Councilman Rafael Espinoza is suspending his campaign for re-election to the Denver City Council, he told The Denver Post.
The first-term councilman for northwest Denver feels he’ll be more effective in tackling development and design issues as a private citizen. He hopes to work with residents, developers and the city government in a to-be-determined new role.
Espinoza’s frustrations mounted recently as the city struggled to find an architect to finish a neighborhood design standards project that he has championed, he said.
“Six months went by, and I was like, ‘I could have done that in far less time myself, except I have a legislative workload that doesn’t allow me,’” said Espinoza, 46, an architect and a Denver resident of 32 years.
Four candidates already have challenged Espinoza for the District 1 seat, and his exit could attract more. He doesn’t plan to endorse any of the current candidates, he said.
Espinoza was elected in 2015 to represent the district, which includes the neighborhoods of Highland, Sloan’s Lake and West Colfax. He decided to run when a developer threatened to surround an elderly neighbor’s home with new buildings, overshadowing her garden — a failure, he said, of the city’s design standards.
After beating incumbent Susan Shepherd with 69 percent of the vote, Espinoza made his mark in the fight to contain “slot homes” and “garden court” homes, the controversial architectural styles that proliferated through his district’s neighborhoods. He also pushed successfully for a bump-stock ban and new requirements to keep neighbors informed about development.
Espinoza is obsessive about the details of development. He was the council’s most frequent “no” vote, he said — and he sometimes exasperated his colleagues with a mix of technical minutiae and grand statements.
“Question. Question. Question,” Councilman Albus Brooks once said, interrupting Espinoza’s lengthy preamble during a question-and-answer period.
Throughout his term, Espinoza ran counter to Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration, most notably when he tried to join a lawsuit to stop a flood-control project at the City Park Golf Course.
More recently, Espinoza drew the anger of Council President Jolon Clark. During a council meeting, Espinoza compared other members’ behavior to that of President Donald Trump. Clark rapped his gavel and said, “You demean this chamber.”
That moment was an epiphany, Espinoza said. “The time when I lost Jolon Clark made me realize, ‘Oh (expletive), this is what people are talking about,’” he said.
“I don’t know, it was just too abrasive,” he said of his style. “Because I didn’t know any better — I’ve always been a hardcore introvert, a creative, and wasn’t a political entity in any way shape or form.”
Espinoza has since softened his tone and shortened his comments.
The councilman is leaving the job just as he has started to understand the council’s relationships, he said — and he’s also gratified to see the council take on some changes. For example, a new “policy committee” allows the full body to discuss ideas before the process of lawmaking begins.
“Our strength as a body comes from us as a body,” he said.
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