By Victoria Acuña
Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and two other candidates vying for the Denver District 9 council seat gathered at the Mobcraft Brewing for an evening debate on March 9, hosted by the Holleran Group and Curtis Park RNO. In attendance were members of the Curtis Park neighborhood community, as well as other D9 constituents.
The Weekly Issue/El Semanario interviewed CdeBaca after the debate, and discussed her passion for politics, and justice for her constituents.
“I got involved in politics before I recognized it was politics,” CdeBaca said. Having grown up in the Swansea neighborhood in one of the most polluted zip codes in the U.S., she was exposed to political organizing from people in her community. “I had a neighbor who was organizing in our community to file lawsuits against ASARCO and trying to get the community involved.” The neighbor would give kids a couple of bucks to go around and hand out their newsletter, so young CdeBaca took up the opportunity.
As a high school student, CdeBaca was witnessing her school change in so many ways right before her eyes, as bussing ended and Manual High School became an experiment for small schools. “We had one school on each floor of our high school starting my sophomore year. I was not involved in any conversations about that my freshman year…We just went home for the summer and came back to a brand-new configuration that nobody had input on.” This experience motivated CdeBaca to be a part of the conversation, advocating for educational opportunities such as Advanced Placement/Honors classes and electives. “We lost all of that in the transition to three small schools,” explained CdeBaca.
During the March 9 debate, the three District 9 Council candidates–Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, Darrell Watson, and Kwon Atlas–shared their positions on topics regarding homelessness, economic vitality, transportation, and more in the Five Points neighborhood. After candidates introduced themselves and answered a few initial questions, Watson’s narrative focused on negative comments regarding Councilwoman CdeBaca.
Councilwoman CdeBaca turned to the moderator and in a moment that seemed to foreshadow the rest of the evening, asked, “Will there be rebuttals?” The room chuckled and yes, there would be time at the end to give rebuttals.
“I’ve voted on almost 6,000 bills in the last four years.”
Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman
Watson attempted to minimize CdeBaca’s achievements as District 9’s councilperson over the past four years and painted her as divisive.
At one point, Watson asked, “What has the Councilwoman done?”
Since 2019, Councilwoman CdeBaca has exceeded numerous accomplishments and shares her platform on current and future plans for District 9.
The subject of housing and the area’s unhoused situations were next in line for discussion at the debate.
“We need to devote more than 2% of our budget for housing [in Denver],” stated CdeBaca, while outlining numerous definitive solutions for Denver’s unhoused populations.
Councilperson CdeBaca took the opportunity to explain her accomplishments and efforts on the topic after Watson and Atlas offered vague solutions on how they would address housing and homelessness, in District 9.
“I appreciate the obvious, but very superficial proposals that we just heard, I think what we have to recognize is that the concentration of poverty and homeless in this area is not accidental. This is a function of zoning; and zoning that does not allow the rest of the city to share the burden of various housing types like transitional housing, like shelters, like residential care; but guess what, we made one small step in the right direction and by no means have we reached where we need to, but that group living amendment to our code – who was the tip of the spear on that? It was me,” responded Councilperson CdeBaca.
Watson and Atlas laughed and jeered at CdeBaca, trying to diminish her statement, while someone told them to let her speak.
Councilwoman CdeBaca continued, “There were two parts of that, and [part] of that was me. We tried to change how many people could live in a household and I said we also need to allow shelters, residential care, halfway houses in all parts of the city, so that it is not concentrated in here.” She confirmed her statement, “It’s documented.”
Watson continued, by boasting about his endorsements from current and former city council members; but did not define detailed solutions regarding issues facing District 9 residents.
Councilperson CdeBaca took the opportunity to address Watson’s comments.
“Support from the status quo is likely to mean you’ll perpetuate the status quo,” she said in reference to Watson’s endorsements.
“I’ve voted on almost 6,000 bills in the last four years. The divisive person that you describe would not vote 95% in alignment with my colleagues to pass many of the most transformational ideas you support,” she told Watson.
CdeBaca’s first term at city council was not completely free of controversy. She’s been seen at times as an outsider, a lone dissenter during city council votes, and scrutinized for things she’s shared on social media. This has put her at odds with some of her fellow city council members, and although she has been the only “no” vote at times, CdeBaca maintains that this doesn’t stop her from getting things done.
During our interview, she discussed moving back to Colorado after spending a year at college in San Diego. She talked about taking a Chicanx history class, and learning about the Chicanx movement in Denver and Colorado, feeling enraged that she had never heard of this before. “They didn’t want us to know how powerful we are,” commented CdeBaca.
After transferring to the University of Denver (DU)—for many reasons including her grandmother’s health issues—she became involved with reforms happening at Manual High School, which was experiencing a temporary closure after the small schools experiment was failing. She decided to organize the community to organize a class action lawsuit, which was later dropped. Unfortunately, it was a lesson in how the voice of marginalized communities is often ignored and brushed aside, as the school district ended up not honoring any of their promises.
This lesson prompted CdeBaca and others to create Project VOYCE, a non-profit organization based in Denver that works with young people to transform them into youth leaders. After the organization was up and running, and she finished her Master’s Degree in Social Work at DU,
And in 2009, she moved to Washington, DC, as a New Leaders Intern and New Leaders Fellow with the Center for Progressive Leadership. A four-month fellowship led to a six-year opportunity to be a part of history under President Barack Obama’s leadership. CdeBaca worked at Excelencia in Education, a national education policy organization, the District of Columbia Public Schools and the César Chávez Foundation. Her time in DC came to an end, as her grandmother entered hospice care, and once she passed, CdeBaca decided to officially move back to Denver, as Project VOYCE’s Executive Director and face the fight against the I-70 expansion in her neighborhood.
The idea to join Denver’s city council came as the conversation focused on the need for someone to run in order to further the community’s wants and needs. CdeBaca wasn’t initially interested in running, but after the ink! Coffee protests, she decided she had enough and ran successfully for the District 9 seat in 2019.
Something that stood out to me was that Councilwoman CdeBaca was the only candidate at the debate to really speak on youth leadership and her work with youth. I asked her about this during our interview, and what Denver youth can expect from her if she wins a second term. “I feel very connected to my roots as a youth development professional. As adults, we have already lost the city. The people who have the city and the responsibility of all of our burdens, and the potential for all of the transformation, are young people,” she said. She mentioned her ability to build things, having co-founded Project VOYCE and other organizations. She also acknowledged the COVID pandemic, as it made up most of her first term.
“I want to formalize it [youth participation]–I want to create a parallel government where there is a youth city council counterpart in every single district. Youth should be signing off on the policies we promote, they should be understanding of the policies we promote.” One way to do this, she says, is to prioritize students.
You can learn more about Candi CdeBaca’s campaign and the new D9 map on her campaign website. Denver residents can expect to receive their ballots in the mail this week. Election Day, the last day to vote, is April 4.
Victoria Acuña is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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