The Denver mayoral debate on Saturday -- two days before city ballots start going out in the mail -- featured two things not seen very often during this campaign season.
For starters: All six of the mayoral candidates were on the stage in Sandos Hall at the Southwest Improvement Community Center.
That included disabled activist Kalyn Rose Heffernan and Stephan “Chairman Seku” Evans, two candidates left off some forums where organizers deemed them not viable candidates.
COMING SOON TO COLORADOPOLITICS.COM: John C. Ensslin's profiles of Denver mayoral candidates, Monday-Friday, April 15-19.
About 115 people attended the one-hour debate, staged by Denver Decides, a joint venture of the Denver Elections Division, the League of Women Voters of Denver and other groups.
The debate allowed candidates to ask questions of one another. That led to some free-wheeling exchanges.
The issues of managing growth and development in the city once again dominated the discussion, as it has during all the other forums.
And the challengers leveled most of their criticism at Hancock, a former city councilman who is seeking his third and final four-year-term as mayor in the election that ends May 7.
Hancock anticipated that criticism, when he told the audience in his opening statement that “Today you’re going to hear a lot of negativity toward the city and me and a rush to criticize our administration.
“I think as a city we have a lot to be proud of in terms of what we’ve accomplished over the last eight years," he added.
Later, former state lawmaker Penfield Tate III tossed that argument back at Hancock.
“I think that shows how out of touch the current administration is,” Tate said. “This isn’t negativity; these are concerns [residents] brought to us and said we need to have them addressed.”
Hancock pressed Tate how he would explain his proposed a temporary moratorium on new construction permits to workers in the construction industry who would find themselves out of work
Tate replied that the city’s own website advised people the permit process is so inundated that it often takes more than the normal 5-6 weeks for new projects to be approved.
“So, the reality is, things aren’t moving quickly. And I called for a moratorium because neighborhoods around this city have said, ‘Stop gentrifying us. Stop doing development to us. Let it work with and for us.’”
Hancock also asked Jamie Giellis, the former president of the River North Arts District, how she could avoid raising taxes to fund her proposals to spend up to $1 billion addressing homelessness and to build a trolley car system that the city rejected over 10 years ago as too expensive.
“I don’t think that’s all on the taxpayers to do it,” Giellis said of the homelessness funding. “I think we have to work with nonprofit developers, foundations, for-profit developers in order to get that billion dollars.”
As for the streetcars, Giellis said if the city can find $2 billion to renovate the National Western Stock Show complex as well as overhauls of the Colorado Convention Center and the terminal at Denver International Airport, it can find money for the street car project though sales tax, special tax districts and other revenue.
Not every question was directed at Hancock
Giellis, for example, asked Lisa Calderón, a Regis University criminal justice professor, what kind of zoning tools she would use to implement her proposal to prevent displacement from gentrification.
Calderón cited community land trusts and rent stabilization as two such tools.
Calderón, in turn, asked Giellis how she can stand up to developers when much of her campaign funding have come from a developer.
“I am not largely funding by developers. I am funded by a couple of developers,” Giellis replied. She added that she is the one candidate who has worked on increasing affordable housing and changing city policy.
“Developers are not the devil,” Giellis added. “There are good people trying to do good things for this city. And the only way we’re going to move forward is if we have developers and…everyone around the table as part of the conversation.”
The forum will be aired on Denver’s Channel 8 on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and will be available on the station’s website by Monday.