Robin Kniech, Candidate for Denver City Council, At-large (Denver)
Which office are you running for and where?
Denver City Council, At-large (Denver)
When is your election day?
May 6, 2019
Why did you decide to run for public office? Did someone encourage or inspire you? If so, who?
I ran to make Denver a more equitable city. I was a community policy advocate for a community based organization working to advance economic justice and higher standards on city investments in development when I was appointed to serve on the Denver Union Station Project Authority that helped to redevelop the transit infrastructure at Denver’s Union Station. It was rewarding to be in a decision-making role, and when the two at-large seats came open, a diverse coalition of labor union leaders, LGBT community members and business leaders who had come to respect my work on transit urged me to run. (I am the first out LGBT person to serve on the Council and that created a lot of excitement to help me get elected, not just from the LGBT community, but from the broader city that has a strong spirit of inclusivity).
What did you do before you decided to run? Where did you go to school? Tell us a little about your resume.
I am an attorney by training, but I’ve dedicated my entire career before and after law school to public interest advocacy at state and local government levels. My career began as an advocate for women and families, particularly those experiencing domestic violence and working to advance and protect reproductive rights. (See above for my work immediately prior to taking office.) I was raised in a working class family and that background plays a strong role in the values I bring to my public service.
What are your top 3 key initiatives/policies?
1) I am most well known for my leadership on affordable housing. I created Denver’s first dedicated affordable housing fund, passed a housing non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting turning households away based on their source of income, created Denver’s first eviction defense program and catalyzed thousands of affordable homes in major redevelopments across the city.
2) I’m a strong advocate for workers, including advocating for expanded apprenticeship training on Denver construction projects and improved wages and working conditions on city contracts.
3) Sustainability is my third major area of work, including working on the initiative to require all large residential and commercial buildings in Denver to report their energy usage, supporting Denver’s conversion to 100% renewable energy.
Tell us about a day in the life of your campaign or tell us your favorite story from the campaign trail.
As I’m running for re-election, my biggest challenge is juggling my on-going work to represent the people of Denver and fulfill my official duties while also running a campaign. I typically have several official meetings a day with committees or task forces I serve on, several meetings with departments or members of the community, then a nighttime community meeting. Between meetings I’m returning emails or calls, helping to keep the social media and email communications flowing from both my city office and my campaign. If I’m lucky I get to pick my son up from school or camp and spend a little time with him before I go to my night meeting, or if I am even luckier and get to put him to bed, then I return to my computer after he’s asleep to respond to fundraising communications and preparing for call time later in the week. At this phase we’re not yet doing voter contact to ask for votes, that will begin in January. But we’re maintaining relationship with our base, keeping me visible to the people I serve, and fundraising to try to reach as many of the 400,000 registered voters that make up my city-wide district(!).
What is the biggest challenge you face as a candidate? Are there challenges you face that are unique to you as a woman candidate?
See above. Running is harder as a mom, because I have to say no to more events in order to balance my parenting responsibilities. Although I’m blessed with a supportive wife and I also co-parent my son with my former partner, there are still responsibilities I have to take on like registering him for school/camps, making doctor appointments, dropping it all when he is sick. I cherish this role, but I often serve with either parents whose kids are out of the home or whose wives take on all of these roles for them, so I think it does create a tougher set of competing priorities for my time. Also, gender does still play a role in how I’m judged. Some folks feel less comfortable with my ambitious agenda and the number of policies I’ve won and run, don’t feel like I’m as “nice” sometimes as the men I work with, who run less policy and therefore find themselves in fewer tough conversations, asking for votes, etc. Also, both of us serving at-large are women, but we’ve had exclusively male challengers in our last two races and so far in this race. They are typically very disrespectful in their tone, particularly on-line. Responding to this is trickier as a woman, respond strong and it makes folks uncomfortable, don’t respond and you seem weak – the typical double bind women often face.
What can women do to help you?
1) Help create energy and spread the word in their circles. City council is a lower profile race, so word of mouth and on-line engagement help to fuel an otherwise scrappy campaign.
2) Greater financial support would also be wonderful. I see a pretty significant gap between what I can raise from men, there are more of them in powerful positions able ot give more, than what I raise from women. For example, often men who work in Denver are willing to give even if they don’t live here. Whereas women will decline to get engaged because they don’t live here. I think men get more access to candidates and therefore elected officials because they have more money to give, AND are more comfortable giving it, whereas women are very excited about voting, but maybe not “in the arena” in the same way because of reluctance to give. I’m interested in ways of cultivating a stronger culture of political giving among women generally, not just for my own race, because I do think it’s a powerful form of engagement.
Share a fun fact or two with us!
1) I don’t drink caffeine. (I already walk, talk and work fast, it could be scary if I took it up a notch!).
2) I speak proficient Spanish.
3) I secretly make Imovies montages to celebrate the birthdays of my family members.
Any additional thoughts?
It can be hard to generate excitement for re-election races. Appropriately there is a lot of focus on empty seats. And less appropriately, there is an assumption that incumbents always win and don’t need the help. The truth is that two of my progressive colleagues lost their elections last cycle, even though they raised more than their opponents. In my race, there is no run-off, the top two vote-getters win regardless of how small a percentage of the vote they get (far less than 50% in a race with 5+ candidates – I have historically been the second vote-getter, though I closed the margin considerably in my last race). I am in a strong position to win my race, but I have challengers working to exploit discomfort with the pace of change in Denver and to replicate the negative tone of national politics. The city election won’t be an easy one, and I continue to need a base of support to win, I can’t do it alone.
I have been a progressive leader on the Council, helping to move the entire city forward on issues that were untouchable when I was first elected in 2011. In the process I’ve also become a national leader on affordable housing, creating toolkits for other cities to replicate the work I’ve done in Denver. I also serve on the board of Local Progress, a network of progressive local elected officials that has more than 800 members. I mentor a behind-the-scenes network of progressives in the Denver Metro area that is predominately made up of women. While I’m interested in continuing to serve the people of Denver, the impact of my leadership reaches beyond our borders and includes uplifting leaders throughout our region and our country. And when I run local work, I do it in partnership with local movements so that I’m also leaving behind a stronger infrastructure of community leadership to sustain and grow our power to make equitable change long after I leave office.