Several candidates have filed to run for Denver mayor against Michael Hancock in 2019. Here’s what they say.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Nearly a year out from Denver’s next mayoral election, several candidates have declared their intention to run — well before Michael Hancock is expected to make his bid for a third term official.

The four Denverites who have filed candidacy papers for the May 2019 election so far represent a range of viewpoints. But all see failings during Hancock’s seven-year tenure and opportunities for changes in direction, and they want to give voters more choices.

Rumors still abound about political and business figures who are interested in running, some only if Hancock decides against launching his campaign.

The mayor has had recent fundraisers, but so far only one other candidate has reported raising serious money. In fact, Kayvan Khalatbari, a community activist and marijuana industry entrepreneur, outraised Hancock in the first quarter of 2018. That occurred during a period when Hancock was responding to fallout over a revelation that he sent suggestive text messages to a security detail officer six years ago.

The Denver Post spoke with each of the potential challengers about why they plan to run. Their responses have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Kalyn Heffernan, a filed candidate for Denver Mayor in 2019, sits for a portrait at her home on May 23, 2018, in Denver. She paints a trademark mustache on her face for her campaign.

About her: Heffernan, 31, is a disability rights activist who was among 10 protesters arrested last year during a sit-in at U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office. She teaches music production classes at Manual High School. She also is the founder and MC of the local band Wheelchair Sports Camp. (She says she’s “sitting for mayor,” a nod to her use of a wheelchair.) Her hometown is Wheat Ridge, and she grew up in the Denver suburbs as well as in Burbank, Calif. She lives in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood.

What’s your vision for Denver — what kind of city should it be?

“An accessible city — a very free, artist-supported place that is accessible. Access is so important because it intersects with everything. It’s like, do we have access to these things because of our race, our sexuality, our gender, our income status? And physical access, for my selfish interests. It’s interesting how much of the city disabled people don’t have access to.

“And then on a much more visceral level, what is the access for people of color? What is the access for indigenous communities? What is the access to the poor and working class? I would like to see the city become the most accessible city in the country.”

How would you accomplish that vision?

“By supporting the actual community that lives here and protecting human interests over capital interests. I think that if we prioritized humans over money, it would be a lot easier to make these things happen.”

What do you think Mayor Hancock is getting right, and what’s he getting wrong?

“I feel like Mayor Hancock’s getting most things wrong. I think he’s definitely doing right by protecting immigrants as a sanctuary city.” But she knocks Hancock for, as she sees it, not stepping in with city money when immigrant advocacy organizations have been at risk of losing their federal funding.

“I think what he’s getting the most wrong is selling the city to real estate vultures that don’t represent this city. It’s disproportionately eradicating the same cultures that (Hancock) came out of (in northeast Denver). And I think it’s so apparent with the homeless deaths this last year. It’s more than any other year that we’ve ever documented, and I know a lot of homeless people are disabled. I’d like to see the city prioritize the humans that work here, that live here, that build this place over the capital interests that see Denver as an opportunity to gain.”

Kayvan Khalatbari, a filed candidate for Denver mayor in 2019, stands for a portrait in his office at Denver Relief Consulting on May 23, 2018, in Denver.

About him: Khalatbari, 34, is a community activist who co-owns the Sexy Pizza chain and co-founded Sexpot Comedy. He’s attracted the most attention for helping start several marijuana businesses in Colorado (since sold). He still co-owns a consulting firm for the marijuana industry, but he says he’s putting his businesses on the back burner while he campaigns. The Lincoln, Neb., native lives in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood.

What’s your vision for Denver — what kind of city should it be?

“I have a hard time believing that we can’t be doing better than we are now. We’re in one of our biggest periods of prosperity, both as a city and a state, and we don’t have a lot to show for it. We’ve kowtowed and provided a deference to developers and multinational companies on things like I-70 and the DIA shopping mall” — he’s referring to the upcoming terminal renovation — “and divested in the things that make Denver great.

“I plan, first and foremost, to open up this city big-time in terms of transparency. I firmly believe we have about $80 million in our annual budget right now … that we could and should be spending on affordable housing,” he said. He said the city should invest in strategies such as tiny houses for the homeless and live-work spaces for artists. It also should pass more renter protections.

How would you accomplish that vision?

“It’s one of the most powerful positions in the state,” he said of the mayor’s office, and not only because the mayor dominates budget discussions. “We also need to understand that this seat has some pretty significant leverage when it comes to Denver Public Schools, the Regional Transportation District and the state legislature. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing those executive powers be put to good.”

What do you think Mayor Hancock is getting right, and what’s he getting wrong?

“To be fair, I don’t think he’s done a lot right. Opening up the rec centers to kids and providing access for free — honestly, that’s the only thing I’d point to.” Khalatbari pointed to the city spending more on jail deputy overtime than on improving access to healthy food as an example of poor leadership.

“I continue to see this veil of secrecy being pulled over the independent monitor. Abuse is running rampant in those (safety) departments. In transportation, we have Nashville and Oklahoma City spending more than we do on protected bike lanes and sidewalks. We’re falling behind nationally on that front.”

Marcus Giavanni, a candidate for Denver mayor in 2019, stands for a portrait on May 25, 2018, in Denver. He also ran as a citizen candidate in 2015 and was the first to file for mayor in the 2019 cycle.

About him: Giavanni, 57, is a search engine and social media optimization consultant. His campaign echoes his unfunded campaign for Denver mayor in 2015, when he finished second to Hancock, with 8.5 percent of the vote. Giavanni’s hometown is Phoenix, and he lives in Denver’s University Hills neighborhood.

What’s your vision for Denver — what kind of city should it be?

“We should be the smart city, where we’re taking Google and integrating it into (the city’s) entire system. This way, when you use Google products and services, we’re going to be cutting out those second- and third-party applications that the city buys. This will eliminate all that. I have a program I’m going to launch, and it’s going to focus on getting the entire IT department locked down.

“What I say is innovation, love and peace — that’s what I tell people,” he said, summing up his vision. He also referred to plans to improve the education and development of students in Denver’s schools, and he voiced concern about Denver’s rising crime rates. “Who’s going to move here? We have to fix Denver.”

How would you accomplish that vision?

“We’ve got to go back to being nonpartisan. Denver’s got an opportunity. Our city charter has all these laws, including the council keeping the mayor in check. But we don’t operate like that, and we should. … Right now, Denver voters are afraid that the marijuana industry is going to take over the government,” he said, referring to Khalatbari’s candidacy.

What do you think Mayor Hancock is getting right, and what’s he getting wrong?

“I met him, dude. He’s a cool brother,” Giavanni said, crediting Hancock for taking his questions at an event during the 2015 election. “It’s just that Michael has reached this peak level of leadership. Here’s the thing: The money he is paid is not bringing in the integrity that Denver needs. He’s everything that he wants to fight about, but he doesn’t know how.

“The next election, if it goes any way other than the nonpartisan direction, Denver government will be categorized as kleptocracy. Once I tell everyone I’m the ‘Google mayor,’ the entire authority of the city and county of Denver changes, after 50 years of Democratic mayors. Can you imagine if Denver was nonpartisan?”

Ken Simpson, a Cherry Creek resident, is a filed candidate for Denver mayor in 2019. He posed for a portrait in his neighborhood on May 26, 2018.

About him: Simpson, 57, is a technology consultant. He previously worked for the city of Denver, for six years, in the 311 call center, he said, to learn more about how city government works. He ran for mayor in 2011, finishing 10th out of 10 candidates in Hancock’s first election. Simpson was born in Germany, where his father was stationed in the Air Force, and has lived in Colorado most of his life. He now lives in Cherry Creek.

What’s your vision for Denver — what kind of city should it be?

“I think it should be an inclusive city for everybody, and not just for the people with big money and lobbyists. I’m running for mayor to make a difference in the lives of average citizens. I’m anti-establishment and pro-police. I’ll be looking for ways to get more affordable housing in Denver.

“Denver police officers will be able to stand tall and proud once again with a new administration. The days of standing back and watching a bunch of thugs deface the fallen officers memorial outside of police headquarters and doing nothing will soon be over. I’ll fight to get DPD officers more money, and I’ll concentrate on eradicating crime in high-crime areas throughout the city.

“Denver needs a new mayor who’s not a career politician and one that looks out for the interest of the average citizen. I’ll help bring ‘the city of tomorrow’ today.”

How would you accomplish that vision?

“I haven’t had any time to research this yet, but I’d like to offer more affordable housing for the average citizen who works for an average wage. I decided to run for mayor because I feel that people are sick of regular politicians, and they want a regular citizen to run for mayor — one who knows how they live, works a regular job and wants to afford regular housing.”

What do you think Mayor Hancock is getting right, and what’s he getting wrong?

“With all of the recent news about him, there’s nothing I can say to make him feel worse than he already does about that situation,” Simpson said, referring to Hancock’s harassment scandal. “And what is he doing right? He’s offering affordable housing for people right now. I think we should do more affordable housing for more Denver citizens all around.”

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