Shared from the 6/5/2019 The Denver Post eEdition

DENVER MAYOR’S RACE

Hancock victorious in scathing campaign

Incumbent wins third, final term as Giellis concedes

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Michael Hancock declares victory as results show his lead at EXDO Event Center in Denver on Tuesday. Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

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Jamie Giellis gives a concession speech with her stepson Jackson and her husband Chris at her election night party at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox on Tuesday. Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Mayor Michael Hancock won re-election to a third term Tuesday night in one of the most expensive and strident races in the city’s recent memory — a contest fueled by angst and anger over the city’s rapid redevelopment, but decided in its final weeks on questions of race and gender.

“Tonight we won this race together, and I can’t thank you enough for all your love and support,” he said, pointing to the heavens as he took the mic at 8:45 p.m. “Give yourselves, Denver, a round of applause. This is the people’s victory, because the people powered this campaign.”

He led with 56 percent of the vote and about 79,000 ballots in total as of the 10 p.m. vote count.

Challenger Jamie Giellis conceded at about 9:20 p.m.

“This is not the speech I wanted to give,” she told supporters at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox. “The most important thing that happened was we changed the conversation in Denver, and we should be proud of it.”

Hancock, 49, survived a scathing election year that saw his record hammered and his personal failings broadcast time and again. He also evaded the voter discontent that deposed one council member and was threatening two others Tuesday night.

In the first round of the election, five challengers came at the incumbent from different lanes. First-time candidate Giellis, 42, emerged as the final contender, unifying Hancock’s numerous critics and her two biggest rivals — Penfield Tate and Lisa Calderón — in a “unity ticket” that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the final month as it barreled toward the finish line.

The Hancock campaign cut mercilessly at Giellis’ record, casting her as inexperienced and ignorant of Denver’s black and Latino communities. When she tripped over the meaning of the name “NAACP” in the opening days of the runoff, it triggered a wave of news stories followed by a series of television attack ads from the Hancock campaign that would not end until election day.

The month-long runoff left voters disheartened. What began as a debate about development morphed in its final weeks into an argument about race and gender — a fight that cut across Denver in unusual ways.

For some, the criticism of Giellis reduced the contest to the “devil you know and the devil you don’t,” especially paired with Hancock’s sexually themed text messages to a city employee in 2012, and the general dissatisfaction with development in the city.

“I felt a little conflicted on some of the candidates,” said Linda Brecke, 76, a downtown resident who ultimately went for Hancock. “Usually you’re all in for one person or another. This election was a little different.”

Wade Stembridge, 32, found himself deflated in the second round. He kept his support with Giellis, but found himself voting against Hancock — especially because of the incumbent’s sexual text messages — more than anything.

“The first round I was excited to vote. But this round, it was just a tossup. I was kind of indifferent,” he said in Civic Center.

Hancock retained strong support in black and Latino neighborhoods on the northeast and west side of Denver, where a reporter struggled to find Giellis supporters. Giellis’ support was concentrated east of Broadway and south of Colfax Avenue.

“I think we know him and we know what he’s about. I trust him more than Giellis,” said Mariana Mendez, 29, of Westwood.

On policy, the candidates broadly agreed on the need for new housing and transportation departments. But Giellis warned about “runaway development” and promised greater neighborhood involvement, and she critiqued the mayor’s second-term efforts as disorganized and delayed.

Devin Green, 30, who lives south of Cherry Creek, said he supported Tate in the first round and followed Tate’s endorsement to Giellis.

He said he wanted the next mayor to roll back the camping ban and pursue more progressive policies on homelessness, though he wasn’t sure if Giellis would do that.

“I’m inclined toward change,” he said. “I’m inclined towards a candidate who works with other candidates. I’m inclined against candidates who start negative campaigns,” which he noticed Hancock doing in the runoff.

In his speech, Hancock treated his win as a full-on victory, not a close call. But he was more reflective talking with reporters later.

He said the election was “a job evaluation” for him — and he planned to “take to heart” some of the dissension heard from voters and his opponents. “I think community engagement is one of them — making sure we are bringing more people to the table. I think there’s some people we are not reaching, and we need to do a better job. People need to hear better what we’re doing around growth.”

But Hancock rejected the suggestion that some voters wanted him to pursue different growth-related policies, contending he’s not been educating people about what his administration is already doing.

“By every standard, by every measure, Denver is leading. Not because we pulled back but because we moved forward,” he declared in his victory speech, to cheers and then chants of “Four more years!”

The race drew millions of dollars for advertising and more. Hancock had raised about $2.75 million through May 30, including about $650,000 in May alone. Giellis reported about $714,000 in total fundraising. Independent spending also skyrocketed.

Two groups funded by real-estate and business interests — Rise Up Denver and Committee for a Great Denver — reported spending roughly $400,000 to support Hancock and attack other candidates. Two pro-Giellis groups reported about $130,000 in spending, which appeared to largely pay for cartoon fliers lampooning the mayor.

“They’ve been challenged. The heat was really put on,” said Tony Pigford, a Giellis ally and campaign finance reformer. “So the response to that was millions and millions of dollars that was poured into this municipal race.”

With the end of the campaign approaching, Hancock apologized earlier Tuesday for the way the race “devolved.”

“I think the next mayor — and I expect to be the next mayor — has a responsibility to try to bring the city back together and try to put those kind of things behind us and really apologize to the people of Denver, because we all deserve and expect more in Denver than what we’ve seen.”

But he wasn’t ready to say exactly what actions he was sorry about.

Hancock’s next term will be his last one: Denver’s mayors can only serve for three terms totaling 12 years. He’ll have his plate full of promises and plans.

He also will have some new Denver City Council members to meet: Five of the 13 council seats were up for grabs in runoffs, including three held by incumbents.

The term could be dominated by administrative changes, especially the creation of new housing and transportation departments; the drafting of new neighborhood plans; the question of how to fund a $2 billion vision for transit; and the spin-up of new tax-funded efforts on college scholarships, mental health and parks.

The mayor also will have to deal with Interstate 70 construction, manage the ongoing projects and respond to gentrification as it intensifies in more parts of west and northeast Denver, among other pressing issues.

And, after a scorched-earth campaign season, many in the city’s political circles will be asking about where they go next. In his call from Giellis, Hancock said he proposed sitting down. “I said, ‘Let’s grab a beer and talk.’ She had some great ideas in the campaign.”

The Denver Post’s Jon Murray, Anna Staver and Carina Julig contributed to this report.

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