By Eric Heinz
The final leg of questions from The G.E.S. Gazette to the District 9 candidates allowed them to highlight the reasons why they should be elected to office. The municipal election is April 4, but ballots are already being mailed to constituents. The candidates’ responses have been arranged in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Candi CdeBaca, Incumbent
CdeBaca is leaning on her first term of experience to persuade voters to re-elect her.
“I’ve been one of the most successful candidates, even being painted as a contrarian,” CdeBaca said. “In my first month in office, I was able to stop the first contract in decades, and that was the private prison contract.”
CdeBaca said another major highlight was using funding from the COVID-19 pandemic for eviction legal defense, and she helped make that a permanent program in Denver. She said she also spearheaded permanent funding for the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program that sends out behavioral specialists in low-risk but urgent situations.
Although she’s been the lone vote on some high-profile bills, she noted that she’s voted along the lines of the rest of the City Council a majority of the time, more than 85% of the time. Additionally she said she’s been a proponent of the Safe Outdoor Spaces, and her district has at least one in operation with two tiny-home villages that serve formerly unhoused people.
“I think it’s important to have individuals who are willing to stand alone,” CdeBaca said, but added, “The complete story is that I collaborate more than I don’t, and for many of the things that I have advanced I’ve done in partnership with others.”
CdeBaca said by working with her colleagues she was able to successfully refer certain ballot measures and pass bills that addressed City Council and mayoral appointments, modernizing public meetings, the appointment process of the Office of the Independent Monitor, wage theft, mobile home parks and other issues.
“I think the biggest reason that I’m a threat to the dominant power structure is because I teach people the things that the power structure doesn’t want them to know,” she said. “I don’t think it’s necessary to have that compromise on big-ticket items. I think my election was a referendum to stand up for the people on those items.”
CdeBaca said her efforts have led to more civic engagement from her constituents as more people have been showing up to public comment hearings, held a couple hours before the main council meetings.
Watson said he wants to create as much progress as possible among constituents on City Council, such as the Biased Police Task Force, which he chaired. He was also a founding member of the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and is chair of the Denver Park Trust.
“I think one of the biggest differences between me and the current council member is that I have the support of four former City Council presidents,” Watson said. “I have the support of three sitting council members. They’re doing this not because of the person who is currently (representing the district), but because they’ve seen 30 years of my life and investment in servant leadership.”
Watson said addressing veteran homelessness on the streets of Denver could be a first step to helping people get off the streets, and he said he’s worked with organizations that are aiming to do that. Watson was also a founding member of the Housing Stability Strategic Advisers Board, which helped craft the Expanding Housing Affordability ordinance that allowed the city to create certain income-restricted housing policies.
“In District 9, for so many years, our community, whether it’s the Black community or Latino and Chicano communities, are more dramatically affected by the outcomes of policy or lack of policy than most communities across the city,” Watson said. “If we have a legislative leader that cannot pull six votes to move on these big issues … then we lose exponentially more than everyone else in the city. And I know I’ve demonstrated that ability to bring folks together.”
Watson pleaded no-contest in 2003 to a misdemeanor charge after being accused of hitting a child, court records show. This came to light in 2007 when he first ran for City Council and subsequently dropped out.
“Almost 20 years ago, that issue occurred, but it’s about 40 seconds of a bad decision that I made to spank a child that was in my custody. That was a mistake I made. I think what redemption demonstrates is what do you do after you make a mistake. What I’ve demonstrated in the 20 years since that situation I think speaks for itself.”
Atlas said he is running because he doesn’t think the incumbent has been successful at creating programs that would help with housing stability in the district as well as fostering small businesses. Atlas himself has been a small-business owner in the Five Points neighborhood.
“I am challenging Candi CdeBaca because I believe that District 9 needs a representative that can be representative of the community, will listen to folks that disagree with them, can make decisions that may not benefit them, and also make decisions that are evidence based and collaborative,” Atlas said.
Atlas served in the mayor’s office during the pandemic to provide personal protective equipment and subsidizing grants, and he worked to get people food. He said he wants to bring in a team that will be able to respond to concerns of the district immediately to get important feedback.
“Actually getting things done is what this district needs,” Atlas said. “It also needs somebody who understands the variety of topics that you’re gonna have to look at. I have a master’s in urban public affairs. I’ve worked at all three levels of government,” adding he has worked with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and state Sen. James Coleman.
One of the biggest things Atlas said he wants to address is gentrification in District 9.
“We really need to invest in home ownership, particularly District 9 and in Five Points,” he said. “There is a rising renter-occupied level that if unchecked is going to create even more gentrification and displacement, and it’s not sustainable.”
Atlas said his connections to various organizations and political leaders in Denver also make him the best candidate, as he said he could get started on his policies on day 1, if elected.
“I plan to find the different leaders that are part of community organizations as well as our registered neighborhood organizations and try to create a council within District 9 that can advise me and also encourages collaboration between the various, sometimes competing, opinions within the district. If I can do that, I think we’ll have a community that is working together.”