Denver’s dueling campaigns for mayor barely missed one another Tuesday as they held downtown endorsement events with polar-opposite messages.
On one side of Bannock Street, Mayor Michael Hancock rolled out his biggest guns on the Civic Center lawn. Former Mayors Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper reaffirmed their endorsements of the incumbent, underscoring a message of continuity: Collectively, the three men have led Denver since 1991.
Less than an hour later, challenger Jamie Giellis presided over a rally across the street that drew dozens outside the City and County Building for the unveiling of an alliance, announced Monday, that proposes an end to that line of power.
Giellis’ former leading rivals, activist and educator Lisa Calderón and former state Sen. Penfield Tate, endorsed her and detailed a merger of sorts of their platforms.
Asked by a reporter for her message to Hancock, Giellis replied: “We’re coming for you.”
In just a week, city voters will begin receiving mail ballots for the June 4 runoff. Hancock won 39 percent of the vote in the May 7 election, followed by Giellis at 25 percent, with the rest split among four other candidates. The two finalists are each now seeking a path to more than 50 percent of the vote.
“Doing work in the trenches”
For Hancock, the Tuesday morning speeches at a low-key news conference were the ultimate manifestation of the incumbent’s message: Denver has its problems, but they’ve come with a lot of successes, too — and Hancock has responded to the downsides.
“It’s a new election,” Hancock said, after regrouping from the first round last week. He characterized himself as “the more experienced candidate who knows the city, who has helped build the city in partnership with (its people).”
Webb spoke of knowing Hancock in his youth, and Hickenlooper of working alongside Hancock for eight years in city government. Hancock won his far-northeast City Council seat as Hickenlooper won the mayor’s office in 2003. When Hickenlooper became Colorado governor in 2011, Guillermo “Bill” Vidal filled in as interim mayor for six months, before Hancock took office; Vidal also endorsed his bid for a third term in a written statement Tuesday.
“We basically came up together. We learned a lot together and we shared a lot together,” Hickenlooper said. “Even then … he was pushing for housing, opportunities for everyone. He loves this city and he is committed to helping others.”
Hickenlooper pointed to mega-projects such as the National Western Center as evidence of Hancock’s vision. “I think we need a leader with experience creating jobs,” he added.
Webb criticized Giellis directly, questioning how many people she had managed in her time as a community development consultant, most prominently leading the River North Art District.
“He is not a Johnny-come-lately to this city,” Webb said of Hancock. “He has built up his worth by doing work in the trenches.”
Denver’s other surviving former mayor, Federico Peña, hasn’t endorsed in this year’s race.
“All together now” becomes reality
Just a short time later, Giellis was standing in front of a fired-up, sign-waving crowd of about 100 on the civic building’s steps. After months of campaigning, she seemed to deliver on her campaign slogan: “All together now.”
Calderón and Tate — who garnered a combined 33 percent in last week’s election — had significant disagreements with Giellis on several issues. In their endorsements Monday, neither hid the fact that defeating Hancock was their top goal.
But on Tuesday, it was “Kumbaya.”
All three talked about a “team of rivals”-style campaign, with Giellis incorporating some of the others’ positions, from homelessness to more transparency in government to tighter zoning and development permitting.
“When Jamie, Penfield and I sat down together, we hashed things out,” Calderón said. “There was nothing left unsaid. There was no issue that we didn’t talk about in terms of our differences. But we also saw that our commonalities were much greater, including her commitment to building a diverse cabinet — and ensuring that the people who are most impacted by the policies of this city have a seat at the table.”
She added: “For the first time in Denver’s history, we can have women leading city government.”
Tate said he developed a respect for Giellis’ sincerity on the campaign trail: “When Jamie’s talking with me in these moments, and when we’re in these forums, I hear the real deal.”
Giellis defended her experience level — and pointed to her former rivals’ participation in her campaign as an enhancement: “I come at this job with 16 years of experience working with local governments, working with community, working in urban planning and urban growth issues,” she said. “My friends, (together) we have more experience than Michael Hancock ever had.”
Giellis said she made no promises of city jobs to Calderón and Tate, instead asking them to take active roles in the campaign and a potential transition. That includes bringing in people from minority communities where Giellis’ ties are weaker.
“Beyond that, I think they’re two incredibly talented people, and obviously, to the extent that they want to be engaged in the future administration, that conversation is absolutely on the table to be had,” Giellis said after the event.
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