DENVER — In a message to prominent members of Denver's Asian community, mayoral challenger Jamie Giellis said her 2009 tweet about Chinatowns lacked context.
"I was asking if it’s right for a city government to promote a Chinatown district, using its original name and culture, for the city’s commercial or economic purposes while ignoring displacement of the people themselves," she wrote Wednesday, adding the tweet came after research on gentrification.
Her letter was in response to a written request made Tuesday, asking for an explanation of a tweet that resurfaced last week. The since-deleted post said: "Why do so many cities feel it necessary to have a ‘Chinatown’?”
About three dozen Asian leaders signed the request, which expressed "grave concerns" about the comment. The signatories pointed out that Denver itself once had a Chinatown in the area now known as LoDo. A mob destroyed it in the city's first race riot in 1880.
In a statement to Next with Kyle Clark last week, Giellis said the tweet was an observation she made in her travels. "I was noticing that those neighborhoods were changing, that 'Chinatowns' became less of the cultural centers that they once were," she said.
"Your follow-up assertion that 'Chinatowns became less of the cultural centers that they once were,' further demonstrates your lack of understanding of the significance that these historic connections have in our communities as we mitigate the negative consequences of gentrification and displacement. It is not a true representation of our communities' passion to grow and foster our cultural centers," the letter to Giellis said.
In her own letter, she wrote that she "gained a deep understanding of Asian cultures" during her career. She apologized for the tweet and said that she wants to celebrate Denver's diversity as mayor.
The response from Giellis came the same day that the executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center made a complaint on Facebook about a photo of him posted on the challenger's campaign website. Harry Budisidharta, one of the people who signed the letter to Giellis, said that he did not appreciate the photo being posted on her page. He added he specifically told Giellis he did not endorse any candidate.
Giellis said her team met with him and removed the photo at his request.
Giellis is running against incumbent Michael Hancock in the Denver mayoral runoff race. Ballots are due back by June 4.