Breaking News
More () »

Meet the candidates running for Denver Mayor: Lisa Calderón

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 since the 1940s, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Each has their own ideas regarding crime, homelessness, housing affordability and more. We asked all the candidates the same policy questions to find out what their priorities would be if they won.

Below you'll find Lisa Calderón'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.

Lisa Calderón

Lisa Calderón is a longtime social justice advocate and non-profit leader making her second run for Denver Mayor. In 2019, Calderon finished third with 18% of the vote. Calderon, who was a single parent, describes herself as a survivor of generational abuse, homelessness, and interpersonal violence.

Political affiliation: Democrat

Links to policy paperwork

Long-form questions

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

I am running for Mayor because, for the first time in its history, Denver can elect a mayor who will lead from a seat of progressive power, and take advantage of the opportunity to create an equitable city; not because of what we build but because of the people who build community together.  

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).

I reject the premise that more police means more public safety. Instead, I will take an evidence-based approach to reducing crime based on what has been proven to work. As Mayor, I will:

  • Invest in proven preventative methods like community safety initiatives, crisis responders, and mental health care access
  • Implement preventative and rehabilitative practices that get to the root causes of crime
  • Reject reactionary punitive systems and invest in restorative systems that stop recidivism
  • Fully invest and expand the STAR Program so that it is it can operate 24/7 city wide
  • Expand the social safety net and Invest in economic opportunity in under-served communities to address the hopelessness that leads to crime
  • I will reinvest cost savings by reducing arrests, incarceration, judicial resources, emergency room visits and other more costly responses.
  • I will appoint new public safety leadership who are committed to transforming the institution, selected with the input of community members.

Every year, Denver’s Police Department budget makes up a disproportionate amount of the city’s general fund. We need to right-size the budget to reflect our values by reimagining the equitable society we want to have. Specifically, my budget priorities around public safety are

  1. Expanding the social safety net so that we are paying less on prevention on the front end rather than on the back end through higher costs for criminalization, emergency room visits, and evictions.
  2. Reinvesting cost savings that will result from an expanded social safety net.
  3. Reducing our multimillion-dollar settlements liabilities by resolving cases of government wrongdoing early in the legal process, and implementing better police training, monitoring, and accountability measures.

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

Our housing crisis is our number one issue in Denver and will need immediate and multifaceted solutions. We must repurpose land use and preserve our green space, which we cannot afford to lose. Building attainable and affordable housing to meet the needs of individuals and families today, and over the next few years, will require a fundamental restructuring of the city’s housing portfolio. Only about 1% of Denver’s housing units are dedicated to public housing. All of this must be done while focusing on sustainability, ensuring safe multimodal transportation, and combating gentrification.

Along with the above I would:

  • Repurpose brown and grey space to introduce dense, affordable, and social housing
  • Strengthen tenants’ rights through just eviction law and providing an option for tenants to buy their buildings
  • Support preferential zoning to community land trusts which prioritize the needs of
    residents while generating wealth
  • Include community members in new development planning by implementing participant-public-private partnerships
  • Create inclusionary zoning that requires new development to offer housing to low- and
    moderate-income families at or below 50% average monthly income
  • Eliminate the red tape around permits that slows homeowners and builders from completing projects

How should Denver change its approach to addressing homelessness?

Homelessness is solvable when our government leans into proven solutions that address the root causes. I absolutely believe the city council has a strong role in solving homelessness starting with a strong housing first policy.

Homelessness is a systemic breakdown, not an individual failing. Letting “market forces” rule the day with minimal oversight has led us to the crisis we’re in today in Denver. As an example, the rapidly rising rents in Denver (+79% in less than a decade) form one part of this breakdown: When the percentage of income required to pay rent is between 22-32% in a community, then rates of homelessness rise. The current median percentage of income that goes toward rent in Denver is at least 35% and is presumably much higher for those making well below the median income.

The cascading effects of our affordability crisis (caused in part by incomes lagging behind housing costs, low housing inventory at affordable price points, and the influx of new Colorado residents over the past two decades) are devastating for those earning the lowest wages or who are otherwise members of our most vulnerable communities. Strengthening tenant protections, ensuring livable wages and stable jobs for workers, and effectively managing affordable housing programs can help prevent homelessness for those affected by these economic causes.

But what to do for those who are currently unhoused? This is one of the most polarizing issues in Denver. While I do believe that we have a crisis that impacts the well-being of residents, local businesses, and public spaces, I do not agree with the city’s solution to it. Criminalizing poverty has never worked to address deeply rooted social problems. If anything, punishing the poor pushes people farther into the shadows by creating more fear and stigmatization.

Families, low-wage workers, and people with mental illness comprise the majority of our unhoused neighbors. They deserve compassion, not criminalization.

Instead of buying into the false choice of criminalization versus lawlessness, we must implement innovative and evidence-based solutions that have worked in other cities. The path to ending homelessness must be led by a coherent, comprehensive, and consistent strategy that leverages public and private resources to provide multiple pathways to proper shelter, temporary housing, permanent supportive housing, treatment services, and long-term affordable housing in mixed income communities for those experiencing homelessness. It must also include education and outreach to housed residents and to business owners for resources and best practices in how to
engage with and support those experiencing homelessness so that they are equipped with alternatives to involving law enforcement in situations that are better handled by other supportive organizations.

As such, the following is my detailed plan for addressing homelessness. This plan has been assembled collaboratively by community leaders, service providers, experts, people with lived experiences with homelessness, and activists. Together, we’ve identified the most urgent needs of the unhoused community, proven strategies to get people the services they need and into permanent housing. We reject “quick fix,” one-size-fits-all solutions to homelessness that flatten the diverse and unique needs of unhoused individuals. At the same time we are committed to working toward a city where housing is attainable for all.

(You can see Calderón's full plan here.)

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

We have seen traffic fatalities increasing as drivers have become accustomed to the empty streets during COVID and have not readjusted their driving habits to meet today's volume. As an avid bike rider and walker, I do not feel safe riding in my city and would love to see my bike as an alternative mode of transportation. I want to look at widening protected bike lanes, ensuring bike routes are connected to avoid forcing cyclists into
dangerous situations, and explore what we have seen done in many European cities to replace their gray space with green space and shaded bikeways.

I want to create a more densely populated living space that would require less car dependency and shift the culture from being car-dependent to improve mobility, as well as reduce Denver’s climate emission. To do this I will:

  • Use data to inform decision-making and measure benchmarks to reach the goal
    of zero traffic fatalities as envisioned by Denver Streets Partnership Vision Zero five-year plan.
  • Increase funding to create equity across neighborhoods where the majority of deaths occur in “high-injury networks" or "communities of concern" which disproportionately impact people of color and working-class people.
  • Build infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation to make walking and cycling safer.
  • Redesign high traffic intersections with better sight lines, improved lighting, calibrating signals to give bikes priority for green lights, implementing more stop signs for feeder streets, and eliminating right turns on red lights.

In my first 100 days, I will create an office that is specifically dedicated to multimodal transportation rather than having it as an under-resourced program under the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. I will appoint a position with the input of a multimodal transportation community subject matter experts. I will also work closely with the City Auditor in reviewing the myriad of plans related to transportation and growth to determine where Denver agencies have been in compliance, and where they have failed to implement recommended changes. I will change the adversarial tone the current mayoral administration has taken with the Auditor's Office, and instead, increase collaboration by promptly implementing accountability recommendations.

Denver also needs to invest in a robust community transit network like the one in Boulder that has the HOP, SKIP, JUMP, BOUND, and DASH, and that includes both RTD and Non-RTD shuttle services that are free or low cost. An example that could be scaled up across the city is the partnership between RTD and Focus Points Family Resource Center’s Community Ride that offers low-cost $1.00 trips from designated pick-up points in the communities of Swansea, Elyria, and Globeville in North Central Denver. It also offers home pick-up for seniors over 65 and people with disabilities. We need more partnerships with nonprofits like Focus Points working with other
governmental organizations, and not adjacent to them. As a lead organizer of Denver Community Action Network (DenverCAN), a grassroots collective of progressive organizations and individuals working collectively in a citywide effort to resist gentrification, create ownership opportunities for marginalized residents, and cultivate
new political leadership, I have been at the forefront of addressing the issues of displacement of long-time residents and small business owners. A key part of this is working to improve transportation accessibility in long-ignored, quickly gentrifying neighborhoods.

To provide sufficient funding for such programs, I would execute the auditing plan above. We need to ensure we have the right people in charge and are cutting bureaucracy that has prevented Denver from meeting the goals of the departments mentioned above. Additionally, my systems approach to policy measures will find
efficiencies in spending, in which city investments are not siloed into particular issues but are proactively designed to maximize the benefits across areas. As such, investments into housing and public safety, for example, will also bring improvements for transportation, and vice versa. Transportation is the cornerstone of every justice movement. We know increasing equity in healthcare, education, job security, housing, and food is directly impacted by one's mobility. This will guide how I prioritize and transform our transportation infrastructure. I will be working with industry experts who will bring proven solutions to the table so we move forward and stop spending more
without moving forward.

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.  

As an experienced leader in the nonprofit, city government, and education sectors, I have extensive experience managing budgets and hiring. I bring 20 years of executive nonprofit management experience.

As an experienced non-profit leader I am well adjusted to doing more with less. I know the importance of hiring experts in their fields to be partners in my cabinets. In my previous role as manager of Denver’s reentry program, serving thousands re-entering and unhoused people with supportive services, I similarly managed a budget, the hiring of staff for the entire program, and the contracting systems of our city. Currently as the executive Director of Emerge Colorado, I raise funds and manage the budget for a statewide organization that includes year-round trainings, recruitment efforts, major fundraising events, and management of consultants, trainers and staff.

I believe budgets are the social contract of any government. And as mayor, I will create a budget for the city that first and foremost reflects our values and uplifts working people – it is a false dichotomy to suggest that we can either have a balanced budget or support working people.

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, we do not need more control over DPS, and stop the political overreach by trying to run both the City and the public school system. What we need is to work in better collaboration with DPS . We have amazing opportunities to see how we can work together to create community schools where students and their families can access wrap-around services in our school buildings. We also need to restructure The Office of Children's Affairs to look much more holistically at our education pipeline. That includes developing economic policies that will support educators, foster collaborations with institutions of higher learning, and work more closely with trade schools and technology
centers. Since the housing crisis also impacts students, their families and educators, we have an opportunity to look at vacant city and public school property, and examine how we can transform those into housing and services that our communities need.

Access to technology has always lagged behind for low-income and students of color. Although the Denver Mayor does not run Denver Public Schools, we have opportunities to partner with them to ensure all students and their families have easy access to technology, safe learning environments, and wrap-around services including mental
health care.

Working with the Denver Department of Public Health, we need to ensure that our school district has pandemic policies in place and consistently applying them. Preparing the school district with a health and safety plan, providing appropriate and accessible devices and technology for all students and staff, including hotspot Wi-Fi access for those in need. Partnering with community nonprofits, food co-ops, consistent training and planning with teachers for online learning, and more. Collaborating with nonprofits that provide after school care that includes tutoring. Finally, ensuring that the DPS budget provides for some flexibility at the school level to provide one-on-one preventative measures during the school day.

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?  

I was extremely disappointed to see Hancock implement a timeframe of allowed services for the current influx of migrant workers that resulted in busing them out of town and shifting the responsibility to service providers without any additional resources. As a Sanctuary City, we should have led with more compassion, working with other cities and our federal government to find a less chaotic solution causing more harm to a vulnerable community.

In a time of worrying polarization and violence, I bring empathy and compassion for marginalized communities and will elevate these voices directly to inform policies to create a safer city particularly for migrant community members. Additionally, the same services and support should be extended to longstanding migrant communities, and other vulnerable populations including the unhoused. Fundamentally, the so-called migrant crisis was really a crisis of leadership, and the failure to not have a comprehensive response to unhoused people across the spectrum. Instead, we need to rapidly scale up my 100 day homelessness plan that will provide a comprehensive, and consistent strategy that leverages public and private resources to provide multiple pathways to proper shelter, temporary housing, permanent supportive housing, treatment services, and long-term affordable housing in mixed-income communities for those experiencing homelessness. We also need to budget for and scale up resources to nonprofit providers rather than pushing the cities responsibilities onto them, and straining their limited resources beyond their capacities.

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

Black and Brown Denver communities have faced the highest rates of displacement in the nation. We are in a housing crisis that particularly impacts people of color in historically redlined communities that have become rapidly gentrified. We need a combination of publicly-funded social housing, more accessibility, and changes to our
laws and policies. As Mayor, I will

  • Work with Denver city council to amend the expanded affordable housing ordinance. We need to demand more of developers. Eight to twelve percent of units at 60% AMI is not nearly enough.
  • Work with affordable housing and other partners to build publicly-financed social housing and not rely solely on the private market to solve our housing crisis.
  • Identify sites for community land trusts for community-owned mixed-use developments in which no one is rent burdened.
  • Audit city properties to inventory grey and brown space to repurpose the land, preserve green space while creating green jobs for targeted communities.
  • Support the rezoning land use decisions to make for 15-Minute Neighborhoods, increased inclusivity and equitability.
  • Support tenants’ rights; just cause eviction, ending the ban on rent control, and a tenants’ bill of rights
  • Support bills giving Colorado cities in tenants the first right of first refusal when apartment buildings sell tenants
  • Support the legalization of ADUs citywide + gently rezone to allow for duplexes and triplexes.
  • Include community members in new development planning by implementing participant-public-private partnerships
  • Require new developments to offer housing for low- and moderate-income families at or below 50% average monthly income
  • Eliminate the red tape around permits that slows homeowners and builders from completing projects

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

I will implement resident-driven development in Denver, in which the communities affected by planning and growth have input at the beginning of all proposed development. This model shift will ensure the preservation and development of more parks in the communities in which they are sparse. Access to public parks, open spaces, and healthy air shouldn’t depend on a person’s zip code or income level. In all city planning, I will prioritize health and access to the outdoors, including parks. We can balance growth with our city’s values, which includes parks and open space being in close proximity for all Denver residents. This includes downtown Denver.

I will continue the implementation of the Outdoor Downtown Plan, as well as work with all stakeholders to determine any changes or additions needed. I strongly support the goals of the plan to support our economy, and will want to ensure it is meeting the needs of all workers. I strongly agree with making the city more walkable and bikeable. I also support the inclusivity goals of the plan, and would prioritize working with all stakeholders to evaluate and respond to that goal. We can have all of the goals of this plan but also incorporate our values as a city of fairness, equity and justice.

I will prioritize working with current residents to understand their needs and wants, and will involve them in all planning. With their input, I believe we can increase parks and green space for more people in our downtown corridor. Along with community input, I will include expertise and research in all decision-making, including around green space. I will prioritize innovation for sustainability as well. One pillar of my campaign is justice, of which sustainability and environmental safety is a key component.

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?

We must begin from a recognition of the dignity and humanity of those who are affected by the opioid crisis, especially the dignity and humanity of drug users themselves and their families. The city must also commit to using data and evidence-based strategies to respond to this crisis. We must move away from a criminalization model to a public health-oriented model, where we meet substance users where they are and help them take the steps needed to get treatment when they are ready. Cities around the country are exploring their options, including improved safe prescribing policies (like online training for doctors and drug take-back programs). Denver has clean needle-exchange programs, naloxone availability, and fentanyl testing strips, which provide important safety options. However, we can and must do more. As mayor, I will support policies to provide a full array of harm reduction strategies while also working to fully fund treatment and other supportive wraparound services to help people when they are ready to take that step.

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?

As resident bills are seeing huge increases in the middle of a recession, and reports of huge shareholder payouts are surfacing we need to audit Xcel and our agreement and evaluate how to best move forward for our residents.

Furthermore, as we have seen attacks throughout the nation on our powergrids, and are in a climate crisis, we need to ensure that excel is working with us to ensure our future. Energy poverty is a pressing issue for Denverites. In the last year, Xcel has earned record profits while increasing the cost of energy to residents. To provide utility services at an affordable rate, I would conduct an audit of the profits and costing model of Xcel to inform policies that could limit the increase in rates per year or relative to the increased cost of production.

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?

To reduce Denver’s GHG emissions it is essential to embed climate mitigation efforts into all areas of city policy. Viewing environmental action as an issue area of its own will overlook critical opportunities to embed climate action into solutions for affordable development, community safety, and homelessness, among other issue areas. By utilizing a systems approach to advance climate action, we will ensure sustainability and emissions reductions are considered throughout policy areas.

Some of the largest immediate opportunities for Denver to reduce its emissions are tied to its reliance on fossil fuels and vehicle transport, as well as the preservation and expansion of greenspace. As an avid proponent of improved multi-modal transportation, together with community safety, I will work to make Denver safer and easier for walking, biking, and taking public transport. For example, I will establish safer, and connected bike paths to allow for easier bike commuting in the city, and support pedestrian access, and establishing permanent pedestrian streets.

The burden of implementing sustainability and GHG reduction targets should be born by those responsible for the emissions. Through ‘polluter pays’ policies, we can not only increase funding for GHG reductions but also provide subsidies and incentives to low-income communities to allow for sustainable living across all income levels.
My environmental platform includes:

  • Center marginalized and working families in our transition to a green economy
  • Expand green spaces that are critical to our local environment and livability
  • Work with experts to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources
  • Create good-paying green jobs
  • Develop a comprehensive program to protect us from dangerous air pollutants that disproportionately affect marginalized communities
  • Encourage equitable land use and housing policies that meet both climate and affordable housing goals

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?


SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

Before You Leave, Check This Out