The long list of 2023 Denver mayor candidates

The pool includes state lawmakers, city officials and activists

By: - January 17, 2023 4:00 am

The Denver City and County Building at 1437 Bannock St. in Denver, seen on Aug. 5, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Editor’s note: This post was last updated at 7:06 a.m., Jan. 30, 2023, following the deadline for candidates to submit qualifying petition signatures. An official list of qualified candidates will be released by the clerk’s office on Feb. 3.

Denver’s municipal elections are less than three months away, offering voters the chance to weigh in on the city’s future, including in the wide-open race for its top job.

With Mayor Michael Hancock term-limited after 12 years in office, a long and diverse list of candidates are vying to replace him and chart a new course at city hall. Two sitting state lawmakers, a 30-year City Council veteran and a handful of nonprofit and business leaders are among the hopefuls.

Though Denver’s municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, nearly all of the declared mayoral candidates are Democrats.


In order to qualify for the April 4 ballot, candidates must submit at least 300 verified signatures of registered Denver voters. Candidate order for the ballot will be determined by random draw on Feb. 7, and ballots will be mailed to Denver’s 447,000 active registered voters beginning March 13.

If no candidate for mayor receives more than 50% of the vote in the April 4 election, the two candidates with the most votes will advance to a runoff election scheduled for June 6.

Here are the candidates, in alphabetical order:

Kelly Brough

One of the first high-profile candidates to jump into the race, Brough bills herself as “the only candidate for mayor who has actually managed the city.” She served as then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2009.

She then spent 12 years leading the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group. Her campaign has emphasized community safety issues and a plan for “how we can be smart on crime.”

“There is no question that we aren’t living up to our promise as a city,” Brough says on her campaign website. “I’m ready to tackle our city’s toughest issues and create a future that looks brighter than the Denver we see today.”

Lisa Calderón

A former criminal justice and sociology professor at Regis University, Calderón placed third in the 2019 mayoral race with 18% of the vote.

She currently serves as the executive director of Emerge Colorado, a nonprofit that trains women to run for elected office, and previously was chief of staff to City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca. A leading progressive critic of Hancock, Calderón’s campaign promises to “reimagine Denver.”

“We don’t have to choose between affordable housing and open space, but instead, invest in both,” she said in a statement announcing her campaign last year. “We can be a model city where small businesses thrive, and workers are paid equitably. Where all neighborhoods are walkable and rollable, and climate change is met with urgent solutions.”

Al Gardner

Gardner is an IT executive who has served on several boards and commissions, including the Denver Civil Service Commission and the Citizen Oversight Board.

Chris Hansen

State Sen. Chris Hansen has represented central and southeast Denver in the Colorado Senate since 2020, and previously served multiple terms in the state House.

Hansen is an energy data analyst and former co-chair of the Colorado Energy Coalition, a business group. He has prioritized clean-energy and climate issues during his time in the Legislature, and also served on the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

“As an engineer, I’m trained to see problems and find solutions,” Hansen said in a video launching his campaign. Right now, Denver is at a crossroads. We need vision for a city that works.”

Leslie Herod

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod has represented District 8 in the Colorado House of Representatives since 2017, earning a reputation as a progressive reformer on policing and criminal-justice issues.

She was a lead sponsor of Senate Bill 20-217, the bipartisan police-reform legislation passed by state lawmakers in the wake of widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in 2020. A Park Hill resident, Herod made history as the first LGBTQ Black woman to be elected to the Legislature and as mayor promises to lead the city “boldly forward” on housing, safety, transportation and climate issues.

“Denver is ready for someone with experience and a record of achievement,” Herod says on her campaign website. “From championing ground-breaking alternative policing programs to passing and managing tens of millions of dollars annually to treat mental health and substance use disorders, I’ve spent my entire career putting results over politics.”

Mike Johnston

A former state senator representing Park Hill, Johnston ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2020. He served as the CEO of the nonprofit network Gary Community Ventures before resigning to launch his mayoral bid in November.

A Vail native and Teach for America alum who made education policy a focus of his legislative career, Johnston has identified homelessness, housing and crime as his top issues in the race.

“I offer a proven track record of real results — as a public servant, a state senator, and a CEO,” he said in a statement. “In each of these roles, we’ve tackled complex problems, built unlikely coalitions, and delivered meaningful progress.”

Aurelio Martinez

Martinez is a small business owner and native of Five Points, according to his campaign website. His campaign emphasizes neighborhood planning and ending Denver’s “catering to developers.”

Debbie Ortega

The only current city officeholder to have entered the mayoral race, Ortega has served on Denver City Council as an at-large member, representing the entire city, since 2011. She previously served four terms representing Council District 9 in north Denver between 1987 and 2003.

“For over 40 years, I have been a trailblazer in Denver, advocating for meaningful policy to address the issues that matter most to our neighbors and local businesses,” Ortega said in a statement announcing her candidacy. “It is time for Denver to chart a new course. This will require a leader who works side-by-side with the people, as I have for my entire career.”

Terrance Roberts

Roberts is a community organizer and anti-gang activist. His arrest and eventual acquittal in relation to a 2013 shooting outside a Park Hill community center was chronicled in “The Holly,” a 2021 book and forthcoming documentary from journalist Julian Rubinstein.

”Corporate greed has driven Denver into a housing crisis that has put us on the brink of a public safety crisis,” Roberts says on his campaign website. “Our leaders have prioritized the profits of multinational corporations and billionaires over the safety of our families. Denver needs a leader that will advocate for the material interests of our poor, disenfranchised, and working class.”

Trinidad Rodriguez

Rodriguez launched his campaign late last year after a 20-year career as a financial executive. He has also served on a variety of public and nonprofit boards, including the Denver Housing Authority, the Downton Denver Partnership and the Rose Community Foundation.

“I decided to step up because I have a vision for what Denver can and should be in the next five, 20 and 100 years,” Rodriguez says on his campaign website.

Andy Rougeot

Rougeout is a former Army officer and the owner of a maintenance business. On his campaign website, he promises to “deliver for Denver by cracking down on crime, enforcing the camping ban, and increasing affordable housing.”

Kwame Spearman

One of the most recent entrants into the race, Spearman is the CEO of Tattered Cover, Colorado’s leading independent bookstore.

”As a Denver native and small business owner, I can tell you the stakes couldn’t be higher as the city continues to recover from the pandemic,” he said in a statement. “We need a political outsider with fresh solutions and a willingness to tackle the big problems the city is facing.”

Ean Thomas Tafoya

Tafoya is the Colorado state director for advocacy group GreenLatinos and co-chair of the Colorado Environmental Justice Action Task Force. He previously ran for the City Council District 9 seat in 2015.

“When we see problems, we cannot ignore them,” Tafoya said in a statement announcing his bid. “We must come together to improve the quality of life for all Denverites while planning for the next seven generations.”

Robert Treta

Treta is a contractor and architect who told Denverite that his top priorities are speeding up permitting processes and building new housing to address homelessness.

Thomas Wolf

Wolf, an investment banker, previously ran for mayor in 2011 and finished in seventh place. On his website, he calls himself a political independent and lists “Encampments, Encampments, Encampments” as his campaign’s top issue.

“It will take strong leadership with thick skin as it is a heavy complex problem and blowback is inevitable,” Wolf says. “The very first thing I will do as your Mayor is remove encampments and get our neediest sheltered, identified and diagnosed in order to embrace them with rehabilitative services and care.”

Renate Behrens has also filed paperwork declaring their candidacy, according to Denver elections officials. No public information about their campaign was available.

Candidates who won’t appear on the ballot

Candidates who failed to qualify for the ballot through petition signatures may still seek election through a write-in campaign.

Abass Yaya Bamba, a software company owner, did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Alex Cowans did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Paul Noel Fiorino, a dancer and artist who has previously run for mayor, governor and U.S. Senate, did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Sean Gallegos did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Marcus Giavanni did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Sylvia Herring did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Jesse Parris, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, police reform and other causes, did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

Ken Simpson, a tech consultant, did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.

David Stevens, director of The Language School, withdrew from the race.

State Rep. Alex Valdez, a Democrat representing Colorado’s House District 5, withdrew from the race on Jan. 17.

James Walsh, a University of Colorado Denver professor, did not qualify for the ballot after failing to submit the required number of petition signatures.


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.