She’ll still be on the outside looking in, but after Jamie Giellis failed to deny Denver Mayor Michael a third term in the city runoff election, the first-time candidate says she isn’t going anywhere.
“I'm going to keep fighting the fight for the communities and the neighborhoods and the issues out there,” she told Colorado Politics. “Now I have a lot more people to work with doing that.”
Hancock, for his part, told Giellis the two should “grab a beer” and discuss “some great ideas” she raised during the hard-fought campaign, which focused on how Denver has dealt with explosive growth when it wasn’t devoted to accusations of insensitivity surrounding race and sexual harassment.
Minutes after Giellis called to concede Tuesday night, Hancock told reporters he was happy to talk with his former opponent about her proposals — he singled out her suggestion about how the city can handle recycling better, admittedly a peripheral issue in the campaign — and said he’d kept notes on ideas brought up by his rivals.
Hancock said he heard the message from voters — he got just 39% of the vote in the first round in May — and acknowledges his administration needs to do a better job for the next four years.
“If the mayor wants to sit down and talk, I’m all ears. I’d love to sit down and talk with him,” said Giellis, an urban-planning consultant and a former president of the River North Arts District, in an interview the day after the election.
“If the mayor’s open to it, it would certainly make a lot more sense to figure out how to tackle some of these big issues together,” she said.
“I’m not going anywhere. This line of work in terms of working in neighborhoods and looking at issues in the city has been my line of work. I’m going to keep doing it; I’ll keep fighting for those things.”
She added: “It will be alongside this administration. In particular, I look forward to working with the neighborhoods and figuring out what the neighborhoods need. I’m not going to stop doing my thing. If anything, running for office has provided me an opportunity to collaborate on a wider scale.”
But Giellis made clear she isn’t interested in simply chatting about suggestions.
“We have to hold them accountable to make sure those things happen. There have been a lot of stuff promised in the last three months or so,” she said, pointing to the creation of city initiatives to tackle homelessness, housing affordability and transportation problems.
“If all of those things come to fruition, then I think we're on the right track, but we have to hold the city accountable. There’s an opportunity for us, but if we don’t see follow-through, how do we work with council? There could be new ordinances we’ll propose.”
Giellis said she intends to let the dust settle — and celebrate their first wedding anniversary next week with her husband, Chris.
“Where I’m at right now is, I need a little breather to regroup and figure out what direction to go, but I woke up [the morning after the election] to 60 text messages from people saying, ‘What are we doing next, where do we go from here?’ There’s a lot of people out there; there’s still a lot of frustration out there,” she said.
Giellis said beyond talking with Hancock and spending more time at her consulting businesses, she isn’t sure what that looks like going ahead yet, though she held out the possibility she could run for municipal office again.
“It could be some collaboration, some sort of nonprofit, some way to organize the neighborhoods and communities,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of partners now.”
“For a first-time candidate, I left it all on the table,” she added.
“What I can say is, wow, what an incredible education in politics I got. I wish I would’ve been more prepared for it, but it’s hard to say that given where I started this from. I had to find my voice through this process as a politico. I feel like I did, and it happened toward the end, and that might have been too late. A lot of the stuff was rookie mistakes and not being prepped and having a lot flying at you at one time,” she said.
“We’ll see, maybe there’s another shot at it,” she said with a smile. “The idea of being able to affect change from the mayor’s office — it seems within sight, but that’s another four years away.”
It isn’t unusual for Denver mayors to reach out to their vanquished foes after even the most vitriolic elections.
Eight years ago, after a bruising runoff against former state Sen. Chris Romer, Hancock named one of Romer’s top endorsers, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, to run the city’s finance department and serve as deputy mayor. Hancock also tapped former opponents Doug Linkart and Theresa Spahn, who didn’t make it past the first round of voting that year, for prime appointments.
As Denver mayoral runoffs go, Hancock’s 2019 win falls in the middle of the pack.
In unofficial results, Hancock led Giellis by 20,519 out of 162,409 ballots cast, or 12.6 percentage points. It’s a slightly narrower margin than Hancock’s 16-point win over Romer in the 2011 runoff, but it’s a wider spread than the 8-point advantage Wellington Webb enjoyed when he defeated challenger Mary DeGroot, a city council member, in 1995 — the last time an incumbent Denver mayor was forced into a runoff.
The time before that, Federico Peña won his second term in 1987 in a squeaker, fending off a challenge from Republican attorney Don Bain by 2 percentage points. In addition, Peña was the last Denver candidate to unseat an incumbent mayor, ousting three-term incumbent Bill McNichols in 1983 when Peña prevailed in a runoff against former Denver District Attorney Dale Tooley by 2 points. (McNichols trailed Peña and Tooley in that year’s general election and failed to make the runoff.)
The other runoffs in the last four decades have been for open seats, including when Webb won his first term in 1991 over Denver DA Norm Early by 14 points, and when brewpub owner John Hickenlooper sailed to his first term in 2003 over Denver auditor Don Mares by 27 points. (Webb won his third term in 1999, and Hancock won his second term in 2015 without serious opposition and avoided runoffs.)
And, although pundits complained that this year’s Hancock-Giellis runoff reached new levels of nastiness — the Hancock campaign blanketed the airwaves with an ad questioning Giellis’ racial sensitivities, while Giellis held press conferences accusing Hancock of fostering a “culture of sexual harassment at city hall” — there’s been mud to spare in some recent runoffs.
Hancock, Romer and their supporters — including a secretive group that pumped out a barrage of negative mailers — traded charges daily in their 2011 matchup, accusing each other of employing “dirty tactics never before seen in Denver.”
The Webb-DeGroot runoff included attacks on Webb’s family, and the time, DeGroot recalled, “when he called me a Nazi.”
Giellis' father, James Ambroson, who served as mayor of the small town of Leland, Iowa, for 13 years, told Colorado Politics he wasn’t ready to treat the Hancock campaign’s attacks as bygones.
"The people that have tried to paint my daughter or my family as racist — I'd like to talk to them face-to-face, just like this," Ambroson told Colorado Politics on election night, leaning in close. "There is nothing, nothing that got me more than that. It's absolutely false."