Considered one of the more intriguing Denver municipal contests, the race to decide who will represent Denver’s District 1 on the City Council pits newcomer Amanda Sandoval against newcomer Michael Somma in the June 4 runoff.
Entering Denver’s first round of spring municipal elections on May 7, the District 1 candidate pool included some seven candidates — the largest field for any city spring race. Election night saw the field whittled to Sandoval and Somma, who garnered 31.2% and 17% of the vote respectively.
Since none of the candidates earned a clear majority — at least 50% of the vote — a runoff is required, against the top two vote-getters.
Eight of the 13 Denver City Council seats were filled election night, but five remained undetermined.
Denver City Council members earn annual salaries of $91,915, and the body president makes $102,928. Council terms run four years; members can serve up to three terms.
The race for District 1 — which includes Northwest Denver’s Regis, Chaffee Park, Berkeley, Sunnyside, West Highland, Highland, Sloan Lake, Jefferson Park and a portion of West Colfax neighborhoods — doesn’t feature an incumbent, due to current district Councilman Rafael Espinoza canceling his bid for re-election in December.
Sandoval and Somma faced off in a runoff debate May 21 produced by Denver 8 TV, providing a portrait of the candidates and how they stand on some district issues.
Sandoval, outreach program manager and legislative liaison for the Denver Fire Department, said that if elected, she would focus her attention on the unstable development plaguing the district and the “desperate” need for affordable housing.
She also said she would work to improve the park system in the district, enhance transportation options and provide “effective and inclusive representation.”
Sandoval lists park improvements she would support in District 1 as an addition of a new dog park at Gates Crescent Park, a berm at Rocky Mountain Lake Park to match Berkeley Lake Park and public-use Boat House renovations at Sloans Lake, among others.
As many Denverites struggle with inflated housing costs, Sandoval said she will try to inform more residents of city programs, seek state/federal funding for affordable housing efforts, and support an increase in the minimum wage, according to her website.
Sandoval has also served a chief of staff for Councilwoman Judy Montero and Councilman Rafael Espinoza, both of whom have endorsed her for the open seat. She grew up in northwest Denver.
Somma, a lieutenant with the Denver Fire Department, said he wants to reign in uncontrollable, irresponsible development in northwest Denver. He feels past City Council representation has been largely absent and said he would engage and listen to the community on these matters.
According to Somma’s campaign website, he argues the city should subsidize rental units in the $800-$950 range, and starter homes in the $200k-$300k range, to help address housing affordability. He supports Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s decision to double the city’s affordable housing fund.
Regarding homelessness, Somma said Denver should look to San Antonio, Texas, which has “virtually eliminated homelessness” with programs like Haven for Hope, which offers a 23-acre campus, including housing for 850, detox and psychiatric observation units, and medical and dental clinics, among other amenities.
He has also served as a governmental affairs director for Denver firefighters, “giving him an intimate understanding of our city government.” He has lived in northwest Denver for 64 years.
‘Not being heard’
Denver officials recently approved the Denveright plan, a comprehensive plan addressing development and growth in the city over the next two decades. However, as one submitted Denver 8 TV debate question stated, many residents felt left out or believe their comments fell on deaf ears during the planning process.
As he canvassed Northwest Denver neighborhoods, Somma said he heard Denverites share sentiments about not being heard regarding new development in their area.
“That’s what is turning people off about government,” Somma said. “... We need to use common sense in the government of today.”
Sandoval commented she did feel like Northwest Denver was often left out of the conversation regarding the Denveright plan. She said she’d like to host new town halls, with translators and free daycare, to hear how the neighborhoods feel about the plan.
“It is adopted. … It’s a 20-year vision, but I would like to hear individually,” she said. “I’d like to have seniors as part of the discussion, I’d like to have our youth as part of the discussion.”
Maintaining historic buildings
As Denver has grown, spurring new development, many residents have argued some of the character of city neighborhoods has been lost.
When asked via a submitted question how the candidates would help facilitate adaptive reuse of historic buildings, Somma said he would engage the neighborhoods alongside the developers.
“My vision is we will have open conversations and dialogue with the neighborhood and the developers,” Somma said.
Sandoval said she would use her knowledge of the city zoning code to determine how a historic building might be repurposed, then bring in neighbors to have a dialogue with any developers.
“Then you can have a robust discussion,” she said.
As the Denver 8 TV debate progressed, the format shifted to allow the candidates to pose questions to each other.
Somma took the opportunity to question Sandoval about why she didn’t sign a petition to ban fracking in Denver city limits.
Sandoval responded that she didn’t sign the petition because the petitioner couldn’t provide specific fracking-ban language for her to vet prior to signing the petition.
“I do not believe fracking should happen within the boundaries of the city and county of Denver, but I will not sign onto something to look like I’m part of something,” she said.
Sandoval questioned Somma, a current lieutenant in the Denver Fire Department, on how he would ensure his City Council office was an inclusive environment, considering recent allegations of sexual harassment of women in the fire department.
Commenting on the fire department, Somma said the agency should increase its sensitivity training and that some of his best firefighting colleagues are women.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 4:15 p.m. May 29 to clarify indirect quotes made by both candidates.