The latest Denver mayoral debate between incumbent Michael Hancock and challenger Jamie Giellis turned testier and more personal Tuesday as the runoff race entered its final two weeks.
In the televised debate, hosted by KUSA-9News and sponsored by Colorado Politics, Giellis, an urban planner and former president of the River North Arts District, accused Hancock of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that resulted in the city paying out $1.5 million in legal settlements over the last eight years.
Hancock, a former city councilman who is seeking a third and final four-year term as mayor, accused Giellis of being culturally insensitive to minorities, and of not possessing the kind of community roots and experience that previous Denver mayors have brought to the job.
The hour-long debate saw both candidates on the defensive under questioning from the moderators -- 9News anchor Kyle Clark and political reporter Marshall Zelinger -- and this reporter.
Giellis admitted under questioning that she had no new evidence to back up a May 19 tweet sent out under her campaign Twitter account that claimed $1.5 million settlements were paid to “cover up Hancock’s sexual indiscretions.”
When Clark specifically asked if she had evidence that had not been previously reported to back up that claim, Giellis said, “I do not have evidence.” She attempted to continue talking, but Clark moved on to the next question.
But Giellis also said “that culture is there because the leader at the top started that culture,” referring to an incident in which Hancock sent sexually suggestive text messages to a female detective who was formerly part of his security detail.
Hancock was similarly put on the defensive when Clark asked him how he can lead on the issue of sexual harassment, given the texting incident with the female detective.
In response, Hancock said he has not been sued for sexual harassment. Hancock again noted that he has apologized to his family, to the detective and to the city for the texting incident.
“Let’s be clear, I didn’t hide. I didn’t delete my social media pages,” alluding to an incident last week in which the Giellis campaign scrubbed her social media accounts, including a controversial tweet that asked why so many cities “feel it necessary to have a ‘Chinatown'?”
Giellis later said the tweet in question was part of a larger conversation about gentrification and displacement.
Hancock was again put on the defensive when Clark asked him about campaign ad that a 9News analysis concluded had falsely compared Giellis with President Donald Trump over a statement on immigration that she had made during an earlier debate.
“But your ad twisted those words that you read into, saying that she called people who are here illegally criminals as a blanket statement,” Clark said.
“Why take a statement that you find concerning and have your campaign twist it as false?”
Hancock replied that immigrants hear the same words differently than most people.
“I watched your segment. And I can see where you two (moderators) who are not immigrants can sit there are say she didn’t say it directly,” Hancock replied.
“Those words are triggers. They are codes,” he added.
The two candidates also sparred over experience, voting records and campaign contributions.
Hancock pointed out that Giellis had missed voting in several Denver elections after moving to the city in 2006.
“I would say she has a civic responsibility. She wants to lean in and yet she doesn’t show up for the most important responsibility: democracy,” he said.
Later, during a back and forth over her campaign donations from a local developer, Giellis noted that she earned the 25% of the vote that she polled in the general election.
“I had a message that resonated,” she told Hancock. “People are unhappy with you.”