Penfield Tate III’s entry into the Denver mayor’s race presents a major challenge to Mayor Michael Hancock’s bid for a third term in May.
Though a few people plan to take on Hancock, Tate is a well-known former legislator who can raise the money and build the political coalition necessary to win, observers say.
Hancock’s recent focus on the problems of gentrification was a primary reason to get in the race, Tate told Colorado Politics.
“In response to that, I’d been talking to people and got a clear sense that people in Denver are looking to go in another direction,” he said.
Tate, a partner at Kutak Rock law firm in Denver, announced his bid for mayor Oct. 1. Two days later, businessman Kayvan Khalatbari dropped out, citing family and health reasons.
Khalatbari had been considered Hancock’s toughest challenger until Tate stepped up. The other candidates are educator Lisa Calderon, disability rights activist Kalyn Heffernan, social media consultant Marcus Giavanni, technology consultant Ken Simpson and longtime local activist Stephen Evans (also sometimes known as Chairman Seku).
Hancock’s campaign provided a statement to Colorado Politics in response to Tate’s entry — without mentioning Tate.
“Mayor Hancock and the people of Denver have a lot to be proud of,” the statement says. “Denver is an exciting place to be — our economy is thriving and our neighborhoods are safe. The mayor has made rec centers free to kids and seniors, created more housing for the homeless, and improved access to city services. Mayor Hancock is excited to campaign on his work to increase funding for affordable housing, make it easier to get around town, improve our park system, and create a more equitable city by protecting our most vulnerable communities and increasing access to opportunity for all. He’s focused on addressing Denver’s biggest challenges, supporting key measures on the fall ballot, and electing Jared Polis and other Democrats to office.”
Neighborhood gentrification erupted into a four-alarm controversy last year after a Five Points merchant bragged about his coffee shop’s role in reshaping communities.
So Hancock stepped up. In his State of the City address in July, the mayor announced a new Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team, called NEST, to take on gentrification. On Oct. 2, he named state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, to lead the office.
“They will jump in with residents and local businesses to understand their needs and blunt any threatened loss of culture, character and community that investment can cause,” Hancock said in his speech.
But Tate said eight years is a long time to wait to work on a matter that’s devastated neighborhoods by driving up home prices and driving out longtime small businesses. That lack of swift attention has driven Denverites’ desire for a change in leadership, he said.
“One of the more frustrating conversations I’ve had is people saying, ‘Why do you want to run, Pen? It’s too late; the city is already lost,’” Tate said. “We’ve been overdeveloped in a not very attractive fashion.”
The city has to re-engage neighborhoods in planning and make the work transparent for regular residents, not just for developers, he said.
With NEST, “I think the city is going to have a credibility issue,” Tate said. “In the minds of many, they’ve been ignoring and steamrolling neighborhoods over the last eight years for the sake of development.
“Don’t get me wrong. We’re going to grow. We’ve got to grow … but we have to have a plan. We don’t have a plan. Even this (NEST) plan sounds like a reaction to a situation, but a reaction is not a plan.”
Tate said he will roll out a series of policy proposals on issues that he says have been neglected, including affordable housing, homelessness and crime.
He passed on hammering Hancock over a sexual harassment allegation this year that a lot of insiders say could hurt the mayor’s once-lofty political trajectory. Hancock, who is married, publicly apologized in February for sending flirty text messages six years ago to a female detective who was assigned to his security detail.
But Tate did say: “A number of people I’ve talked to feel like me. We’re disappointed in what the mayor has admitted to doing while holding office. They want government to do better than that.”
Tate, 62, grew up in Boulder. His father, Penfield Tate II, was Boulder’s first black City Council member and the city’s only black mayor to date.
The younger Tate graduated from Colorado State University in 1978, then got a law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., in 1981. He began his legal career with the Denver regional office of the Federal Trade Commission.
He later was an aide to Denver Mayor Federico Peña. From 1994 until 1996, he was vice chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party. He served two terms in the state House before he was elected to the state Senate in 2000. And in 2005, then-Mayor John Hickenlooper appointed Tate to the powerful Denver Water Board.