by Chanel Ward
The term, “it takes a village,” is a motto that City Council Candidate for Denver’s District 9, Candi CdeBaca knows to be true. Her mother, grandparents and great-grandmother helped raise CdeBaca in the very district that she is running to serve. Coming from a working-poor family, where at times, eight family members lived in a two-bedroom home in Swansea, CdeBaca remembers growing up in a tight-knit community that always stepped up for its neighbors and where everyone pitched in to raise her and her two younger siblings.
As the first person in her family to graduate with a high school diploma, CdeBaca not only earned her degree but she did so as Valedictorian and student body president of Manual High School. She soon became the first and youngest dual-degree graduate from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, while holding various jobs on campus that aimed to help women, multicultural excellence, trauma resilience and with the National Conference of State Legislature.
She has since opened the youth organization, Project VOYCE, the Exceling Leaders Institute, which she started to help vulnerable students at the University level and turned a four-month fellowship, working with former President Barack Obama’s campaign, into a six-year career, working with a national education policy organization titled, Excelencia in Education.
CdeBaca sat down with The Weekly Issue/El Semanario to give an exclusive interview on why she is running and to give better insight into who she is and what she believes District 9 can be.
Why City Council?
My race was catalyzed by community issues and has really been drafted by community to get some representation into our neighborhoods. My family has been in District 9 for five generations and I personally was born and raised here in Swansea, in the East side, and have been committed to the East side for quite some time. I founded a youth organization 13 years ago in this area, and I’ve been serving the area by developing youth in our community for over a decade and really just felt like City Council is the next lever of social justice that I wanted to press, and where better to do it than my home community?
What is your youth organization?
It’s called Project VOYCE. We’ve been at it for quite awhile, and I’ve been really impressed with what our kids have done over the years. I started VOYCE in 2006, I was a college student and I had graduated from Manual High School, and while I was in college, DPS (Denver Public Schools) was proposing the shutdown of Manual after their reform had failed and so we started organizing community to file a class action lawsuit against DPS and that’s how Project VOYCE was born. We fought that and we feel like we are still fighting that every year. I feel like, we’re fighting the fight that our ancestors fought in a different form. Every generation and for me I feel like there is no choice, no option in weather or not to fights, it’s the obligation to fight and the obligation to win.
The Denver City Council Policy and Budget Vision 2018/2019 key focuses are transportation and homelessness, what are your thoughts on both focuses?
Well, I think the way that Denver addresses transportation is interesting. It’s hard to know what it is they are prioritizing because we don’t even have a Department of Transportation Services in the city. I also think our mass transit is not where it needs to be for a city our size and we’re not really exploring real alternatives to build the infrastructure we need. We’re relying on RTD, which is regionally funded and serves the region and not just the Metro and our needs here in the city are much different than the needs of people served by RTD across the region. We need to develop our own transportation department in Denver and have more of a three-tiered approach to transportation. We need to be using RTD as supplemental, we need to have our own plan and transit system and I think we need to be contracting with share ride companies to fill the gaps that we have right now until we build a transportation and transit system that we need. And homelessness, same thing, I feel like with homelessness being the priority in the budget, it makes me wonder what plan that money is going to go behind, because right now homelessness is handled in Denver’s Road Home. Housing development is handled in the Office of Economic Development and Homeless Services and Emergency Housing Services live under Denver Human Services and none of those departments are talking to each other. So, we don’t have a comprehensive plan to deal with housing through the entire spectrum and so it’s hard for me to look at our budget and not feel angry because it’s a budget but there’s no plan that goes with it.
What would be your key areas of focus for the budget vision?
Absolutely housing, wages, traffic and pollution. I think that it’s consistent and I think that Denver typically gets the messaging right without the actual implementation in plan. They know what we’re complaining about and they know what are pin points are in community, so they use those buzz words to make us feel like they’re addressing the issue. For housing and wages, we can’t talk about housing without talking about the fact that wages have been stagnant since 2000, in Denver. We’re growing really fast and we don’t have the infrastructure to meet our needs, as far as housing but we also are placing the burden on residents instead of corporations. There’s a lot of corporate welfare in this city where we’re courting businesses, big multinational corporations and giving them tax incentives and write offs, and all of those pieces of revenue that were foregoing to get them here, displaced on the backs of the people who live here. And so it makes developing housing harder, it makes funding our services harder and so we have to have a real plan to make sure that while we’re lifting up the bottom, we’re controlling the top.
What additional priorities would you focus on?
Transparency and accountability. I think right now the city is spending a lot of money on settlements and projects that go over budget and the people don’t know where that money’s going. We’re wasting a lot of our money and I think that we need to put some systems in place to prevent that from happening. We need to give more power to the Independent Monitor, we need to fund offices that are holding our city accountable, instead of funding brand new offices for every new initiative and engaging in these quasigovernmental public/private partnership that evade that same level of transparency that other agencies have to have. I think we need to put some resources into making sure that our government is working for us.
Speaking of the Independent Monitor, how can/will you utilize it if elected?
We could have someone working on ethics complaints against City Council, we could have oversight over City Council, there’s currently no oversight. The city attorney acts if she’s the mayor’s attorney and not the attorney to the city. I think that we could give different oversight powers to the Office of the Independent Monitor; right now, I believe their primary function is oversight over public safety.
How do you feel that the Council is currently budgeting the cities money?
I don’t think that budget matters as much as the fact that we lack a real vision. Right now, people are pushing back on Denveright [the city’s two-year outreach and planning effort denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/denveright.html], or the implementation of that plan, because there wasn’t real community participation. You know, the city feels that they’ve had this incredible participation process and when you look at the numbers and the demographics of the people who participated in Denveright, it’s not representative of Denver and it’s not representative of a sample that’s big enough to say this is wide community participation. It’s a plan that I think is not imbedded into larger statewide goals, larger goals and that’s a problem because then we end up spending money inefficiently and our budget will always feel like there’s not enough in it because we don’t have a focus and we have goals that are contradictory to what we’re actually spending our money doing. Especially with sustainability, a lot of what we are doing in Denver is contradictory to what we say our goals and vision are. We’re not building a sustainable city, we’re building a city that will fall apart in 10 years, we’re building a city that encourages the use of privately-owned vehicles, single occupant vehicles, which harms the environment. We’re doing a lot of things that fly directly in the face of what we say our goals are.
What do you think Council is doing right with the budget?
Right now, I feel like there are not a lot of pieces of city government that I feel are functioning as they should. That’s why there are so many of us running, a historic amount of people running, because there’s enough of us who see that enough things are not working. I feel like Denver needs to completely shift the way that we’re doing business in this city. We’re selling off the city right now to the highest bidder and sometimes not even to the highest bidder, we’re just selling off the city and privatizing public resource and privatizing our government through public/private partnerships and quasigovernmental offices and I think that is the opposite direction of where we need to be going at a time like this. I think that we need to use our platform to influence the schools system, it’s not within our scope but it’s definitely connected and we do have intergovernmental agreements with Denver Public Schools (DPS) where we do direct a piece of our budget and we need to be more thoughtful about that, from the top to the bottom, there’s a lot that we need to be doing differently. One thing I know that people do like, is the investment in sidewalks, curbs and gutters that our community has been fighting for, for many, many years and we were finally thrown a bone as far as that goes in some neighborhoods and I think that’s definitely a place that we need to be investing, but overall I think that we need a vision for Denver that goes beyond the next election. We have to be planning for the city that we want a hundred years from now, not just four years from now. We would be thinking about seven generations down the line and that’s why we need to elect more women of color. It’s 2019 and if I’m elected, I’ll be the first LGBTQ Latina to ever represent on Denver’s City Council, like how is that still possible? It encourages me, you know, watching what’s happening now nationally with our first Native American woman getting into congress, our youngest woman ever getting into congress and being a Latina from the Bronx, and the first Muslim woman. Those are the things that are inspiring me to push forward when the odds are stacked against me, because it is our time as Indigenous women to tap into our ancestral knowledge and use that to save this planet and to save these communities that we live in.
How will you handle the backlash?
Well for me, I’m and Eastsider from Manual High School, I’ve always had backlash against me. We’ve always been the ones that couldn’t win no matter what you did; I couldn’t win for being smart in school, I couldn’t win for being gangster, I couldn’t win no matter what and so it’s a state of living that I’ve become accustom to. I have multiple degrees, I have experience, I’ve traveled the world, I am a policy expert and I still get this backlash of, “you’re just an activist from a poor community” and so its understanding where people are coming from with that type of attack on my character is what fuels me and what they’re really acting out on is fear of my strength and my power. Knowing that in the back of my mind is what helps me push harder and further no matter what the opposition is, because I know that the minute somebody is threatened by you, their instinct is to attack your character and to delegitimize you and so that’s why we have to build a movement of people who are paying attention because I can’t do it alone. As much as she [Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez] is getting backlash look at the people rising to her defense, it is an entire generation. When they let a girl from the East Side go on and get two degrees and learned the things that I’ve learned, that’s what makes me dangerous. It’s because I have the heart of a fighter, I have the heart of somebody from the East Side and the fight inside of me and I have the tools and the knowledge and understanding of their rules to come in and really shake things up in a way that benefits the people.
Congratulations on getting onto the ballot so quickly, from the 66 people running for the 15 positions, only 17 had a ‘Sufficient’ status, that speaks volumes about your campaign.
And we’ve been telling people, you know we will do the most with the least, because that’s the way we had to succeed, that’s the way that we had to exist and so we sat there with the computer open and every signature we got we verified ourselves before we even turned them in. We did it overnight; we did it in less than 24 hours. We got the signatures, we had a party in the East Side at a bar on Bruce Randolph and York and we fed people pizza and beer and they came in, they signed the petition, we had the laptop open right there, we checked the name as they signed it to make sure it was valid; if it was valid we counted it toward our hundreds, if it was not valid we just added on an extra person that we needed to talk to. We went across the street to the liquor store, the bar, the barber, everything. We were all over the neighborhood and people were like, “heck yeah we’re going to pay attention, heck yeah we’re going to vote, because it’s you, we know you.”
What’s next with the campaign?
Right now it’s our field plan; we’re putting our field plan into action. We’re knocking on doors, we’re trying to activate as many volunteers who will knock their block, who will talk to their neighbors and put up a sign and then after that when April 15th comes around, that’s when ballots get mailed. We’re going to need a volunteer street crew that’s helping people understand their ballot, fill it out and pick it up an drop it off if they need to. In Denver, every person can pick up 10 ballots and drop 10 ballots off. So, everybody should be able to check their registration and make sure that they’re registered to vote at GoVoteColorado.com and they can find us by going to CandiForCouncil.org and under the get involved tab there’s a link for them to register, to check their address and to check where their district is. If they don’t know their district, even if they are not in my district, they can find whose district they’re in by going to my page.
Any last words?
One person, one vote, that’s what matters. This is our city and we have to start acting like it. A lot of people are really trying to fight to stay in this city and to fight to shape what it will become and the first place to start doing that is to pay attention to who’s representing us and making sure that we’re represented by people who have the same interests as we do and I bring that to the table. I am from this community and people know me and I hope that people vote with what they know and not with what they’re told. You know people are told, “oh, just vote for this guy, he’s got four more years just let him get out of there,” but we can’t endure four more years, if we don’t step up now, we’re not going to have a Denver to hold on to. None of us will be here in four more years; this is going to be a city for the rich. There’s nothing we’re building in this city that matters more than building up our people.
For more information on Candi CdeBaca’s City Council campaign, visit her website at: candiforcouncil.org.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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