Who will be the new voice of District 3 on the Denver City Council?
Following the first round of spring municipal elections on May 7, the answer to the question was whittled to two options: Jamie Torres and Veronica Elizabeth Barela, who garnered 40.3% and 36.3% of the vote respectively.
Since neither candidate earned a clear majority — at least 50% of the vote — a runoff is required against the top two vote-getters. The two emerged out of a candidate pool of four.
Eight of the 13 Denver City Council seats were filled election night, but five remained undetermined, kicking off the June 4 runoffs.
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 3 — which includes West Central Denver’s Villa Park, Sun Valley, Lincoln Park, Barnum West, Barnum, Westwood and Mar Lee neighborhoods — doesn’t feature an incumbent, due to the current Councilman Paul Lopez facing term limits. Lopez is vying for Denver Clerk and Recorder.
Torres and Barela 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.
Torres is deputy director of Denver’s Human Rights & Community Partnerships Agency and director of the Denver Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs. She grew up in District 3.
Her campaign platform calls for curbing predatory housing practices in District 3, whether for homeowners or renters, and ensuring residents have clear rights.
As new developments spring up, Torres said, the whole community should be part of the dialogue.
“Development is already making its way through District 3, and I want to create strong conversations about how it will be done responsibly, with community in mind first and foremost,” Torres’ states on her campaign website.
As the person who started the city’s immigration office, Torres said she would continue to “prioritize education, policy development and innovative action” in support of area immigrants and refugees.
“What we do when we welcome newcomers, is we create a better city,” Torres said in introductory statements during May 21’s candidate debate.
Barela is a community organizer/civil rights advocate with 40 years of experience in community development, including as the former president and CEO of NEWSED Community Development Corporation. Barela also grew up in District 3.
Growth should be inclusive and housing policies should benefit Denverites, not just real estate developers, Barela argues on her campaign website. Denver’s cost of living in the last 16 years has exceeded wages by a ratio of 3:1, she notes.
In terms of housing, the city’s approach to affordability should be a transparent one, which anticipates change, in lieu to reacting to crisis, she maintains.
“Gentrification did not happen overnight,” she states on her website. “Lack of affordable rental and homeownership did not happen overnight. We should be able to better understand the micro- and macro-level economics in the real estate market and design our programs and assistance accordingly.”
Barela argues that public health and climate change are intertwined. Denver’s air quality is on the decline, and its water quality could improve, both of which Barela said she would work to improve if elected to office.
She would achieve her climate change goals through more rigorous building code and industry standards, transportation options to move more than just one person at a time, and implementing a parks plan to increase green space in the district, among others ideas.
Maintaining district character
Many Denverites have argued that massive growth has taken a toll on the character of many historic city neighborhoods. In the face of change, how can character be sustained?
Torres said she would “elevate” the “artistic and cultural assets” of District 3, partially through the city’s Office of Storytelling.
“To make sure we are capturing the stories of who is creating in our district and capturing the history of it,” she said. “From its original Jewish immigrant roots to the layers of Latino and other immigrant community groups and what they’ve brought to District 3.”
In District 3, Barela said she was instrumental in restoring the Cinco de Mayo celebration on Santa Fe Drive. Cultural centers like the Santa Fe Arts District and Morrison Road are examples of district enclaves, she added.
“District 3 is rich in cultural heritage that needs to be preserved and not forgotten,” she said. “We can not forget our culture and our communities. I will work hard to make sure that happens and that the young folks understand what their culture is and who it belongs to and how they preserve it.”
The food desert that is District 3
Another submitted question asked: How would the candidates help bring more grocery stores to the district?
While there are a few grocery stores in the district, Barela said most of the district is a food desert.
“People have a right to have fresh food,” Barela said.
She added that she helped bring in a King Soopers to the district and she would work to bring in more grocers “right smack in the middle" of the district.
Torres said there are two major grocery stores in West Central Denver, but they happen to be on either ends of the district boundaries.
She has worked on an advisory committee in the past looking at food insecurity in the area. She said she found that the developers were reluctant to establish stores due to perceived issues with density and area disposable income.
Both candidates agreed the city’s recently approved Denveright plan, a comprehensive plan plotting out city growth for the next 20 years, left out District 3 voices.
Torres noted that the thousands of comments received during the drafting process for Denveright were overwhelming from white males — a discrepancy when considering historically Latino and black Denver neighborhoods.
Barela said the Denveright plan should absolutely be revisited. The second time around, she said, groups like inner-city parishes and others aside from neighborhood associations should be a part of the conversation.