Denver mayoral challengers knock Hancock on development, homelessness and housing during debate

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock largely agrees with his three major challengers on the major issues facing the next mayor, but Monday night each opponent pressed the case that Hancock is the wrong guy to solve them.

“We have issues: Development’s out of control, there’s no affordable housing left in the city, our roads are a mess and we’ve got a homeless problem and situation the likes of which we’ve not had before,” Penfield Tate, a public finance attorney and former lawmaker, said during a 70-minute debate hosted by The Denver Post.

Hancock, 49, the two-term mayor, dug in as he made the case for a third and final term in the May 7 election. He argued that he elevated the city’s affordable housing strategy by tapping the budget and has shepherded the city through a long-running population and economic boom despite taking office at the end of a recession.

“We’ve turned this city around,” Hancock said. “We should be proud of where we’ve come.”

Much of the debate during the mayor’s race has focused on helping the people who have shouldered the burdens of the city’s success — including residents facing higher rents, older neighborhoods facing new development pressures and homeless people facing crackdowns under the 2012 urban camping ban.

But on nearly every score, Hancock’s approach — and his plans for a third term — drew criticism from Tate, Lisa Calderón and Jamie Giellis.

At one point during the forum at the Denver Field House, 1600 Federal Blvd., Hancock said Denver has a robust community-consultation process for redevelopment projects. He noted that as a councilman and then mayor, he’s told developers: “It doesn’t have to (draw) overwhelming support, but we want to know that the community’s input has been sought and you listened to them and you worked with them as part of your project.”

Giellis scoffed.

“I think the words ‘doesn’t have to be overwhelming support’ outline how our neighborhoods are treated in the redevelopment process,” said Giellis, 42, the president of a consulting firm that works with neighborhoods and districts in cities; she previously was president of the River North Art District.

Along with the other candidates — including Hancock — Giellis wants the city to invest more in city transit, supplementing the Regional Transportation District, as a way to relieve strain on the roads and support density in targeted areas.

“Denver is a city that was built on a streetcar network. I’d love to start there,” she said. When pressed on how to pay for that, she acknowledged it would be complicated, requiring “layers” of funding that might include tapping parking revenue, creating special taxing districts along new lines and, perhaps, instituting fees on vehicle registrations or Uber and Lyft rides.

Calderón, 51, a faculty member at Regis University and the co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, criticized Hancock for taking a “fragmented approach” to affordable housing.

She said she would pull the city’s various funding sources — including marijuana taxes, property taxes and development impact fees — together, while seeking outside support and potentially issuing larger housing bonds, as some other cities have done.

“So I would bring an evidence-based approach — not a career politician approach,” she said of her candidacy at one point. “It’s time that we actually use what works rather than what is politically expedient or what developers tell us we need. … If we do not change the trajectory today, many of us will not be here (in Denver) in four years” because of soaring housing costs.

Tate, 62, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in a wide-open field in 2003. This time, one issue for which he is taking Hancock to task is being “too focused on criminalizing people who are homeless — in most instances through no fault of their own — rather than providing some support or assistance.”

Tate has vowed to get all homeless people off the city’s streets in his first 100 days.

How? He said homeless service providers need faster city permitting and approval for new shelters and recommend a reduction in punitive measures, such as the camping ban. He also said he’d explore the creation of sanctioned outdoor encampments — an idea that has drawn both support and controversy elsewhere.

Pushing back, Hancock cited a program started under his watch that aims to provide supportive housing for 325 chronically homeless people.

The candidates largely agreed — though with some differences in strategy — on the need to aggressively fill potholes, address the “missing middle” in housing for middle-class workers and to tread cautiously on new sales taxes. All four said they want the nonprofit-owned Park Hill Golf Course to remain open space in some form, though Hancock faced criticism from the others for flaws they saw in the city’s community process.

Ballots will be mailed out in two weeks, and a potential runoff would follow the election on June 4 if no candidate clears 50 percent.

For the forum, The Post invited candidates who had cleared a fundraising threshold by raising $50,000 or drawing support from 200 donors. Two other candidates are on the ballot: activist Stephan “Chairman Seku” Evans and educator and musician Kalyn Rose Heffernan.

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