2023 Denver mayoral race: Candidate Ean Thomas Tafoya shares his platform

Posted at 3:21 PM, Feb 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-20 17:41:12-05

Environmental and civil rights advocate Ean Thomas Tafoya is a fourth-generation Denverite running what he calls a “people-powered campaign.” Tafoya has worked in local government, served on dozens of community boards and led winning ballot initiatives. He founded the Headwaters Protectors, a mutual aid group providing services to unhoused people in Denver, and serves as the Colorado state director for the environmental nonprofit GreenLatinos.

Tafoya qualified for the Denver Fair Elections Fund, according to city data. At the start of February, he had received $130,149.94 in campaign donations. Of that, $97,067.07 is from the Fair Elections Fund.

Denver7's Chief Investigative Reporter asked Tafoya about his plans if elected as Denver's next mayor. Watch their conversation or read a transcript below.

2023 Denver mayor race: Candidate Ean Tafoya shares his platform

Tony Kovaleski: Introduce yourself. Tell us your story.

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Hi, my name is Ean Thomas Tafoya. I'm a fourth-generation Denverite. I've worked for three branches of local government, all three levels of American government and on about a dozen Denver ballot issues. I hope that you look into me and realize that I'm successful at bringing people together. We have big problems to solve, and I know we can do it.

Tony Kovaleski: First question. Insiders tell us the four most important issues in the city of Denver right now are crime, homelessness, housing, and transportation. Rank them from most important to least important and please explain why.

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Of those four that you just listed for me? Well, I would think the unhoused issue is No. 1 that we're hearing on the doors (while campaigning). I would say transportation is No. 2. Three is housing. Fourth is crime. I say that because we've been knocking doors for almost a year now. And that's how the people of Denver are ranking those issues when I'm talking to them personally.

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Tony Kovaleski: So, to confirm you said homelessness is No. 1. OK. So, follow-up question based upon your No. 1 homelessness. What is your pledge to the voters on how you will address it? And how might that be different than the other candidates on the ballot?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Well, I think that I'm different than the other candidates because I actually offered a plan during the middle of the pandemic to bring stability to the unhoused. I founded a nonprofit called the Headwaters Protectors that brings critical public health resources. And the spin off from that was to actually use the festival world, and camp people for festivals, to expand the safe outdoor sites. I've also been intimately involved with housing people through these cold spells. And so I think we can do it. And I think that's the difference between me and a lot of the others. We've been doing it when the times have been hard, when no one's looking, as compared to just policy.

Tony Kovaleski: Finances are critical in every city. Based on the financial needs of Denver, if you're elected, what would you prioritize? And what might you trim?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Well, I think the most important thing we can do financially is to go after these big dollars that are coming from the federal and state government, whether that's housing or the Build Back Better agenda. We have critical infrastructure, from transportation to energy to water, that needs to be upgraded. And so the first thing I would do is go after those dollars. I'm also a huge fan of public banking. I think there's a way for us to bond into the future and save from sending money to Wall Street. And so I don't think we need to trim the budget. I think we need to grow the budget, and we need to be expanding the infrastructure that the community is asking for.

Tony Kovaleski: As you know, Denver is a wonderfully diverse city. If elected, will you make a commitment to ensure that your administration reflects Denver's diversity? And if yes, how?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Absolutely. You need to have different people with different backgrounds in your administration. If you look at my staff, right now, I have more than a dozen people working for me, different backgrounds, definitely more women that I have working for me than men. But it's important that you have people that come from different backgrounds. Being an Indigenous person, I believe in calling in all four directions. If you're familiar with the Medicine Wheel — black, white, yellow, red, elders, the youth — we have to have different backgrounds. Because in my experience, from all the task forces that I've sat on, that's when we've gotten the best results.

Tony Kovaleski: City council has the potential for significant change in this election. If voters say you're the city's next mayor, how are you planning to work with that new council? And what would that relationship look like?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Well, I've actually worked for Denver City Council, and I've been in the mayor's office. So I think it's critically important for them to have a good relationship. Working through the budget, of course, right from the very beginning, everybody I appoint, the city council now is going to have to give oversight over that. I'm really looking forward to that. I want to have an open door policy. I definitely want to have a collaborative process with them. And I don't know who all the new council members are going to be. But what I can tell you is, since we've been out working for a year, we know most of them, I feel confident we can work with almost anyone.

Tony Kovaleski: OK. Interesting question here. If you could ask one other candidate one question, which candidate and what would that question be?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Oh, good. Ask another candidate a question on TV?

Tony Kovaleski: Switching roles here a little bit.

Ean Thomas Tafoya: Yeah, I think that's pretty good. You know, I might ask Councilwoman Debbie Ortega if climate is such a big issue for you, what is your record for having climate action over the last 28 years?

Tony Kovaleski: OK. A chance now to get to know you a little bit more. What's the last book you read? And why? And what do you do for fun?

Ean Thomas Tafoya: The last book I read was called "[The Rise of] Big Data Policing," and it was taking a look at how we can use data and data analytics to understand crime rates, but also to work to improve our police departments. And what do I like to do for fun? I love to go dancing.

Tony Kovaleski: Okay, now a chance for a closing statement. You've got a couple of minutes, please look into the camera and talk to voters and tell them what they need to know about you.

Ean Thomas Tafoya: OK, well, again, my name is Ean Thomas Tafoya. I'm a fourth-generation Denverite. I grew up in West Denver and moved to Cole. In high school, my mom got a first-time homebuyer program. She's a social worker and a union leader. I worked at my first job at the Museum of Nature and Science. I'm a teacher. I worked for the public defender, the mayor's office and Denver City Council. Worked on dozens of ballot issues, including one that won by 71% just this November, Waste No More, I was the co author and director. For my day job, I run a statewide environmental justice nonprofit and chaired the state's environmental justice Action Task Force, where we brought forward a plan to reform more than a dozen agencies for better health for individuals across the state of Colorado. Again, I want to say I have a long track record of bringing people together. And it's very important that we do that work. We can't get to these solutions if we continue to have rhetoric that pulls us apart. And I want to say my big policy priorities: No. 1 regional cooperation. The issues we face, whether that be transportation, air quality, housing — they don't stop at lines we draw on a map and neither will I. I want to be a leader that works with everyone to solve our biggest issues. And just lastly, I hope that when you look into me, you can see the track record that we have. Imagine if we could do that work every day with me as mayor.

Editor's note: This transcript was edited to include the full title of the book "The Rise of Big Data Policing."