What you need to know about Denver’s crowded at-large council race
None of the other Denver City Council races are as crowded as the one to cover the entire city as an at-large representative.
While the City Council’s 11 districts have set borders and encompass specific neighborhoods, the two remaining at-large seats represent the entire city.
On the April 4 ballot, voters will be asked to cast their ballot for one candidate running to represent the district in which they live and then to pick their favorite two of nine candidates running for the at-large seats.
The at-large candidates, in order of appearance on the April ballot, are:
- Travis Leiker is both the president of the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods organization and the senior director of development at the University of Colorado. Leiker also worked as board president for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARL) Pro-Choice Colorado and he has worked with Conservation Colorado.
- Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez holds a seat in the statehouse, to which she was elected in 2019. Gonzales-Gutierrez has worked as a juvenile caseworker for Denver Human Services and currently directs the Denver Collaborative Partnership.
- Penfield Tate III is a former state representative and senator, who ran for mayor in 2003 and again in 2019. He is the founder of the Penfield Tate Law practice and has worked in the administrations of former Denver Mayor Federico Peña and Gov. Roy Romer.
- Sarah Parady is a partner and co-founder of the Lowrey Parady Lebsack legal practice and where she works as a labor and civil rights attorney. Parody served for a year as president of the Colorado Women’s Bar Associations and helped the organization push for the state’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.
- Jeff Walker currently serves on Denver’s Task Force to Re-Imagine Policing and Public Safety. He has also served as a director for the Regional Transportation District and on the American Public Transportation Association’s Board of Director. Walker also spent time on the Denver planning Board and the Blueprint Denver Task Force.
- Marty Zimmerman spent years fundraising for local nonprofits before launching his own business, ZIM Consulting, to offer financial strategies for nonprofits across the sector. Zimmerman also served as a mayoral appointee and former adult chair of the Denver Mayor’s Youth Commission.
- Will Chan currently works for the Denver Economic Development and Opportunity office. Before that he worked for the Denver Public Library, where he focused on supporting economic mobility for the city’s marginalized residents. Chan also has experience organizing hotel union workers.
- Dominic Diaz is the youngest candidate on the ballot at 25 years old. Diaz currently lives in the Sun Valley neighborhood and works for the city’s Office of Children’s Affairs. He has worked for Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
- Tim Hoffman works as a prosecutor at the Denver District Attorney’s Office where he belongs to the Bias Motivated Crime Unit and Traffic Investigation team. Hoffman also worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he worked with then-President Barack Obama’s White House and the State Department.
At-large seats on the council are meant to balance the district representatives, Robert Preuhs, chair of Metropolitan State University’s Political Science Department, said. The two at-large councilmembers are free to view the city’s issues in a more holistic and comprehensive manner.
The current two at-large councilmembers, Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega, are term-limited. Ortega is one of the many candidates running for mayor and Kniech is not running for any office after her term ends.
Similar to the mayor’s race, Preuhs noted that the issues coming to the fore with at-large candidates appear to be affordable housing, homelessness, public safety and economic development. Those topics also arose in early February at a debate hosted by Regis University.
Preuhs said candidates in the race are likely to distinguish themselves as the election moves forward by pushing toward either economic development or the redistribution of social services.
With such a crowded field, the at-large candidates also face logistical challenges.
Unlike the mayor’s race, there is no runoff election for the at-large seats. Whichever two candidates receive the most votes win the seats whether they have a majority or not. That was the case in 2019, when Ortega won 36% of the vote and Kniech won 28%. In 2015, the two won 38% and 30% of the vote, respectively.
Campaigning across the entire city can be an overwhelming obstacle for some at-large candidates, Preuhs said. To that end, those who previously held political office or other high-profile positions will benefit from their name recognition. Others might have to try a different campaign strategy, which could narrow their view of the city, he said.
“The strategy really is about trying to mobilize supporters that you know are supporters,” Preuhs said. “Often those folks have relatively specific interests.”
“That means, given the field, there will be some candidates that are at-large but do have an eye for advocating for particular groups,” he added.
At their core, however, each at-large seat is just one of 13 on the council, Preuhs noted. Whoever wins the positions will have their own outlook and priorities, but must also work with the rest of the group to create a majority and set Denver’s legislative agenda.
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