Good morning, and welcome to a special post-election edition of The Spot, The Denver Post’s weekly political newsletter. I’m Jon Murray, coming at you on Wednesday, instead of the usual Thursday, to bring you the latest news and analysis on yesterday’s Denver city election. We’ll recap the results and our observations below, but first, a word about Tuesday.
For political journalists, Election Day is normally the best day of the year as we revel in watching democracy in action. There was no reveling this Tuesday, though, as we were greeted with the horrific news of the shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch just as we were rolling in for Election Night. It cast a shadow on the candidates’ parties, too.
But we did what journalists have been doing since the days of stone tablets: swallowed our personal feelings of grief and reported the news. Some Post reporters who’d been assigned to the election also helped with shooting-related coverage before, during and after those duties. To add one more wrinkle, a just-announced Ivanka Trump visit to Littleton — 10 miles from the shooting site — to talk about workforce development was called off just as our first print deadline arrived.
Meanwhile, Denver election results kept trickling in. Here are five storylines that emerged last night:
Hancock heads to a runoff — and fights for his political life
Mayor Michael Hancock knew going into Election Day that with three major challengers, he was vulnerable in his bid for a third term. Now a runoff appears certain, leaving just under four weeks until voters decide Hancock’s fate on June 4.
Though he came in first, his share of the vote was just above 39 percent as of 1 a.m. Wednesday. He will face Jamie Giellis, a community development consultant who came in second, drawing just shy of 26 percent after tapping into Denver voters’ frustrations over the pace of development.
Hancock sounded ready. He tried to pump up his supporters Tuesday night, declaring: “We didn’t lose anything tonight. We get another chance to prove to Denver and to the voters that we’re moving in the right direction.”
In the coming weeks, Giellis’ task is to consolidate the support drawn by activist Lisa Calderón and former state Sen. Penfield Tate, along with minor candidates. Though the candidates differed on some points, all made the case it was time for change.
The incumbent faces a big challenge, too — though Hancock’s advisers say a two-person faceoff will allow him to focus in ways he couldn’t during the first round, when he was attacked from multiple flanks. His best chance may rest in reaching out to the sizable chunk of voters who didn’t participate Tuesday. Hancock told reporters he sees opportunity in the many politically unplugged newcomers who sat out the election. But drawing their interest could prove difficult.
City Council and clerk’s races remain in flux, too
Hancock isn’t the only one facing a runoff — so are the top candidates in two open-seat council races (in northwest and west Denver), which isn’t surprising, given their large fields. But more surprisingly, so are at least three incumbents.
Wayne New and Albus Brooks were leading the first rounds Tuesday night, and Mary Beth Susman, who represents parts of east Denver, was trailing opponent Amanda Sawyer. Five council runoffs is unusual, and they could bring several fresh faces onto the council.
The three-way race for clerk and recorder was so close it was still uncertain which two candidates would proceed to the runoff. Leading was outgoing Councilman Paul Lopez, at 36 percent, with Peg Perl just under 33 percent and Sarah McCarthy at 31 percent.
Denver voters’ much-discussed development angst roared
In conversations with dozens of voters across Denver, Post reporters didn’t even have to ask about development. Even some Hancock supporters volunteered that they wrestled with their frustrations over new apartment buildings, multifamily developments and increased traffic.
Plenty, including 74-year-old Jeanie Pleasant, said they’d had enough. “Development — there’s too much,” she said. And even if they were skeptical of some of the mayoral challengers, they were willing to pick one and lodge a protest — enough to put Hancock on notice.
Homeless policy in flux after Initiative 300 fails
Homeless advocates bet big that Denver voters were ready to buck the city’s seven-year-old urban camping ban. And they lost big, with 83 percent of voters saying no as of early Wednesday.
Now the camping ban is safe, but for how long? What’s next may depend on the outcome of the mayoral runoff. Hancock dug in Tuesday night, reiterating his support for the ban and the city’s existing strategies to address homelessness. But Giellis has said she’d support a repeal, though she didn’t back I-300.
Mushroom decriminalization too close to call
Denver voters told police to look the other way on marijuana enforcement long before Colorado legalized pot. But would they make Denver the first city in the nation to stake a claim for psychedelic mushrooms? At 1 a.m., Initiative 301 was still too close to call, down by less than 3.5 percentage points with tens of thousands of ballots still uncounted.
If it were to pass, the measure would make enforcement of laws against the possession of psilocybin mushrooms the lowest priority for police.
Mayor Michael Hancock appears headed to runoff with Jamie Giellis
Denver’s mayoral election is set to continue for another month. “The people of Denver … have sent a clear message that they are done with the direction this city is headed under the current mayor,” Jamie Giellis said, but Michael Hancock wasn’t giving up: “We heard the people tonight very loud and clear,” he told supporters. “They want more conversation. They want to hear the vision and the future dreams for this city.” Continue reading
27 days until Denver’s runoff elections. 68 days until the city’s new and returning elected officials are sworn in.
Your political digest
- Take a look at the latest election results. Denver Post
- Denver’s psychedelic mushroom initiative still trails, but gap tightening. Denver Post
- Effort to end camping ban fails by a wide margin. Denver Post
- Denver City Council and clerk election results: Who’s winning, who’s losing, and what we don’t know. Denver Post
- Election Day in Denver: What’s at stake in crowded races. Denver Post
- Yes, Mayor Hancock uses his mayoral megaphone to promote himself and his policies. CPR
Hickenlooper weighs in on Hancock’s runoff
Michael Hancock is the first Denver mayor to face a runoff in a reelection bid since 1995 — but he downplayed the challenge. So did former Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a two-term Denver mayor and a current Democratic presidential candidate, who was at Hancock’s election-night gathering.
“He doesn’t need any advice from me,” Hickenlooper said. “I think it’s a good thing to have a runoff — he’ll go out and he’ll raise some money and he’ll go on TV and radio and tell people: ‘Here’s what I’ve done, here’s where I’m going and here’s a vision of what the future can look like.’ And obviously, when you’re growing, there are all kinds of challenges. But when you’re not growing, the challenges are a lot worse.”
Hickenlooper added: “Not everything’s perfect, but he has set in place a foundation for the next 20 years.”
Earlier, when he addressed the crowd, Hancock cited his predecessors’ history with reelection runoffs.
“Some of our last great mayors have been there before as well,” he said. “Just ask Wellington Webb (in 1995) and Federico Peña (in 1987). And guess what? They won, too.” — Jon Murray
Powerful moment at @MayorHancock’s party where Mary Louise Lee, his wife and a powerful singer, takes the stage with two of their kids. She commands the room as she belts out “Believe in Yourself,” a song from “The Wiz” — and it carries extra resonance now. pic.twitter.com/hC77PeJFbS
— Jon Murray (@JonMurray) May 8, 2019
Giellis struggles for words, but crowd makes plenty of noise
Jamie Giellis raised the most of any of Hancock’s challengers and mounted an aggressive campaign. Still, she was borderline speechless as the first results arrived.
Her supporters were not.
Cheers erupted at the candidate’s watch party as the first round of results were announced at 7 p.m., showing Giellis coming in second behind Hancock. Though she trailed by about 13 percentage points, she was ahead of third-place Lisa Calderón by about 10 percentage points — a comfortable place to be to make the runoff, long the goal for all the challengers.
Supporter Barbara Holland was on hand, and she echoed others in her appraisal of Giellis’ development experience — which could just as easily have become a liability.
Holland, 72, who lives in University Park, said she supported Giellis over Hancock because Giellis had “expertise in true city planning and not this haphazard, convoluted zoning system. She is developer-sensitive, but the city has to control how they develop.” — Elizabeth Hernandez
On the name recognition scale.” Giellis recognized that the night was young and that numbers are bound to shift. “But, for now, I’m happy.”
— Elizabeth Hernandez (@ehernandez) May 8, 2019
Mayor’s race splits friends
The mayor’s race split friends Ben Ehrlich and Ben Felson, both 30, who dropped their ballots off together outside the Barnum Recreation Center in west Denver. Both live nearby.
“I voted for Hancock,” Felson said during an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“You did? You voted for Hancock?” Ehrlich responded, surprised.
“I like what he’s done with the city,” Felson said. “I know there was some harassment that he was involved in,” he added, referring to Hancock’s scandal a year ago involving text messages he sent to a member of his security detail, unearthed from years earlier. “But I think he’s proved himself over the last eight years.”
“I voted for Giellis,” he said. “I just feel like Hancock’s kind of like a corporate shill,” and he said Hancock had become too closely tied with his high-dollar supporters. He recalled asking an activist for advice on which challenger would be most likely to force a runoff; Giellis was thought to be the answer, so Ehrlich threw his support behind her. — Jon Murray
Keep the conversation going by joining our Facebook group today! Forward this newsletter to your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe. And please support the journalism that matters to you and become a Denver Post subscriber here. Send tips, comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.