Denver mayoral candidate Jamie Giellis is drawing criticism from debate sponsors and her opponent, incumbent Mayor Michael Hancock, for declining invitations to a string of debates organized by leaders of the city's minority communities.
A spokeswoman for her campaign said a "jam-packed" schedule has prevented Giellis from taking part in a trio of upcoming debates.
But April Valdez Villa, a spokeswoman for the Hancock campaign, called Giellis' decision to skip the events "inexcusable."
"Snubbing three forums hosted by communities of color, when her campaign has been able to carve time out for media-hosted debates, sends a clear message that those communities aren’t important enough," Valdez Villa said.
Giellis and Hancock scheduled seven debates during the four-week period between the May 7 general election and the June 4 runoff.
Hancock has been hammering Giellis in a TV ad for a series of flubs involving race, including when she couldn't recall what the initials NAACP stand for and when she deleted social media accounts after a decade-old tweet wondering why so many cities have Chinatowns came under scrutiny.
Sponsors of the debates Giellis doesn't plan to attend include Northeast Denver's Montbello Organizing Committee, the Denver Urban Spectrum and El Semanario newspapers, and a coalition of leaders from throughout the community.
Rosalind “Bee” Harris, publisher of the Denver Urban Spectrum, which bills itself as "Denver's premiere publication for communities of color," and Chris Fresquez, publisher of the bilingual El Semanario, both told Colorado Politics they were "disappointed" Giellis wasn't planning to attend a May 25 forum they'd planned.
"It appears to me she's declining quite a few of these that are going to involve questions direct from the community, and that's very troubling," Fresquez told Colorado Politics. "It is upsetting because our readers and viewers from our community are feeling left out and very divided right now, feeling that we're not important to her."
He added: "Most of the debates she's going to are not targeted to working with our community — the Latino and black community. Denver is a very diverse community."
Organizers told Colorado Politics they plan to go ahead with the events, which are expected to feature Hancock taking questions from sponsoring organizations and audience members.
"We're disappointed we won't see her on this occasion, but all communities matter to the running of the city, and you can't overlook any of them," said Angelle Fouther, vice president of the Montbello Organizing Committee.
"We understand it's a busy time. We're offering the opportunity for a Q & A with the one candidate, but the invitation is still out if she is able to change something," she said.
Fouther said the group plans to join the publishers for a single event starting at noon Saturday at Montbello Career and Technical High School.
Rudy Gonzales, a community activist behind an ad hoc coalition including members of Denver's Asian, Native American, African-American and Latino communities, said the "grass tops and grassroots" had been looking forward to asking the mayoral candidates about "issues like criminal justice, housing, economic mobility, education, political power — all those different issues where there is an issue of justice and equity and even peace in our communities."
"We're disappointed, but we understand she isn't attending several invitations to be in front of communities of color, stressed communities that may provide an uncomfortable environment for her," Gonzales said.
The group plans to hold a May 29 "cross-cultural coalition" debate at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance theater in Five Points.
Last weekend, Giellis cancelled an appearance at a candidates forum sponsored by the Colorado Black Round Table after discovering one of the event's organizers was a paid consultant to the Hancock campaign.
In its place, she took part in an online discussion with African-American activists and former mayoral candidates Lisa Calderon and Penfield Tate III, who have endorsed Giellis in the runoff.
"This was a perfect opportunity for her to apologize directly to the communities and face their questions," said Valdez Villa, Hancock's spokeswoman. "Instead, she’s running and hiding — just like she did with the media when bad news broke. It’s just another example of her clear pattern of cultural insensitivity that we have come to see from her."
Giellis campaign spokeswoman Meghan Dougherty rejected the notion Giellis had declined the invitations for any reason other than a tight schedule.
"We'd committed to things, and they just didn't get to us in time," she said. "We tried. It's very difficult, and we just couldn't make them work. As soon as we were in a runoff, the schedule was on fire. We are doing the best we can."
Valdez Villa was having none of it.
"I feel strongly that if those communities were a priority, especially given the news from the last several days, she would have made adjustments," she told Colorado Politics in a text message. "She’s a full time candidate."
The candidates faced off Tuesday night at a televised 9News debate co-sponsored by Colorado Politics.
They're debating twice on Thursday — at one sponsored by business group Colorado Concern and the other sponsored by Denver Decides, a consortium of the League of Women Voters of Denver, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Denver 8 TV.
The candidates are scheduled to meet Friday at LoDo's Summit Music Hall for a debate produced by "The Aaron Harber Show" and co-sponsored by Colorado Politics. On Tuesday night, a Denver Post debate takes place at the Denver Press Club.