2023 Denver mayoral race: Candidate Kwame Spearman shares his platform

Posted at 3:18 PM, Feb 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 15:59:46-04

Update | Kwame Spearman dropped out of the race on March 16. A vote for Spearman would now count as an undervote — the same as not making a selection on that portion of the ballot.

Touting himself as “Denver’s Neighborhood Mayor,” Kwame Spearman is a Denver native and the co-owner and CEO of Tattered Cover bookstore. He also serves on the boards of Denver Health Foundation and Denver Public Schools Foundation. Spearman has degrees from Columbia University, Yale Law School and Harvard Business School.

According to city data, Spearman qualified for the Denver Fair Elections Fund. As of the start of February, Spearman has received $55,314 in campaign funding.

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

2023 Denver mayor race: Candidate Kwame Spearman shares his platform

Tony Kovaleski: Introduce yourself. Tell us your story.

Kwame Spearman: Sure. Hello, everyone. My name is Kwame Spearman, and I'm a proud Denver native. Currently, I am the CEO and co-owner of Tattered Cover, Denver's neighborhood bookstore. And I hope you'll learn a little bit about me, my vision for the city and why I want to be your "neighborhood mayor." At my core, I've always loved our neighborhoods, whether it was riding my bike in Park Hill or playing tennis at Wash Park. And I believe that we can have an amazing city. We can do it through our neighborhoods. Because over the past few years, our neighborhoods haven't been paid the attention that they need. And I want to be your neighborhood mayor, so we can go into your communities, understand what you need to prioritize, and then have a city government that can be responsive to that.

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

Kwame Spearman: Sure, I think the most important issue in this race is homelessness. I can tell you that it breaks my heart when I see tents outside of Tattered Cover, outside of our local businesses and in our neighborhoods. And if we don't address this situation, our city's going to decline. To be clear, when we have tents in front of our businesses, those businesses lose their customers. And if those businesses lose their customers, they can't pay the employees that are trying to show up to work every single day. The issue of homelessness — you can take to every of the other sub-issues. We've talked about crime, housing, etc. and it stands above, we've got to solve it. And we've got to start enforcing the laws in place, right. But it's clearly the biggest issue.

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Tony Kovaleski: So how would you rank two, three and four then?

Kwame Spearman: And so, crime? What are the others?

Tony Kovaleski: Housing, homelessness and transportation.

Kwame Spearman: I would say homelessness, crime, housing, transportation.

Tony Kovaleski: And then follow up on your No. 1 — you said homelessness is the No. 1 priority. What is your pledge to the voters on how you will address it? And how might that be different than the other 16 on the ballot.

Kwame Spearman: Our voters deserve to have safe neighborhoods. And I think homelessness is the biggest threat to safety in their neighborhoods. And the way that I'm the most unique candidate in this race is I want to focus on our neighborhoods. I want to have a neighborhood-by-neighborhood solution. There are different problems with homelessness. If you look at the problems that we've got downtown, those are very different than the problems that we've got surrounding the downtown area. If we have a mayor that can address that and have a police enforcement response that's neighborhood-by-neighborhood, we can get the best outcomes for our city.

Tony Kovaleski: Like many cities, there are a lot of financial needs in Denver. If elected, what would you prioritize? And where might you trim?

Kwame Spearman: I think we've got to build more workforce housing. It's something I can tell you that as a small business owner, I see every single day. Our teachers, our nurses, our booksellers, our firefighters, our police officers — they are not able to live in Denver right now. That's got to change. In our neighborhood plan, we will think through where we can have workforce housing, and we need stimulus and incentives from the government to get it done. And so from a financial obligation, that is our biggest priority. And I think if we reimagine how we're handling our homeless situation — right now, we're spending about $265 million every year on homelessness. I think we need to get — I think we need to reallocate some of that funding, put it towards workforce housing, and start developing a thriving economy through our neighborhoods for our workforce workers.

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

Kwame Spearman: Of course, you know, as a Black male, I can tell you that the way that you achieve diversity is not through goals. It's not through requirements. It's through creating an environment in which people are comfortable. If you go to a Tattered Cover, what you'll see is people who are different ages, people who are different genders, people who are different races, all working together. And that's because we've created a culture where people embrace who they are. And we welcome the diversity. One thing that I can tell you as a business leader, Tony, is that if you have diversity on your team, you can do just about anything. And so it's not just a principle to me. It's something I've accomplished throughout my career. And of course, we'll accomplish that for the city.

Tony Kovaleski: In this election, city council has the potential for a significant change. How are you planning to work with a new council if elected? And what will that relationship look like?

Kwame Spearman: City council is going to be so important in our administration because what I believe we need to do is acknowledge that Denver is too large for one-size-fits-all solutions. So we've got to segment this city out and the way that I would do it is through our city council districts. Subsequently, we're going to rely on our city council leaders to help us understand what their residents need. And so I actually envision a hugely beneficial partnership between myself and city council moving forward, because that's how we're going to get our neighborhood plan done.

Tony Kovaleski: Sixteen other candidates on this ballot. If you could ask one other candidate one question, which candidate? And what is that question?

Kwame Spearman: That is a great question. I think I would ask, because homelessness is the biggest issue, I would probably ask Mike Johnston. He's made a commitment to end homelessness in his first term. One of the things that I'm running on, Tony, is that I'm incredibly pragmatic. We need a CEO who can actually address the public with real solutions. And so I would ask him, does he actually believe that he can accomplish that? If you look at homelessness, it's endemic, and it's been around since the beginning of time. Instead of promising the voters something I don't believe he can deliver on, shouldn't we focus on actual policies that will help move our city forward and save our businesses? I gotta tell you, as a small business owner, I can't wait for the perfect answer. I need progress on homelessness right now.

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

Kwame Spearman: I am reading "The Man Who Broke Capitalism." It's a book about Jack Welch. And the importance of this book is that business can save an economy. But we've gotten greedy. And the business leaders over the past 40 years focus more on things like shareholder value and putting more money in their pockets than solving problems. I believe there's a new generation of business leadership, of which I'm a part of, in which we use the principles of business to actually solve problems. That's what we've got to do for our city right now. Otherwise, I try to swim a lot. As you can see, not as much as I probably should be. And campaign. I believe this race is the most consequential race the city has seen since 1983 when, at that point, we needed to imagine a great city. I think in this election, we need to realize that your neighborhood makes our city, and so I'm spending all of my other time campaigning.

Tony Kovaleski: And finally, a chance for a closing statement from you. You got about a minute. Talk to the voters right now about what they need to know about you.

Kwame Spearman: I want to be your neighborhood mayor. And I want to take a second to better explain what that means. I believe that Denver has always been a city on a hill because of the vibrancy, the diversity and the enthusiasm of our neighborhoods. And so if I'm elected your mayor, the first thing that I will do is go into our neighborhoods, and listen to what you need on three key areas: housing, safety, and local economy. I'll then take that information back to city hall and create a city hall that has goals and responses to what you need. We are going to build our neighborhoods back to create the city that you deserve. Because these aren't just my policies, these are our policies and our choices and that's why you need a neighborhood mayor.