Denver mayor election: Lisa Calderón on police, crime, race, gender

Many of the ills plaguing Denver trace back to the intersection of policing, crime, race and gender, Lisa Calderón said, and therein lies many of the city’s solutions.

Calderón, who is running for mayor a second time, said she’s spent most of her career as an educator, community activist, city employee and frequent critic of the term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock, steeped in the world of policing and crime.

“That’s the lens through which I view the world,” Calderón said. “If there’s a problem society doesn’t know how to fix, the criminal legal system becomes a default.”

Currently the executive director of Emerge Colorado, Calderón said much of her focus on crime and policing began with the 1988 murder of 18-year-old Cameron Smith.

The two knew each other through Metropolitan State University’s Black Student Alliance, Calderón said. A Rollin’ 30 Crip gang member shot and killed Smith, who had been riding his bicycle home from work wearing a red hat.

Calderón said the murder forced her and other members of the Black Student Alliance to understand that they couldn’t just advocate for better conditions on campus, they had to look to the outside world.

“That shattered our innocence as students,” Calderón said.

Years later Denver police assaulted her 15-year-old son as he walked home from school, Calderón said.

“I went from being an activist student to an activist mom,” she said.

Calderón, a fourth-generation Denverite, said now she holds four degrees – a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in liberal studies, a law degree and a doctorate in education – and has worked in all aspects of the field. She’s trained law enforcement for decades, taught at the University of Colorado, led Denver’s Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety and served as a top staffer for City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, among other things.

Sure Denver’s field of mayoral candidates is packed but Calderón said she has the ground game her opponents don’t. She placed third in the 2019 mayoral race and noted that many people discounted her run that year.

“I’m the one who has been in this game, this fight, the longest and most consistently,” Calderón said. “And I didn’t have to hold elected office to do it.”

The top priority, Calderón said, would be to decentralize Denver’s government and reduce the substantial amount of power and influence the city’s strong-mayor system affords its chief official.

“We should be having our key services directly in neighborhoods,” Calderón said. “The system we have now is very centralized and opaque. Community members literally need to come downtown to have certain needs met.”

Affordable housing, homelessness and community safety also top Calderón’s priorities, she said. So too is a rehaul of the city’s law enforcement agencies, top officials for which she said she’d ask to resign.

Money traditionally spent on law enforcement could be reinvested, Calderón said, to help provide affordable housing and more.

“When our public safety budget makes up nearly a quarter of our general fund but housing is only 4%, I would be a mayor saying we absolutely are in the housing business,” Calderón said.

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