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Meet the candidates running for Denver Mayor: Ean Thomas Tafoya

9NEWS asked all 17 people running for Denver to answer the same policy questions.

DENVER — There are 17 people on the 2023 ballot for Denver Mayor, all vying to replace Michael Hancock after three terms in office. If that's not the most ever, it's at least the biggest pool of candidates for that office in decades, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder's Office, which checked their sample paper ballots going back to 1946.

Each candidate has their own ideas regarding crime, homelessness, housing affordability and more. We asked all of them the same policy questions and asked for written responses.

Below you'll find Ean Thomas Tafoya's answers, all unedited and in the candidate's own words, as well as documents related to policy proposals.

You can see the other candidates' responses here.

Denver's Election Day is April 4.

Ean Thomas Tafoya

Ean Thomas Tafoya is an advocate for environmental causes and a social justice activist. Tafoya spearheaded the Denver's citizen-approved Green Roof Initiative and Waste No More ballot measure. He served as co-chair of the Colorado Environmental Justice Action Task Force.

Political affiliations: Democrat, Working Families Party, Democratic Socialist 

No provided links to policy paperwork

Long-form questions

In a single sentence, why are you running for mayor?

I’ve been fighting for our underserved communities for decades, and we deserve leaders who will take that fight to the Mayor’s Office.

Please provide specifics on your plan to improve public safety and reduce crime in Denver. Specifically, please note whether the Denver Police budget should be increased or decreased (including funding diversion to non-police emergency responses).

Public safety means everyone has clean air, clean water, a safe well paying (preferably union) job, a home that's comfortable and affordable, and a strong safe community. We can do a lot to improve public safety that’s not necessarily directly related to crime: replacing lead pipes, reducing air pollution, building infrastructure to prevent traffic deaths and much more. One glaring problem in Denver is that our lowest income neighborhoods have the worst air quality and water problems, but are farthest from healthcare. We need to treat this as an urgent public safety problem.

We can also do a lot to reduce crime by addressing the root causes. When we criminalize poverty, we punish people for struggling and waste taxpayer dollars trapping them in cycles of incarceration that don’t solve the issues in the long run. We can fight poverty by protecting tenants against eviction, lowering rent, increasing food security and protecting workers organizing for better conditions and wages. This includes supporting formerly incarcerated people as they reintegrate into our communities, making sure they have jobs and options.

When we invest in prevention, we reduce the pressure on police to solve every societal problem. Instead, we can focus on finding the best data-driven solutions. I support many recommendations made by the Task Force to Reimagine Denver Policing, including their proposal to shift funding to non-police emergency responses where it makes sense–for example, expanding the STAR program for people in mental health crisis. As a former teacher and mentor to indigenous youth, I also know we have to invest in youth programming, community support and job training. Adults need care too and I would expand community-led violence prevention programs and transformative justice, so we can make our neighborhoods safer without trapping people in the criminal justice system. Indigenous communities like the Jicarilla Apache have been using systems of transformative justice for centuries.

All this will free up the police to use their budget to address the violent crimes that we rely on them to investigate, like the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

What should the City of Denver do to promote affordable housing? 

First, we need to make sure people can stay in the homes they have by passing rent control and a vacancy tax, so corporations can’t use empty buildings for write-offs. I recently co-led the coordinated campaign to pass ballot initiatives like Waste No More and No Eviction Without Representation, and we need to make sure that initiative is fully funded and enact a moratorium on evicting tenants without legal representation in the meantime.

Then, we need to expand transitional housing programs and housing that seniors, the disabled, and working families can all afford. I served on the Inter-neighborhood Cooperation Zoning & Planning Committee, Blueprint Denver, and the taskforce implementing Colorado’s first inclusionary zoning law. It’s time to take that experience to the Mayor’s Office and push things further. We need heavy requirements and incentives for building actually affordable units for working families, allow commercial zoning to become residential and ease permitting so people can build on single-family homes to fit more people.

All this housing construction is a huge opportunity for that construction to be sustainable. It’s also an opportunity to invest in local workforce development and contracting local businesses with the highest labor standards.

How should Denver change its approach to addressing homelessness?

I don’t believe our city is investing in effective solutions to our housing crisis. First, I’ve always opposed Denver’s sweeps of homeless encampments. After years of wasting taxpayer money cruelly forcing people from one block to another and back again, the unhoused population has tripled. I founded an organization to provide water and trash pickup to encampments, because the sweeps don’t address these public health issues at all. Second, a lot of the “solutions” our city invests in, like shelters, are more of a Band-Aid.

Lots of research shows the fastest, cheapest way to get people off the streets is to get them into housing with wraparound services. In 2020, I presented a community plan that leveraged regional cooperation to rapidly get folks off the streets, and as Mayor I would implement it while expanding programs that have actually been proven to work in Denver.

We also have to address our housing crisis so nobody becomes homeless in the first place.

How should Denver change its approach to mobility and safe streets?

Denver needs to start designing for people, not cars. Cars are just one way that people get around, and ideally we want to make other options easier so people can save money and reduce emissions. I plan to electrify our public transportation, make it more frequent and expand routes including a route to Red Rocks. When we develop neighborhoods, we need to be sure that Denverites of all income levels can walk or take rapid public transit to healthcare, groceries, schools, and businesses. I also advocated for Denver’s first bike lane, and I’d like to see biking become a safe and viable way to move in every neighborhood. Disability accessibility is a huge part of mobility and safe streets as well, and we need to make sure we design every neighborhood with access in mind.

The Mayor has significant control over a $3-4 billion budget and will hire cabinet members who oversee roughly 12,000 employees. Please detail your experience with budgets and hiring.  

I staffed Denver City Council, and was responsible for working on the budget with the Council and the Mayor. I’ve basically been controlling budgets and hiring since I was a teen, working at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and managing a team of 70. As an advocate at the state legislature I regularly analyze state budgets and financing sources at the local, state and federal level. As state director of GreenLatinos I am responsible for the budget and hiring of the Colorado office. I also hold leadership roles in other non-profits and work collectively on their budget too.

Should the City of Denver explore ways to exert more control over Denver Public Schools? If so, how would you do that and what would be your goal?

No, I believe the independence of the School Board provides valuable transparency for the people of our city. As Mayor I will always work with the Board, the teachers’ union, parents, and youth to make our public school system the best it can be. As a former teacher and mentor to indigenous youth, I’m particularly invested in how we can collaborate to increase mental health support and after-school enrichment to keep our youth supported by an entire community. I’m also committed to working with the union to explore what we can do locally to increase teacher salaries, provide housing vouchers and back up their organizing.

Please assess the Hancock administration’s response to the influx of migrants from the southern border since December 2022. What should Denver do to prepare for and respond to another potential influx of migrants?  

Denver is already made strong by many thriving migrant communities and ultimately, lots of policies that will help us welcome new migrants will actually help everyone. I believe we need to be creative, providing sustainable opportunities for people who want to stay in Denver while giving safe shelter to those on their way to somewhere else. One example is using festival and cultural workers, who have expertise in rapid-processing of crowds, to welcome new migrants. Of course we need language and cultural accessibility. That’s why I’ve been producing campaign materials in Spanish and Vietnamese, and have plans to make city websites and materials available in those languages as well as Arabic, Somali and Amharic.

What should Denver do to prevent the displacement of longtime residents due to gentrification and tax burdens?

As a fourth generation Denverite I’ve seen the impacts gentrification has had on my communities, including my mom’s neighborhood in Cole. We need to keep land in community hands by supporting community development corporations, community land trusts and land banking. Denver needs to head off development that will skyrocket property taxes for working families, and help people who are struggling to afford their property tax. Finally we need to invest in home ownership for our working families, for example by helping public workers buy homes over time.

We can use public banking to give communities more control over which projects are financed, and how, to make sure development works for people who already live here.

What should be done to revitalize downtown Denver (vis-à-vis office occupancy, the 16th Street Mall, crime)?

My vision for downtown is similar to my vision for the rest of the city: a clean, green neighborhood accessible to all, including pedestrians and disabled commuters. It has reasonable rent for small businesses and mixed income apartments where all Denverites enjoy a comfortable home, not just the wealthy. There’s bike lanes, expanded electric bus networks and thriving downtown parks. A creative arts scene is visited by locals and tourists alike. Too often “revitalization” in this city pushes our working families out or leaves them behind. I would make sure current residents lead the way on downtown revitalization and get to enjoy the results. 

What is within the power of the City of Denver to fight the opioid epidemic? What steps should regional or state leaders take in cooperation to reduce fentanyl deaths?

This epidemic is one of our most serious crises as a community. We need to invest in long-term support for those struggling with addiction, both outpatient care and harm reduction centers. People struggling with addiction need true continuity of care and we need to ensure that. For example, sweeps of unhoused residents often interrupt access to care and that’s a problem. We need safe sites and NARCAN access. We also need anti-drug use education citywide that uses data-driven and compassionate methods. Additionally, we need to make sure we’re supporting people’s mental health and fostering community care, especially for our youth.

Xcel Energy's franchise agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2026. What will you seek from the next agreement that protects Denver customers from high utility bills?

Even before it expires, we have the ability to intervene and advocate in rate cases for higher usage of renewable energy and lower utility bills particularly for the lowest earning customers. Xcel has enormous profits and has the capability to do both. In the next franchise agreement we want to maximize the commitments to wind and solar energy sourcing while minimizing rate hikes and even lowering them for low-income consumers. This should be feasible given Xcel’s $1.74 billion 2022 profits. In the long term, we also should consider municipalization of our energy utility.

Denver has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030. A sales tax approved by voters funds the city's climate action goals. What, if any, changes would you make to Denver's climate action goals and how would you make green energy and environmentally sustainable living available across income levels?

Denver is such an incredible city, we can do better than this! We need to take advantage of this opportunity to re-make our society. It’s about power to the people–literally.

My life’s work has been advancing environmental justice for the most impacted communities, and that will continue if I’m elected Mayor. I organized against the 1-70 expansion and secured millions in mitigation, served as Co-Chair of Colorado’s Environmental Justice Task Force and organized across the state to pass the revolutionary Air Toxins Act and 9 other groundbreaking bills. If elected Mayor, I’ll continue to hold polluters accountable, ban fracking locally and oppose highway expansions that demolish our communities. Instead we’re going to expand and electrify public transportation so it’s a real alternative to driving a car for everyone.

Then, we can use local funding like public banking, plus state and federal dollars, to pursue a just transition. There’s funding to help working families retrofit their buildings so they save energy and lower the bills. There’s funding for public schools to lower their bills through solar power and funding for community solar that allows neighborhoods to come together and own their own power source.

As Mayor I will also prioritize workers in this transition, creating local jobs as we develop sustainable infrastructure and buildings, investing in workforce development for new green industries and making sure workers in transitioning industries aren’t left behind.

Yes or No

Will you enforce Denver’s camping ban?


Should Denver maintain its effective status as a sanctuary city through noncooperation with immigration agents? 


Will you vote to support development of the Park Hill Golf Course as currently proposed on the April ballot?


Do you support the use of any Denver taxpayer funds to build a new football stadium for the Broncos? 


Should Denver reduce vehicle volumes downtown?


Did you support Mayor Michael Hancock’s re-election in 2019?


If the Colorado legislature lifts the ban on local rent control, should Denver pursue some form of rent control?


Should Denver pursue the creation of a supervised drug injection site with the permission of the state legislature?


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