Lisa Calderón, Candidate for Mayer of Denver
Which office are you running for and where?
I am running to become the first woman Mayor of Denver.
When is your election day?
The City and County of Denver election is Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Ballots go out to voters on Monday, April 15, 2019.
Why did you decide to run for public office? Did someone encourage or inspire you? If so, who?
I never intended to run for public office, but I’ve spent the past 30 years in service to others as an organizer, educator, community leader, contractor, and executive manager. But as a Denverite who is committed to justice and equity, I found myself wanting more from our leadership. I am running for mayor because I believe Denver can be a city that is more fair, more just, and more equitable for all of our residents. I believe that by working together, we can build a city based on shared power and accountability—one where residents and workers are included in the policy decisions that most affect them.
What did you do before you decided to run? Where did you go to school? Tell us a little about your resume.
I am proud of my background as a daughter of Denver, a longtime community organizer, a nonprofit director, and currently as an educator. I grew up in Denver and graduated from North High School, and raised my two children in Denver while obtaining my undergraduate degree at Metro State University, Master’s degree at University of Denver, and then my law degree at the University of Colorado. I am co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, an organization that seeks to transform Colorado by increasing Latino participation in the electoral process, and in educating and mobilizing the Latino community around issues of importance to our community. I also have over 20 years of experience in the Colorado nonprofit sector, first as legal director for Safehouse Boulder, where we served and helped people seeking to escape domestic violence, and then as the Executive Director of the Community Re-Entry Project, an organization that helped formerly incarcerated individuals as the re-enter the community. Most recently, I finished my doctorate in education at CU Denver focusing on improving educational outcomes for incarcerated adults.. Currently, I’m a full-time professor at Regis University, where I teach sociology and criminal justice.
What are your top 3 key initiatives/policies?
The pillars of my campaign are equity, fairness, and justice.
Under the value of equity, I will focus on bringing forward three groups that are currently underrepresented in the city policymaking: women, workers, and residents. I will work to close the gender pay gap and strengthen protections against sexual harassment and gender discrimination. I will also protect workers, including union members by supporting the right of city employees to use collective bargaining. I will implement a livable wage so that city workers can afford healthcare and to live & work in the city. I believe in resident-driven development that brings the communities who are most affected by planning and zoning decisions to the table when those decisions are being made. I will prioritize the development of mixed-income affordable housing development, multimodal transit, and green spaces.
Under the value of fairness, I will create an independent system of checks and balances for all city agencies and offices, and will develop a fair contract bidding processes so that small businesses—especially women- and minority-owned enterprises—can compete with large corporations. I will provide transparency in public records and give fair notice for community input in all decision-making. I will also strengthen the Ethics Board to protect the public by sanctioning violators who abuse their authority.
Under the value of justice, I will support independent public safety agencies with strengthened Independent Monitor oversight. I will invest in policies that allow police and residents to collaborate on community-driven solutions. I will reduce the Denver jail population by investing in community and treatment services with measurable evidence-based outcomes. I will expand leadership opportunities to increase the ranks of women in law enforcement including in top command positions. And finally, I will develop public safety strategies, that are equitable, reduce unnecessary harm and trauma to the community and police.
Tell us about a day in the life of your campaign or tell us your favorite story from the campaign trail.
A day in my life is quite hectic. While I run for office, I am continuing to teach at Regis University. Like many of my fellow Denverites, I do not have the luxury of taking time off of work while living in a city with a high-cost of living. My day begins at 5am and includes preparing for my classes, responding to messages, filling out surveys, answering questions from community members about policies they care about, teaching classes and advising students, calling Denver voters to introduce myself, call-time, and in the evening, attending community meetings and fundraisers.
My favorite stories from the campaign trail often come from the house parties that supporters host; these are evenings of community and conversation where I can meet their friends and neighbors, introduce myself, and talk with them about their hopes for Denver. This past Saturday night, a gentleman came up to speak with me, and I noticed he seemed sad. I remarked that him that he looked like he needed a hug and that after a long day, I needed one too. We hugged, and then I learned afterward that he had just come from a memorial service for a friend who had died by suicide. In the middle of a campaign like this, I feel fortunate to able to share a moment of connection and humanity like that with the people I meet.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a candidate? Are there challenges you face that are unique to you as a woman candidate?
My biggest challenge is the high cost of running for office, and the reality that corporate developers and special interests are spending big to maintain a status quo in our city that benefits them. As I said, I never intended to be a politician. I don’t have the circle of friends who are wealthy. Instead, my social circle is made up of teachers, community activists, mental health advocates, civil rights legal leaders, college professors, and other working people. My friends dedicate their lives to giving back. I am raising funds from community members, one donation at a time. I am doing more with less by running a low-cost, high-impact campaign. The second challenge is voter education; Denverites need to know there is an election in May. The last mayoral election was decided with only 24% voter turnout. It’s unfortunate that such a low turnout can decide an election that has a direct impact on the daily lives and futures of all Denver residents. I believe that we can build a city based on shared power and accountability—one where residents and workers are included in the policy decisions that most affect them. I intend to reach every voter to let them know that they have the power to make a difference in our city, and that I am the person with the heart, the skills, and the policy know-how to lead our city as mayor.
What can women do to help you?
First, women need to support women candidate who support their values, and have a track record of doing so. I have been an advocate for women’s rights including to strengthen services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I support unequivocally access to reproductive healthcare and will fight to preserve those rights. Second, assist with fundraising since non-traditional women of color candidates like myself are at an inherent disadvantage: we do not have the political pedigree to open doors to traditional donors. Third,tell your friends to donate and get involved in our grassroots historic campaign to elect the first woman mayor of Denver! Finally, help educate Denver voters that there is an election on May 7 since many are unaware of the rapidly approaching date.
Share a fun fact or two with us!
My daughter Savannah Smith is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and is in graduate school studying Native women’s maternal health issues. We frequently take her rescue dog Zelda for hikes with us on Colorado trails. Zelda’s favorite trail to lead us down is Clear Creek, where the combination of the river and natural space is a great place to relax and appreciate the beauty all around us.