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March 21, 2011 04:53 AM UTC

City Council at-Large Race in a Nutshell

  • by: Dan Willis

( – promoted by Denver Pols)

City Council at-Large is different from all of the other races because there is no run-off. The two vote-getters win despite their percentages.

I have not endorsed in this race and I do not intend to.

Debbie Ortega Has the most name recognition of the pool. She served on City Council before from a district, but has been out of office long enough to qualify, by far, to run again. I do not see how she won’t be one of the top two.

Robin Kniech Probably the hardest working of the five candidates. If she can get TV ads up, she could very well make the cut.

Josh Davies Also has been working it, but has seemed to lag a little in the past few weeks. As with all of the candidates, needs to get the voters to like him as a person. Issues have really taken a back seat this year.

Rich Gonzales Came into the race with a fair amount of name recognition, but has been campaigning very quietly. That won’t win it for him.

Jesse Shelmire Who? This dark horse candidate needs to be independently wealthy and own the airwaves if he expects to even get out of 5th place.


13 thoughts on “City Council at-Large Race in a Nutshell

  1. Unlike the mayoral race, there is no runoff here (please correct me if I remember incorrectly).  That means there isn’t the shifting support game, and simply the strongest two of these five get seats, even if that means they only get 25% of the vote each.

    On the note of Shelmire, let me first say that I truly admire young people who run for office.  I met him at a few events now, and think he really has a good perspective that would help our rather aging council.  That said, I can’t imagine him winning.

  2. Apparently you’ve not bothered to come to a forum or you would know Jesse – he’s the smartest one of the lot, with the most content. As you said next to Josh’s name – issues have taken a back seat – Jesse is bringing them to the forefront, as they should be.

    Last I checked we lived in a democracy, and if we base the election on how much money a candidate has we may as well just decide a winner by looking at their bank account and not bother with this voting nonsense.  

    1. Fundraising is hard work. Any fool can fill out the proper forms to become an official candidate, but running a real campaign requires real resources. Money doesn’t just magically appear in your bank account if you are a candidate. You really have to work at it.

      If you can’t find enough people willing to donate to your campaign, then maybe you don’t really have the community support to win an election, let alone to run for office in the first place.  

      1. Consider Denver for a moment, I mean, really think about it. How many families face the threat of foreclosure?  How many individuals have or will loose their jobs?  How many homeless crowd our streets?  How many schools will let loose their students and lock their doors?  These are merely a few of the critical questions Denverites are asking themselves today.

        Are we, as voters, expected to believe that the candidate who commands the greatest pool of campaign funds, who spends the most on marketing or insubstantial name recognition campaigns is capable of providing the greatest benefit to the people just because they can drop the biggest dime on themselves?


        While the Supreme Court might feel that dollars are as good as words, I would argue that good marketing doesn’t equal good solutions.  Further, a claim that only candidates with top funding are worth voter consideration is equivalent to political manipulation on the part of media and news outlets.  Such a claim represents not just a breach of basic journalistic ethics but a failure to meet basic industry standards in reporting and the active participation in a system of economic discrimination against the voting public that oppresses minority views.  As a voter and a tax payer in the City and County of Denver, I accuse Denver Pols, “Denver’s most widely read and trusted political website,” of these very violations.  Try talking about the issues, not just the income.  Apparently, while a black President can lead the country, we still can’t lead media to fair and equal Democratic philosophy… Or perhaps some Op-Ed pieces are simply published by certain websites without enough consideration. While Denver Pols may not give some candidates the benefit of the doubt, the voters of Denver hold themselves to a higher standard.

        1. Is money everything?  No.  Does a candidate need to raise enough to run an effective campaign?  Yes.  If he can raise enough to get his message out he’s probably as likely as anyone else.  If he can’t then he isn’t.  Attending forums and events isn’t enough to reach everyone.  If he’s out knocking doors everyday (no idea if he is) then he can make up a lot of ground too.

          1. There once was a mayoral candidate who had the equivalent of zero dollars in the bank. The last 40 days he walked, and walked, and walked. He won.  

            I have no idea if Jesse is walking (Hey kid, you should be walking), nor do I believe anyone running for anything in Denver is like Webb.

            That being said, I believe in the power of action.

            This season of Denver Politics really is like all the other ones. Yawn. Wake me up when all the typical folks get into office and Romer is our mayor.

            Maybe four more bad years will inspire good people to engage in their civic duty, run for office, and fight for causes they believe in. Maybe.  

        2. We see this comment a lot on the various Pols sites, and we’re always baffled at how folks voraciously defend candidates who don’t raise any money. This isn’t a moral or civic discussion — it’s reality. Being a poor fundraiser doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to serve in office, but it does mean that you almost certainly will not get elected. Blame us if it makes you feel better, but that’s just the way it is.

          We never said that the candidate who raises the most money is the best candidate for the job. That’s an absurd argument, and there is little correlation.

          We also didn’t say that candidates who don’t raise money shouldn’t be considered by voters — but if you don’t raise money, the chances are very good that you won’t be considered by voters because the voters will never learn about you.

          Money doesn’t make you the best candidate, but you have to have it to at least have a chance to win. You absolutely cannot run an effective campaign without raising money; if you don’t raise money, you can’t reach enough voters to win an election (yes, there are sometimes outliers, but this is true 99% of the time). The reality is that most voters choose to be relatively uninformed about candidates or issues because they have other things on their minds.

          Candidates (and their supporters) are always the ones who whine about “issues” not getting enough coverage because they aren’t able to run effective campaigns as a whole. We don’t discuss issues here. The Pols sites are about politics, not policy. We don’t discuss which candidate has the best position on budget reform. We discuss which candidates and ballot measures are most likely to win, based on a variety of reasons. Sometimes issues are a part of that, and sometimes not.

          Saying that you should be able to win an election based on issues alone is like saying you should be able to have a candy bar if you can talk the store clerk into just letting you have it. That would be swell, but it doesn’t work that way.  

  3. I have met all of the candidates. For what it is worth, here are my thoughts:

    1. Debbie Ortega is old. She has been on CC for a billion years. She has had her chance to make significant change and I am unimpressed. Vote for her if you want more of the same CC bull you have seen the past 10 years.

    2. Robin Kniech is a decent choice. She has a bit of a broader perspective into the community, unlike most of the candidates. She is well spoken and seems to really care about the people’s problems. I hope she is willing to put up the fight when she is on council. Vote #1 goes to you.

    3. Josh Davies is the typical young politico. His Facebook page showed us he is “friends” with Moby and other important “popular” people when the DNC came to town. He likes to party and hang out with wealthy white people. Seriously? This is what we find on your facebook page. Yawn. I am unimpressed with him. He should stick to the hospitality business and stay out of government, like most business people who think getting into politics is a good idea. Furthermore, this is a city council race. I find it fishy that a huge chunk of his money is coming from DC. This is Denver Mr. Davies… not DC.

    4. Rich Gonzales is eager to win. Every event he goes to he puts up a gazillion lawn signs all over the place. Oddly, every person I have spoken to thinks this retired fire chief was out of touch and… umm… not well liked. That’s putting it nicely. I have yet to hear one person say anything complimentary towards this candidate. No dice, Gonzales. Sadly, since you are at the top of the ballot, your chances are pretty good. Sad but true.

    5. Jesse Shelmire reminds me of the little engine that could. This kid has the cojones to shake things up, if he can get on council. He is not afraid to pointedly discuss the issues majority of Denver has problems with. I care not he has no money for TV spots. I like his passion, courage and drive. He is an anthropologist, archaeologist, and geologist. I wish more lay people would decide to get involved in the process, as that is what civic duty is all about. Vote #2 goes to you.  

  4. I haven’t heard Jesse speak, but I am anxious to hear him now after reading the above posts. Debbie has been around for a while, so I have heard her speak.

  5. I agree with everyone here who is impressed with the Chutzpah of Councilman-At-Large Candidate. Of all the websites I LOVE all of his position statements on the issues he has posted, So many candidates fill us up with more EMPTY PROMISES than Satan.

    I am a SHAMELESS Liberal and attend all the liberal rallys I have time for and Jesse Shelmire is always there, always thoughtful and always outspoken.

    I would relish in watching his inexperience and enthusiasm take on all the issues facing Denver City Council in the years ahead and I do NOT want to dump them back in the laps of a bunch of washed-up “has beens”!

    Good Luck Jesse! God Bless You (I know she will)!! And give ’em hell!

    I will only cast one vote in the at large race and encourage every other Jesse Shelmire supporter to do the same!!!!!!

  6. The main problem I have with this site summing up the local political races is you stress the importance of name recognition too much. For the mayors race this matters, but not for council.  Hear me out.

    Council at-large has 5 candidates. None of the names are well known in town to the average voter.  If I asked 500 people “Name a retired Denver fire chief” or “Name a woman who was on the council in the 80’s/90s”…. no one would know.  In fact, in my brief time running for this same position, the people I met door to door were not even aware who their district person was or didn’t even know there was an election happening. These were Denver registered voters.

    The 1% of Denver voters are really engaged and look up who raises the most money is not even a factor for winning the race.  The winners will come from who goes out and meets the most people face to face.

    A mail-in only ballot with 5 names and you check 2 favorites will come down to one thing.  “If I’ve met you, I’ll vote for you.”  A yard sign or tv commercial will not win a council seat.  People also vote on who’s name is listed first or who’s name sounds the best to them. (Very dumb way to pick someone but that is reality).

    All of these candidates have an equal shot and the 2 people who are out door to door meeting the most voters will win.

    -Brandon Sims

    1. … when a person is looking at their ballot, they are not seeing “a former fire chief” or a “city council member from whenever”. They are seeing names and the question becomes do they recognize those names. A lot of voters will recognize the name Debbie Ortega if they have lived here for long enough, just from her name being mentioned in the enws often. They MAY also recognize Rich Gonzales, but probably not at the same level.

      As for the 3 who are not likely to be known from the news as much, it is their job to get their name known. That is, after all, the basics of getting election.

      Bottom line, name recognition IS EVERYTHING, whether that name recognition comes from past experiences or from a media blitz. If you don’t have that recognition going to a race then you have pretty much buy it. That is where the importance on fundraising comes in.

    2. The others are newcomers to the political scene.

      Name recognition matters immensely.  Indeed, 90% of political advertising does nothing but promote name recognition without attaching it to anything else.

      Door to door politics doesn’t work in a Denver-wide race.  We have more people than the entire state of Wyoming and much of it is inaccessible to door to door campaigners.

      Money matters because it is a proxy for grass roots support and because it buys name recognition.

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