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CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 8: Meet The Candidates

Five To Challenge Incumbent Chris Herndon in May, 2019 Election

 

Editor’s Note: Four years ago Chris Herndon run unopposed for a second term on the Denver City Council. Herndon is running for a third term representing the district that includes all of Park Hill, Stapleton, and portions of Montbello and East Colfax in the Denver municipal election next May. But what a difference four years make. Over the past several years, neighborhood groups and advocates have been increasingly critical of many city council decisions – as well as non-action – particularly involving parks, traffic and the perception of unrestrained growth. This time, Herndon, who has been the source of many of those criticisms in his district, is being challenged by at least five candidates. The following are in the running:   

Miguel Ceballos-Ruiz

Age: 33

Occupation: Catering manager

Neighborhood in which you live: Montbello

Candidate website: www.MiguelforDenver.com

GPHN: What inspired you to run for the Denver City Council?

Ceballos-Ruiz: We find ourselves living in a city that doesn’t feel like Denver anymore. We are losing our diversity—the current city government has demonstrated that this is not a problem for them. My mother was facing losing her home. She had been hurt at work and was unable to recover due to advanced arthritis. I was working in the Texas oilfields and had to come home, or else our family home would be lost. We were able to get partially caught up, but the second mortgage company filed for foreclosure. There was no help of any kind from the city. The only advice: sell your home. That’s when I witnessed the disconnect firsthand between our city government and the residents. Developers, corporations, and big consulting firms dictate to our current elected officials what they want, and those special interests have been getting it. It’s time that the communities of District 8 are the ones who decide. I will be the city council member that co-governs with the community, not against it.

GPHN: What are the three biggest challenges unique to District 8 right now?

Ceballos-Ruiz: There are a multitude of challenges facing our community, which are all exacerbated by the disconnect between our communities and our current representation. This, along with the I-70 Central Project’s increased traffic through our neighborhoods and the displacement of our neighbors, are what I would say cause some of the biggest problems for the residents of District 8. These are problems that we can only solve together.

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8 on the city council?

Ceballos-Ruiz: I was on the executive board of the Colorado Democratic Party, where I fought alongside the chair to make the party an open, inclusive, and welcoming—work that is not complete yet. But, under our leadership the party took a bold step away from representing corporate and elitist’s interests. I also stepped up and took charge of the statewide voter registration program for the party. Our registration numbers grew significantly. I am a working-class resident that grew up in Northeast Denver. I value workers and will fight to make Denver affordable. I sit on the board of the Colorado Latino Forum and the Montbello Organizing Committee.

GPHN: Why are you challenging the incumbent in the race?

Ceballos-Ruiz: I believe that we must put community first. To do so you must be present in the community. How else are you going to do what is right by us? I was raised in the community, both at my family’s Mexican restaurant on East Colfax and Spruce, and in Montbello—a community that has long been underserved. I know what our communities have been lacking, but I will always come back to community for feedback and help. I believe in a bottom up approach, where the council member implements the desires of the community.

GPHN: What is the Denver city government doing well right now?

Ceballos-Ruiz: There are amazing people who work for the city government and they make our city run every single day with their work and dedication. The current elected officials are doing a heck of a job selling out our communities by bending over backwards for consultant firms, special interests, and developers who do not want to build affordable housing units.

Christopher J. Herndon

 Age: 41

Occupation: Denver City Councilmember, District 8

Neighborhood in which you live: Stapleton

Candidate website: www.herndon4denver.com

GPHN: What initially inspired you to run for the Denver City Council?

Herndon: My commitment to public service, which began at West Point and continued through nearly seven years of active duty service in the Army, including deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. When my military career ended, I transitioned to Denver and quickly got involved in the community through volunteering at my church and with my registered neighborhood organization. I then realized I wanted to make public service my full-time job again and work for my community in the city I love.

GPHN: What are your top accomplishments representing District 8 on the Denver City Council?

Herndon: Acquiring the PT’s site on East Colfax to be transformed into housing and neighborhood-serving retail; increasing the number of DPD officers on the street; bringing new affordable housing units throughout the district; making composting available to all single-family homes in Denver; adding a new park in Park Hill; the adaptive reuse of the Stapleton air traffic control tower, which is now a Punch Bowl Social; leadership development for Denver teens through Northeast Denver Leadership Week;  traffic engineering improvements across the district

GPHN: What are currently the three biggest challenges unique to District 8?

Herndon:

1. Our district highlights some of the challenges Denver is facing as a whole. We’re working to strike a balance and figure out how to thoughtfully grow to accommodate the demands of a population increase while maintaining neighborhood integrity, culture and vitality.

2. There’s no denying we have large equity gaps across the district. The incredible diversity of our district is one of the best things about it, however everyone deserves to live in a safe, healthy neighborhood with the full benefit of city services.

3. Being outside the central core of the city, we struggle with a lack of connectivity in mobility options. B-cycle doesn’t operate east of Colorado but we know there is a demand for services like that in our neighborhoods. I continue to push for investment in this area and work with our community partners to provide viable, safe mobility options.

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8?

Herndon: My connection to the community and a lifetime of demonstrated commitment to service. My church is in Montbello, I have family in East Colfax, I live in Stapleton, and my daughter went to school in Park Hill. I have conversations with residents at the grocery store, the barber shop, and in parks about their concerns and what’s going on in the city. Many skills I learned in the military (teamwork, humility, leadership, critical thinking) help me be effective on City Council. It’s important to me to keep the needs of the community at the forefront of the decisions we make and to be thoughtful about both the short and long-term impacts of those decisions.

GPHN: What is the Denver city government doing well right now?

Herndon: Investing in infrastructure. Denver asked voters to approve the bond measure to make improvements across the city without raising taxes. It was the most inclusive bond process in Denver’s history and we’re going to see returns on those investments for many years to come. Developing holistic planning guidelines through an inclusive process. Denveright is an effort to develop comprehensive plans to guide us in addressing the challenges dealing with population growth and development, in everything from zoning to mobility to parks and recreation.

LaMone Noles

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Age: 62

Occupation: Career public servant

Neighborhood in which you live: Park Hill

GPHN: What inspired you to run for Denver City Council?

Noles: Our District deserves a new leader who will advocate and stand up for the community in matters involving quality of life issues, build cooperative relationships and inspire meaningful community engagement with the City Administration.

GPHN: What are the three biggest challenges unique to District 8 right now?

Noles:

1. Neighborhood Plans: The city administration is in the process of updating the neighborhood master plans, referred to as Blueprint Denver. The plans are 1,100 pages long, giving the community a short period of time for comment. The plans are redefining neighborhoods according to city maps, instead of known boundaries. The neighborhood descriptions have been changed based upon planned land use. The Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement will be in jeopardy if re-zoning alters use of the land.

2. Unaffordable Housing: Developers opt-out of including affordable housing units in their plans and chose to pay a fee to the city at the rate of $1.50 per square foot. Considering the multi-million dollar value of these properties, and the lack of amenities, the fee is too low and does not enhance the community. Considering the disruption to residents in the form of escalating property taxes, insurance and large-scale development that doesn’t fit the neighborhood, this fee should be increased. If developers truly want to give back to the community, then their contribution is to renegotiate the opt-out fees.

3. Community Engagement: Currently, District 8 has a “bureaucratic feel” where the priorities of the city administration outweigh the needs of our community. Leadership must commit to rebuilding trust and routinely engage the community. We have five distinct neighborhoods in District 8 – Park Hill, Stapleton, Northfield, East Colfax and Montbello –  who are unified on common issues. I see the positive effects of facilitating the voice of community on issues they care about.

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8 on the City Council?

Noles:

• Raised in North Park Hill, attended DPS during the integration era of the 1970’s. B.S Business Management from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

• President, City Park Friends and Neighbors, a Registered Neighborhood Organization that advocates for parks/open space.

• Newly-elected Board member, Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.

• Past President, Park Hill ACORN, a working families organization

• Employee with the VA Medical Center in Denver serving veterans for 30 years

• Nominee, Juanita Gray Community Service Award, 2014

GPHN: Why are you challenging the incumbent in the race?

Noles: Unfortunately, the incumbent has angered and alienated the community on issues that were divisive and promote gentrification. During his tenure, the incumbent voted in favor of (1) destroying 250 trees in historic City Park Golf Course for a drainage ditch; (2) a $300 million storm water fee for the Platte to Park Hill project; (3) supporting the city administration’s denial that the destruction of City Park Golf Course was related to the I-70 expansion project; (4) approval of the Fairfax land swap for $600 million over the objections of the community; and (5) numerous courtesy hearings by City Council that are not intended to change outcomes.

GPHN: What is the Denver City government doing well right now?

Noles: To be honest, not much! The people and communities are not a high priority of the incumbent and current administration. Developers rule!

Erik Penn

Age: 31

Occupation: Project Manager, Pediatric Mental Health Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado

Neighborhood in which you live: Montbello

Candidate website: www.PennforDenver.com

GPHN: What inspired you to run for the Denver City Council?

Penn: I have a deep-seated passion for helping people. I initially went to college for business and while I enjoyed the coursework and the structures, I switched majors to social work, where I felt I could help people by being in the mix of solution making and community empowerment. However, I saw and continue to experience the difficulties that come with direct clinical and community care and honed my focus to alleviating these barriers from a systemic standpoint and believe the way I can do so and contribute to lifting my community’s voice is to represent them in public office.

GPHN: What are the three biggest challenges unique to District 8 right now?

Penn:

• Affordable housing

• Addressing our transportation issues that lead to extended travel times, poorer health, and increased costs.

• Safe and healthy neighborhoods that have access to healthy lifestyle choices, including recreation and grocery stores along with decreasing crime rates and building better relationships between law enforcement and community.

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8 on the city council?

Penn: Having worked in adoption, healthcare, mental health, business development, and quality improvement, I bring a diverse and inspiring range of experience across multiple industries that when coupled with my community advocacy work makes me an ideal candidate; one who will not settle for the quick fix but intends to find the underlying reasons for our problems then applying long-serving community-led change. The city should work towards meeting the fundamental needs of all its residents and my background brings a keen, compassioned focus to this.

GPHN: Why are you challenging the incumbent in the race?

Penn: I am working to represent the people of my district and their voices that have fallen upon deaf ears. The needs of northeast Denver are varied: increased traffic and accidents, lack of grocery stores, parks, competitive retail and healthy dining. I work with community nonprofits and registered neighborhood organizations to make meaningful, community-led change and our experience is that the city council has not had our back. I believe I hold truer to the needs of District 8 residents than our current representation and I want their voice to ring out through me at city hall.

GPHN: What is the Denver city government doing well right now?

Penn: I worked for the city previously and can say that the Peak Academy is an initiative that is working. It invests in city employees and empowers them to making improvements in their agencies for residents through a focus on cutting costs and improving efficiency and services. I believe there have been marked improvements from the city’s animal control and neighborhood inspection offices, in their response times, usage of technology, and interaction with the community.

Blair Taylor

Age: 41

Occupation: Small Business Consultant and Graphic Designer [Savannah College of Art and Design M.F.A. and University of Denver M.B.A.]

Neighborhood in which you live: Park Hill

Candidate website: BlairTaylorforDenver.com

GPHN: What inspired you to run for the Denver City Council?

Taylor: The love for my community. Over the past several years I have been frustrated, and I know my neighbors have too, as we residents have been left out while the city plans for our community’s future. My goal is a departure from the recent past. I will work tirelessly to ensure quality of life in our neighborhoods is first and foremost. Denver’s extreme growth puts us at a crucial point in our history. We need to protect the current residents and our resources. The future is change; we need to integrate the community in the evolving plan to address the ebb and flow.

GPHN: What are the three biggest challenges unique to District 8 right now?

Taylor:

1. Each of our four neighborhoods in District 8 have its own challenges. Park Hill is struggling to preserve its character and history. Stapleton is working toward defining itself and management of a growing community. Montbello’s needs for mobility, grocery, and housing have been largely ignored. East Colfax is facing revitalization and transit expansion.

2. District 8 needs a comprehensive plan that identifies the concerns of each community and a realistic action plan. City agencies must work closely with the residents and from there coordinate a comprehensive plan.

3. Mobility and congestion in District 8 is on everyone’s mind. We need to ensure children get to and from school safely. Does bus rapid transit [BRT] provide the best and most effective answer for Colfax? How will the I-70 Central project throughout District 8 impact the residents? These issues must be addressed now.

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8 on the city council?

Taylor: I have been a resident of Denver for more than 10 years and have experienced firsthand what happens with idle representation. My involvement in the neighborhood has spanned zoning and land use, parks and open space, gentrification and equality, traffic and mobility. In each instance, I have worked continuously to engage and inform the residents, create a plan, and establish follow through. No matter who you are or what concerns you face, I will listen to and work with you.

GPHN: Why are you challenging the incumbent in the race?

Taylor: I will be in the community, engaged directly, holding open hours, and attending neighborhood meetings. My goal is to be a transparent and accessible representative. I love my neighborhood and believe my work as a resident in Park Hill demonstrates commitment. We cannot afford to focus on our residents’ quality of life only during election season. Community engagement is an authentic and continuous process for city policy, not a tool to distract from profiteering agendas.

GPHN: What is the Denver city government doing well right now?

Taylor: The city has done an amazing job inspiring a group of creative and intelligent co-creators to run in the 2019 municipal election. Our city is grappling with explosive growth, but many of us here are being left out. I am proud of our devoted residents who are willing to step into the political arena. The future leaders must show integrity, wisdom, and responsiveness each time an issue arises.

Patrick F. Thibault

Age: 34

Occupation: Policy Strategist & Community Advocate

Neighborhood in which you live: South Park Hill/East Colfax

Candidate website: www.patrick4denver.com

GPHN: What inspired you to run for the Denver City Council?

Thibault: As a fourth-generation resident of the district, this is the community that raised me. Despite being a single parent, my mother found the time to foster conversations around important issues and instilled the importance of community engagement from an early age. Most importantly, I was taught the value of utilizing my voice and actions to strengthen others. This passion for community has led me down a pathway of service.

GPHN: What are the three biggest challenges unique to District 8 right now?

Thibault:

• Responsible Development

• Multi-Modal Transportation/Accessible Neighborhoods

• Public Safety

GPHN: What in your background or experience positions you to best represent District 8 on the city council?

Thibault:Earlier in my professional career I worked as a recruiter for the Community College of Denver, where I was able to help students across Denver Public Schools explore career pathways and higher education opportunities through the community college system. Most of my career has been spent working at all stages of the legislative process. As a chief of staff and policy director for a state senator and state representative in the Colorado General Assembly, I have already been working on the critical policy areas not only affecting our city, but our state. Also, through my work as the political action chair for NAACP Denver, I have organized communities of color around important issues and provided programing for them to engage with their elected officials and candidates seeking to represent them.

GPHN: Why are you challenging the incumbent in the race?

Thibault: From my experience in the state legislature, I have always found that the best policy outcomes arise when the community is a primary stakeholder. We need leadership that will ensure all neighborhoods in District 8 have a strong voice when crafting city ordinances and policy goals. We need to ensure that we are not forfeiting the inclusive character of community that has made our neighborhoods attractive for generations, at the expense of development. I want to ensure people of all incomes have the same opportunities to live in the district I have.

GPHN: What is the Denver city government doing well right now?

Thibault: Council, and the Green Roof Task Force, has done a good job of finding ways to properly implement the Green Roof Initiative that was passed by the people of Denver. I applaud the passing of the Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act to ensure reasonable protections for our refugee and immigrant communities.


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