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Meet the candidates running for Denver Mayor: Leslie Herod

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 Leslie Herod'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.

Leslie Herod

Leslie Herod was the first LGBTQ Black person elected to the Colorado legislature, where she currently serves in the House. Herod led bipartisan police reform following George Floyd's murder in 2020, helped develop the STAR alternative policing program, and led the Caring For Denver ballot initiative to fund mental health services.

Political affiliation: Democrat

No provided links to policy paperwork

Long-form questions

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

I am running for mayor because Denver is struggling and needs a bold leader who puts people over politics and brings people together to create real, lasting solutions, and I have the experience and record of achievement to lead Denver into the future.

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).

Every person in Denver deserves to feel safe in their community and in this city. From our parks to our schools, whether you’re protesting in front of the Capitol or you’re an unhoused person facing a crisis, Denver can do better. Whether it is preventing gun violence, training law enforcement, reducing car thefts, or helping people that are living on our sidewalks, we can and will make our community safer for everyone, no matter what part of town they live in.

Denver can be the safest major city in the nation. A vibrant city for all its residents demands a transformational approach to public safety. That includes ensuring that each agency in the Public Safety Department is well resourced including: Police, Firefighters, Dispatchers, Sheriffs, Community Corrections, and Youth Program services. Leslie has a proven track record of being a champion of true criminal justice reform, and will continue to fight to ensure that our system is fair and just for all people that encounter it.

We must also increase support for the STAR Program - an alternative policing program to deploy trained mental health workers and paramedics to respond to 911 calls involving mental health crises and substance misuse. Our plan for community safety can be found on our website.

We highlight:

  • Improving Relationships And Trust With Our Police While Holding Them Accountable
  • Alternatives To Jail
  • Curbing Youth Violence
  • Getting Guns Off Our Streets
  • Safer Solutions For Our Homeless Population -Supporting Mental Health
  • Eliminating Hate Crimes -Zeroing In On Theft And Vandalism
  • Addressing The Root Causes Of Crime

The full plan can be found here.

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

Housing affordability impacts everyone, and costs are out of control in Denver right now. Safe, healthy, accessible, affordable housing is a human right. Yet a stable home has become a luxury that many in Denver cannot afford.

We need a bold, creative leader who will prioritize the needs of Denverites. Leslie will fight for resources to create truly affordable housing and end chronic homelessness; zoning reforms to prioritize fair housing and affordable homes for families, developing public land into housing units, protections to stabilize tenants; and ways to expand permanent affordability, such as community land trusts. ‍ We need a multi-pronged approach to this crisis that ensures that current renters and homeowners can afford to live here, while ensuring our unhoused neighbors have access to both housing and supports to help get them back on track.

Leslie has a bold vision that will combine smart urban planning with help for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues. She has gotten real results - like a successful alternative policing program that deploys trained health care workers and paramedics to respond to mental health calls, and creating the innovative Caring for Denver mental health and addiction foundation. She will use this collaborative, bold and innovative vision to solve Denver’s housing and homelessness problem.

Smart density is key to Denver’s future growth and to quality planning for the future. Denver has a 50,000 unit housing gap. In order to provide these additional units, I believe Denver must leverage vacant and underutilized land and buildings it already owns and partner with communities on projects that will help provide additional housing opportunities at all levels–ensuring that we revitalize and renew our neighborhoods while preserving their unique character. We must also eliminate the development permit backlog in order to keep up with the pressing housing demand.

As for the question of rent control, asked below, the answer is more nuanced than yes or no. As Mayor, my priority is to put results over politics and ensure that diverse stakeholders are brought to the table to find collaborative and creative solutions for our community. The goal is to ensure that housing is affordable in Denver, and there are many interconnected and coordinated ways to make that happen. I’m not interested in political sound bites. All options are on the table, including variations of rent control, as part of a comprehensive approach to keeping housing costs down. My administration will look at all avenues to keep housing affordable, including increasing the number of duplexes and triplexes in the city, developing public land into housing units, and repurposing obsolete office buildings into residential properties, all while ensuring we retain the character of our neighborhoods.

For the question about the Park Hill Golf Course, while they want to make it seem like a black and white question, the reality is that it is complicated. Conservation easements are an important part of our state’s efforts to protect open spaces and ensure that we retain areas of natural beauty. In the legislature, I voted for strengthening conservation easements in the state (HB19-1264). They also provide legal protections that, in many cases, can only be overturned by a court.

I am extremely frustrated by the lack of community input and support for all plans related to the Park Hill Golf Course, and one of my top priorities, if elected, I will be to bring diverse community interests together on tough issues to get real results. As Mayor, I will use that proven leadership style to bring together all stakeholders to find solutions on Park Hill that everyone can get behind. In the meantime, however, I cannot and will not overturn the will of the Denver voters, whether I disagree or not. I will, however, work toward a solution that ensures the community is heard.

How should Denver change its approach to addressing homelessness?

The question on everyone’s minds right now is “what will the next mayor do about street camping”. To be clear, one of the first orders of business of my administration will be to REPLACE Denver’s camping ban with a compassionate solution that works. The current policy has failed from all sides. It hasn’t reduced encampments on our streets and it is harmful for our unhoused neighbors. Denver voters don’t want to continue with failed policies of the past. We must develop a new response that includes comprehensive housing and safety programs.

It’s time to rethink how we address living space for our unhoused neighbors. We know that helping people get back on their feet requires stable housing, but the very first step is getting people inside to safe places - ones where they feel comfortable and secure. In addition, we will expand street outreach, addiction treatment, and harm reduction to ensure that people facing a crisis are aware of these new solutions. Bold action is required to change the trajectory of the city and we can develop solutions that are both safe AND caring.

I have a track record of real accomplishment on these issues, such as creating the Caring for Denver Foundation which helps fund mental health and substance use services. Find out more about out homelessness plan here.

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

Safety is one of my top priorities, and Vision Zero is an important part of that. My administration will prioritize the freedom to move about, with pedestrians being a top priority. This means we need to prioritize our sidewalk network. With Ordinance 307 passing, we are creating one stream of funding to help. I intend to look for additional funding streams.

We need to do more than just build sidewalks, we must encourage people to use them. Wherever possible, I will be instructing Parks and Rec. and the Department of Transportation to build out our tree canopy and work to build setbacks from our more populated arterials. In addition to sidewalks, bike lanes will also be a top priority. Specifically, high comfort bike lanes or protected lanes. Denver can build out a pedestrian and bicycle network that keeps our residents safe and encourages them to use it.

Finally, another area that my administration will focus on are shared spaces or uncomfortable driving zones. If the pandemic shutdown taught us anything, it is that making safe spaces work. I will instruct DOTI to grow the recently created “outdoor places program”, which derived from the shutdown called “temporary outdoor patio expansion program”. Areas like Larimer Square from 14th to 15th is a huge success, but shouldn’t be limited to just downtown, and we must identify areas that can benefit from treatments like this, all around the city.

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.  

In the Colorado Legislature, I chaired the Appropriations committee and served on the Joint Budget Committee (“JBC”) as one of only two House Democrats overseeing $40 billion dollars of the state’s budget. The JBC is responsible for allocating the general fund and overseeing all discretionary spending by the state.

In addition, I created and chair the Caring for Denver Foundation which is the state’s largest mental health and substance use services foundation. With a $35 million dollar budget every year, we have funded successful programs for people facing mental health and addiction challenges---86% of people that have been in these programs have stayed out of jail and are on the path of recovery.

Finally, we must address the city’s employment vacancy rate by reinvesting in city jobs to bring us back to pre-pandemic levels. Many of the city’s departments are understaffed and overworked, and we can reduce backlogs and improve efficiency by ensuring our city services are fully staffed.

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?

If we don’t have a strong education system we don’t have a strong city. We need to ensure that Denver Public Schools are serving our city’s children and parents in the best way possible. Denver students, teachers, and families deserve an education system that works for them and provides the support they need to succeed and thrive. Our schools are facing upheaval and uncertainty, and we need strong leadership to bring people together to best serve our kids. I have a proven track record of putting people over politics to get results, and I will prioritize collaboration and community involvement to move our schools forward.

Every parent wants a quality education for their children, and time and time again Denver voters choose to support our public schools. Despite this, there is much discontent among parents and community members whenever decisions are made.

I will use my leadership style of collaboration and community involvement to put people over politics, and help move forward a positive agenda for the City of Denver that makes sure that all of our voices are heard.

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?  

Every person is deserving of care, respect, and fair treatment. Migrants are coming to America for work opportunities and for a better life. For those that choose to stay in Denver, we must find them employment opportunities and safe places for them and their families to stay. I am proud of Denver for stepping up to care for people that have often just been through extreme ordeals. Denverites have long had a spirit that means giving a hand to those in need in times of crisis. We have the grit and determination to do what is right, even when the going gets tough. Denver must increase its city services and social safety nets to help deal with a number of challenges the city faces today. As Mayor, I will ensure that our immigrant communities are aware of the resources available to them by ensuring we have community partners that speak the same language and can get the message out. We are at our strongest when we work together.

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

The character of our neighborhoods is one of the things I love about this city. One of my top goals is ensuring that we build for the neighborhood by ensuring that we don’t displace current residents and also making it so people can move back to neighborhoods they grew up in. When neighborhoods grow, we must ensure it benefits the legacy communities and reflects the community of that neighborhood. There are ways we can both decrease housing costs AND retain the character of our communities. For example, as part of a MCA project we are renovating the Holiday theater to accommodate affordable housing units. This is being done without resorting to structures that take away from the neighborhood’s unique character.

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

A city is only as strong as its downtown. Returning the center of our city to its full vibrancy is one of my top priorities. In the first 100 days, we will host a Downtown Summit with downtown advocates, residents, and business owners. We must increase public safety, get our unhoused neighbors into safe spaces, and make housing more affordable. The 16th Street Mall has to be reimagined again to reflect a post-COVID life. We will incentivize local restaurants and shops in other parts of town to open second locations, and work to attract back the businesses and employees who have left.

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?

Fentanyl is a scourge on our streets. It is killing people that don’t even know they are taking it, and we need to put results over politics and take real action now. The war on drugs is a failed policy that focuses on criminalizing the wrong people--the victims of drug addiction.

We need a three-pronged approach to dealing with fentanyl. First, we need to focus police resources on going after the manufacturers of these deadly drugs. Despite what they want you to believe , the penalties for intentionally distributing fentanyl are high--our police just need to enforce the law.

Second, we must focus on harm prevention. People suffering from drug addiction are victims and need our help. Having Narcan readily available, and ensuring people know how to use it, will save lives in the short term while we get people the help they need in the long term. We also need to educate people about the dangers of fentanyl, let them know it can be in any drug, and distribute test strips so people can avoid anything with fentanyl in it in the first place.

Finally, we know that drug addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are many root causes that include untreated mental health struggles, financial woes, and societal conditions. For too long we have been trying to treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying disease. Denver can do better in addressing these root causes, and make our city a better, safer, and happier place for all that live here.

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?

When the city begins negotiating the next franchise agreement, my team will work with the community to identify the pain points and then negotiate in their best interests, especially for those Denverites on a fixed income and seniors.

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?

If elected, I will have a special advisor that is focused exclusively on environmental and climate issues and I will hold them, and the entire city, accountable for reaching these goals. We will also be transparent about how close we are to meeting benchmarks, and include environmental stakeholders at the table to help ensure we meet and exceed the goals of the 2018 Denver Climate Action Plan.

Yes or No

Will you enforce Denver’s camping ban?

Decline to say

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?

Decline to say

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?

Decline to say

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


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