back when he was a city councilman and developers came calling on him about their projects.
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“I would always remind them that the most important thing to me as a councilman and continues to be as mayor, is whether or not the community has been consulted and is along with you,” Hancock said.
“It doesn’t have to be overwhelming support,” he added. “But we want to know that the community’s input has been sought and that you listened to them and worked with them as part of your project.”
But the challengers, who have tried to make the election a referendum on the city’s growth and development, emphasized how much input neighborhoods should have.
“Neighborhoods need to be protected,” said Giellis, a former president of the River North Arts District. She said there are parts of the city – like RiNo – that could absorb growth because no one was displaced.
“We can’t keep growing if we haven’t invested in transit, worries about the environment and all the other things we need in our community,” she said.
Calderon, a professor of criminal justice at Regis University, said she is concerned about the direction in which the city is headed.
“I’m a proponent of resident-led development as opposed to politician-led development or the developer led development,” she said.
“It hard to trust that the same people who are funding the mayoral campaigns are actually going to listen to the people first,” she added. "And so, I would put the people first.”
Tate, a former state legislator, mocked what he saw as the kind of consulting that neighborhoods get from developers, taking a shot at the Hancock administration.
"We know that the problem we have with over-development in this city right now is because ... the way this administration approaches community engagement is a deal that’s cut in a back room,” Tate said.
"Then the developers and their consultants and their influencers flood the neighborhood and come to tell you what they’re about to do and how it’s going to be real good for you and you ought to grin and be happy because it’s stuff you really need, even though you didn’t know about it until they came to sell you on the plan," he added.
Asked which former Denver mayor they would try to emulate most, two of the candidates has a hard time narrowing it down to one. All four, however, cited former Mayor Federico Peña as one example.
Calderon said she admired how his work as a civil rights attorney. “And he came from the background of making sure that the people with the least voice were advocated for,” she said.
Giellis also cited Peña.
“You know, Mayor Peña came in as a young guy, not a lot of experience with city government, and broke the mold for Denver, and I think it’s time to break the mold again," she said.
Tate cited both Peña and former Mayor Robert Speer, who popularized the movement known as “The City Beautiful.”
“We need to focus on what the city looks like, how it feels like and how it moves us emotionally,” Tate said.
Hancock said he would emulate several mayors. “I’m a compilation,” he said, citing Peña, Speer and former mayors Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper.
Two other mayoral candidates -- Stephan "Chairman Seku" Evans and Kalyn Rose Heffernan -- are on the May 7 ballot but did not take part in Monday's debate.
The Post said it invited candidates with at least 200 campaign contributions and/or who had raised at least $50,000 for the campaign, which excluded Evans and Heffernan.