By Eric Heinz
As of July 1 two challengers have filed to run against Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca for the District 9 seat, which includes Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea.
The Denver general election is April 4, 2023 and a runoff will take place June 6 if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. More candidates could jump into the race before the end of this year or early next year.
Kwon Atlas, who has worked with state representatives and past Denver City Council presidents, said he helped create more than a dozen businesses and he started the Five Points Atlas newspaper. Atlas has been involved with various advisory boards and organizations over the years, which includes serving as the vice president of the Urban League Young Professionals of Metropolitan Denver and as a member of the State Central Committee of the Colorado Democratic Party, as well as various others.
“I feel like I’ve been very enmeshed in and involved in trying to make Five Points, particularly, but all of D9 a better place,” Atlas said. “I just really have an equity lens and a focus on those who have been left behind or are left behind, and just really creating synergy and trying to fix and create solutions, that’s what I’m always about.”
As inflation continues to drive prices up, Atlas believes there could be areas to give relief to businesses as well as consumers. For example, Denver City Council recently voted to drop the sales and use tax on diapers and incontinence products.
“I think there are places where we can talk about how we can provide some relief to businesses, particularly relief in the development and construction spaces, and then relief for folks to own their homes,” he said. “That’s obviously more state level, but there are levels in which it is localized that I’ll be looking at. I think the best hedge against inflation is really ownership.”
Atlas said Denver has a few good programs that help people buy their first home or retain their existing home in economically disadvantaged areas, but he said conversations need to be had about stronger support programs, stating, “giving a first-time homebuyer $20,000” for a down payment “does not cut it anymore.”
“Many of those folks are living in these apartments that are very expensive,” Atlas added. “They’re spending more than what a mortgage would be on average. So these are things that I want to bring into (focus).”
Ownership, Atlas said, is another way to possibly stem the increasing homeless population in the city. He would also like to see services for mental health and other areas spread out of the central downtown location, as it creates a general location for drug dealing and other illicit activity.
Other issues Atlas said he’d like to address include the intricacies of gentrification and public safety, particularly with regard to gun violence in the district.
Incumbent Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca has spent her first three years fighting for equity among her constituents. She has been a vocal opponent of certain development projects, such as the National Western Center’s $190 million combined arena bond measure that she helped defeat during last year’s election.
“I think two of the things I’m most proud of are the right to counsel in evictions and the divestment from private prison companies in halfway houses,” CdeBaca said.
Other accomplishments during her first three years include getting an air monitoring bill at the state level, which she said was part of her environmental justice coalition work, as well as requiring confirmations of certain mayoral appointments.
CdeBaca said her record on helping the unhoused is unmatched, as she’s pushed for more support for Safe Outdoor Spaces. She said she also wants to see a proposal that would commit the city to master leasing motels and hotels in order to house people faster and cheaper.
“It’s almost impossible to enter a lease in the same way the city contracts for motel vouchers,” CdeBaca said. “With some rudimentary calculations, we’d be doing more than the other solutions that are known not to be as effective.”
CdeBaca said the biggest critique about her is that she often is the lone dissenting vote on certain bills, but if there’s to be a mandate for change, it has to start somewhere. The councilwoman said that although during meetings, council members may be judged on how much they are able to convince their colleagues to approve their bills, she has focused on empowering the communities she represents, even when her bills failed.
“What I had to do, when I recognized that we weren’t going to get very far on Monday nights, was build within the community and build relationships to do work regionally and at the state level,” CdeBaca said.
She said after the city council voted to divest private prison contracts from substance treatment homes, the rest of her colleagues didn’t support the “bold” changes she sought.
CdeBaca said she also hopes to see more recommendations from the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force implemented by the council in the future.
“I hope we get a new mayor and council that sees the power of the community and the work that they did,” she said.
The councilwoman stated that another one of her accomplishments includes working with co-op, employee-owned businesses, and one such operation is slated to open a grocery store in Elyria-Swansea in the coming months.
Darrell Watson spent 23 years working in finance with the Teachers Insurance Annuity Association with a focus on financial literacy and community engagement for the company. Watson chairs the city’s Housing Stability Strategic Advisors board.
He has also served as the co-chair of the Denver Game Plan for a Healthy City, which develops strategies to increase parks and open space throughout the city, and he has served as the co-chair a task force assigned last year to examine biased policing.
Watson said that his pillars and focus for his campaign are “looking at community health, ensuring that there’s multimodal transportation connecting folks, ensuring that in our communities we are not the victims of increased crime levels,” and that the community’s relationship with Denver police is collaborative one that holds police accountable and empowers them to ensure safety.
He also wants to ensure community policing is done in a way that celebrates the community and doesn’t harm it.
Watson suggested a way to address homelessness that has not been done thoroughly enough is by collecting data on those who are living on the streets. He said although the annual Point in Time count does provide some information, he wants a more robust version of it.
“If you are targeting a microcosm of that problem without knowing the full scope of it, you most likely are making the more stickier and the more difficult cases grow even larger,” Watson said. “We need to start counting everyone that’s living houseless.”
Watson said it’s the duty of organizations with the funds to invest into the communities where they thrive. He used the National Western Center’s CSU Spur campus as an example, and he said he hopes partnerships will flourish between the university and the surrounding community.
“It is a responsibility for there to be a clearly articulated process through City Council of providing the opportunity for whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s an incubator, whether it’s support on multi levels to ensure these small businesses succeed,” he said.
To give additional support for small businesses, he said there needs to be a concentrated marketing effort for the G.E.S. area.
“There’s really not a process to say, ‘Hey, if you’re in downtown Denver and you’re hanging out for the Avs game tonight, you can catch this transportation … to get here, if you want to get away from the influx of downtown,’” Watson said.
Editor’s note: The order of the quotes and information in this article were arranged in alphabetical order by each candidate’s last name