by Chanel Ward
This week, The Weekly Issue/El Semanario begins its first installment of, ‘Ask the Candidate’ which introduces our readers to local candidates running in the City and County of Denver.
Mayor, City Council and Clerk and Recorder candidates who have reached out to our publication will be given a platform to go beyond just their campaigns, peel back a few layers and get down to the facts. We present to you our first edition of ‘Ask the Candidate’ with mayoral candidate, Dr. Lisa Calderón.
Dr. Calderón was born in Denver to teenage parents. Her father, Dempsey Pugh, Jr., an African American, U.S. Army Veteran was raised into a family that held prominence as having one of the first African American-owned businesses in Five Points. Her mother, Elaine Calderón, a Mexican-American, natural born leader/activist graduated from West High school and was the daughter of a migrant farm worker, she instilled the same values in her daughter that she deemed important. As early as four years old, Calderón can remember being out on the picket line with her mother, fighting alongside the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Calderón graduated from North High School, she received her B.A. in English from Metropolitan State University and her Master’s in Liberal Studies with a Native American emphasis from the University of Denver after having her daughter Savannah, who is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. She later earned her law degree from the University of Colorado Boulder School of Law than finally her Doctorate in Education from the University of Colorado School of Education and Human Development. She is currently teaching Criminal Justice and Sociology courses full-time at Regis University and is running to become Colorado’s first woman Mayor on the slogan, “It’s Time!”
Calderón sat down with The Weekly Issue/El Semanario to give an exclusive interview and to allow for us to “Ask the Candidate” her thoughts on pressing community issues.
Being biracial, how will you balance yourself between Black and Brown communities?
Well, they are together. They’re not, this portion is this community and this portion is that, both of those identities inform how I see the world and that is that both communities have been discriminated against; both communities have been used for the labor to build the wealth in this country. In both communities, we haven’t seen women traditionally promoted in political leadership roles and so there’s a lot of strength in both of our communities and we’ve had a lot of struggle and from that struggle, we have informed our movements so that we could get better rights for our children as well. So, it’s not separate to me, both of those are perspectives that keep me motivated and they both have rich histories and they’re overlapping histories. We tend to think that Black history is different from Latinx history and its all the history of struggle in this country. They may have originated in different places, but fundamentally we’ve been fighting a lot of the same fights. With Dolores Huerta and Sojourner Truth, we’ve got strong leaders, a long history of strong leaders, in both of my cultures and I draw from both of those cultures and my daughter for examples also Navajo, so she’s tri-racial. So, I think that we’re never just one thing in our lives. And when you are raised with an intersectional perspective, you are fluid in going in and out of various identities and then all of them also at once.
What are your thoughts on the $15 minimum wage for city workers, put in place by Mayor Hancock?
So, Hancock actually hasn’t put that forward, it has been unions and it has been people who have been pushing him to get to $15, and it’s been years in the making. So, I think the fact that he’s just barely considering it now, is a little too late. As mayor I wouldn’t just be considering it, I would have worked to implement it already. And the reality is, is that we are behind with $15, which should have happened a long time ago, we are needing really closer to $25 to be sustainable; to maintain a place to live in this economy, which is high-cost in Denver. So, you know, great, he’s now supporting $15, but that came off the backs of labor unions and Black and Brown people struggling for years to say, “we are being priced out of this city, our wages are stagnant, but our productivity is increasing, something is wrong with that gap.” You know, he’s merely taking credit for something that people have been pushing for a long time.
How will you help small businesses?
We are headed for another recession. Some forecasting at the end of this year, definitely within the next two years, and one of the reasons that Colorado bounced back sooner than other states, and in Denver in particular was because of our small business economy. In other words, we didn’t have these mega corporations that folded and then put tens of thousands of people out of a job. What we have is that small businesses employing employees in the hearts of their communities who still need services, who still need business transactions and that’s how we were able to recover sooner than other cities. I’m definitely more focused on our small business, particularly minority and women business that have been under looked in this administration. Out of the billions of dollars of transactions that are done in this city, only 15% have gone to women and minority businesses. That’s a travesty! I would make it a priority to invest in small business because that’s also the pipeline for our future entrepreneurs.
What are your ideas for more affordable housing?
Affordable housing means that you’re not spending more than 30% of your income on your rent or your mortgage and however, we have renters in Denver, almost half of them are spending almost 50% just to pay their rent. About half of renters are burdened by the cost of rent, so we do not have affordable housing in Denver when we have that many people struggling. What I want to do is prioritize affordable housing, it needs to be affordable and accessible, which means affordable for who? It can’t just be affordable for the wealthiest; it’s got to be accessible for everybody. We have to be able to negotiate affordable housing units upfront with developers, rather than at the backend, which is the way the city does it now. We have to better manage our deed-restricted properties so the debacle farther Northeast where 300 homes were essentially lost, in terms of the affordable housing inventory in the city because the city mismanaged and didn’t have proper compliance of those homes. There are things we can do to protect renters, increase renters rights, there are things that we can do to protect our affordable housing stock, there’s things we can do to grow our affordable housing stock and what that means is that every option has to be on the table, every tool. So, whether it be land trusts, rent control, increasing the minimum wage to a truly livable wage in the city, that if we actually increase the minimum wage closer to what it needed to be for people to live in this city, you wouldn’t need all of these incentives for developers, people could afford to live here.
How will you address gentrification if elected?
Every candidate is talking about affordable housing, but not all of them are talking about it through a civil rights lens. My priority would be to have affordable housing, using a civil rights lens, which means we address displacement and stem the tide of displacement and to preserve the workers in the city. In other words, workers should be able to live in the same city, and right now they are being pushed to the outskirts. So, increasing affordable housing, stemming the tide of displacement and for people who don’t think we can do it – that’s why I mentioned earlier – they don’t know their civil rights history. We’re always told something is impossible to do, it’s too late to do, you’ll never change it and that’s just not true. There are various phases of gentrification and we’re not in the phase of no return, but were close. Market forces are being used as an excuse by this administration to build at all costs, but market forces are shaped by government policy, which means the rules can change if we have the will to change them and if we actually privilege the residents first, as opposed to the developers first then we could actually stem the tide of gentrification displacement.
Your thoughts on the teachers strike? Mayor has no say, but with an education background, how would you show your support of either side?
I support the teachers 100% to strike. It has been years in the making. I stood with teacher’s years ago to try to resist the privatization of our public school system and the depletion of our public school resources to private entities, which was a big failed experiment. We have three generations of DPS graduates in my family, so we’ve been experimented a lot by this public school system and I don’t blame the teachers for that. I blame the top-heavy administration that has not given teachers the resources that they need to serve. In fact, on behalf of my daughter, we were a plaintiff in the Lovato v. Colorado case that had to do with challenging the state to have equitable funding for children across the state, whether they were in rural areas, or they were of color, or they were students with disabilities. The school funding just doesn’t make sense. Why do the people with the greatest wealth get the better schools when they’re all public schools? So, yes, I will be on the picket line with teachers and support the right to strike, I am 100% in favor of collective bargaining including for the City of Denver employees, which right now they don’t have as a large group. There are different unions, like law enforcement unions, but not for city employees and so that would be something that I would very much be open to.
What is your stance on cannabis?
I support decriminalization and legalization, because our 40 years of drug policy has been a failure. And it’s been largely targeted toward Black and Brown communities for criminalization. It drove mass incarceration, in terms of drug prosecutions and it’s been a disparate impact between White communities and communities of color. In other words, even though communities of color do not use drugs in a higher proportion than White people, they are prosecuted in higher proportion. So, I’m in favor of decriminalizing and support the cannabis industry push towards increasing opportunities, as well for people of color cannabis owners. I think that’s where we still have a long way to go, it is an expensive industry to get in to and to maintain in a lot of ways because of the fees, the regulations that are put on it and the taxation. And I would like to see more opportunities for people of color to be in the industry and women particularly.
What are your views on immigration?
Well, coming from an immigrant family we need to do everything we can to protect our immigrant community because they’re our family. Immigration law has always been rooted in racist practices. So, going back to when all wealthy White men had to do, at the beginning of this country, was to live here for two years and declare their loyalty to the United States, there’s something fundamentally unfair when after that, you put in all of these barriers for particularly immigrants of color, who are coming. So, in other words, we want your labor, but we don’t want your babies and we don’t want you to stay. The reality is, is that our economy would collapse if we didn’t have a strong and vibrant immigrant community to keep our industries going and it has also been the trajectory, it’s been the American story unless you’re Indigenous here. To work hard and make your way from the working class into the middle class, so we need to do everything we can to protect the rights of immigrants, including standing up to the federal government at every aspect that we can. My cousin Arturo Jiménez is an immigration attorney and through the Colorado Latino Forum and through his leadership we have stood to do more for immigrants, pushing the city as well as other activists to protect DREAMER’s, to protect people from ICE detainers; a lot of people don’t know that ICE is a relatively new entity, it used to be the Immigration and Naturalization Services… “Services,” right? So, ICE came about as a result of 9/11 and it became a punitive entity rather than how do we get people into the country in the right way. We’ve known that we had challenges with our immigration system because of this history of racist practices of who is allowed in, and who is not. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the immigrant part of my family. I would make that a hallmark of my cabinet.
Speaking of your cabinet appointments, what can we expect?
Even though we’re running our campaign now, we’re also putting in our policy advisors, so that the day we get into office we have people who are ready to basically execute the hiring process for people, the vetting process, the policies we know we want to change as soon as we get in there. We’re thinking through both lenses; running the campaign and running to govern. I would prioritize people — current residents — we have a tremendous amount of expertise here. This administration has done a lot to go out of state to bring in talent, we have a lot of homegrown talent in this city and, so I would look first to our residents, but I would also look to the workers who have been running this city and say, “you all tell me, who do you all go to for leaders in the city?” The people who never get accolades, who have never had a chance to be appointees because they are not political people. They are the frontline people who get the work done, who are those leaders? And that’s the talent pool I want to draw from.
With the numerous cases against the Denver Police Department, how will you utilize the Independent Monitor?
The Independent Monitor is something that I fought for, for the creation of after the shooting death of Paul Childs, the disabled, Black teenager in Park Hill. The community fought for stronger oversight, and so I have been a supporter since the inception of that, and then through the Colorado Latino Forum have really fought to keep the powers of the Independent Monitor from being stripped. Within the past year this administration restricted the Monitors ability to investigate the sheriff and the police chief. That was unheard of when we conceived of monitoring in Denver, it was from the rank and file all the way to the top commanders and the fact that Mayor Hancock removed the top people from investigations by the Independent Monitor was a direct slap in the face to those of us that fought for greater accountability of our law enforcement regardless of their rank. It wasn’t until the city council most recently voted to restore those powers because it was outrageous that the mayor would overreach and exercise his powers in that way. Under my administration, I would expand those powers by increasing funding. Right now, we have a bloated public safety system where we have a lot of bureaucrats at the top of public safety, we need to shrink that department of bureaucrats, shift those resources to the Monitor and also divert some of those resources to some of the direct services that we need in the jail.
Are you worried about any backlash? How will you handle the criticisms?
Well, you know, 30 years of public service in this city, as an activist; I’m forged in steel. I have heard criticism from the time I was a young student activist and one of my mentors, professor Joe Sandoval actually had said to me, “you know, Lisa, if you’re not a target, you’re not doing your job.” And so, I learned very early that this is part of being a leader. You can’t just take the accolades that people give you, you’re also going to be the target of people’s criticisms. But how I manage that is stay focused! Keep focused on your goals, shut out the noise. There’s always going to be people who aren’t going to like your position, and this is one of the things that makes América great; we have the First Amendment, we have the right to disagree. But I am going to continue to do what I think.
Any last words that you’d like to end with?
Yes, I think it’s really important that we support candidates of color and particularly Latina candidates. There is a wave that is sweeping across this nation, recognizing the importance of electing women to office. I’m not only running to become the first woman mayor of Denver, I’m also the first woman of color who has run for mayor, and so I take a lot of pride in that I can basically stand up and represent for my community. I think it’s really important that we get behind our Latina candidates and show up, stay informed and vote.
Visit Lisa4DenverMayor.org to follow her vision for Denver and to attend one of her many free meet and greets all around the Denver area, her campaign headquarters is located at 2701 Lawrence St. in northeast Denver.
Upcoming events include: Feb 23, 5-6:30pm, House Dist. 9 Mayoral Forum, Calvary Baptist Church, 6500 E. Girard Ave, Denver.
Mar 8, Listening Event with Lisa: Our Issue, Our Voices, Our Communities, Whittier Café, 1710 E 25th Ave, Denver.
Mar 23, East Colfax Mayoral Forum, 7935 E. 14th Ave, Denver.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
For more information on Lisa Calderón: Lisa4DenverMayor.org