Susan Shepherd’s Re-Election Problem: It’s Worse Than You Thought

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)


A Feb. 24 fundraising email from Susan Shepherd, the embattled rookie City Council member for Denver’s District 1, blames widespread opposition to her re-election on “disgruntled folks in our community who don’t believe in smart development and growing our communities.”


Talk to District 1 voters though and they paint a starkly different picture: Opposition to Shepherd has galvanized because of her outsized advocacy for property developers who have clashed at times with local residents, compounded by what many see as an unseemly Shepherd grab for campaign dollars from those same developers.

In what rapidly is becoming the most closely watched 2015 Council race, residents of the Northwest Denver district point out how developer interests in District 1 projects dovetail with their spending on Shepherd. Opponents also describe Shepherd’s open opposition to local residents — through Council votes and in numerous public statements — on occasions when they have faced off against her developer benefactors over sometimes contentious property ventures in neighborhoods such as Sloan’s Lake, West Highland and Berkeley.

To be fair, a District 1 Council member must work closely with property-related businesses. The Northwest Denver district is home to booming redevelopment on West Colfax Ave. and at the old St. Anthony hospital site by Sloan’s Lake. It’s a hotbed of residential scrapeoffs. And not suprisingly Shepherd’s strongest opponent, Jefferson Park architect Rafael Espinoza, has worked directly with developers both professionally and as a community advocate. As a result he likely will attract some of their campaign support.

But what typically stuns residents who review Shepherd’s campaign finance reports of the past two years (here, here and here) is the magnitude of developer largesse. More than a third — nearly $15,000 — of Shepherd’s TOTAL campaign donations from 2013 to January 2015 came from businesses and people whose current or planned District 1 projects she has advocated in Council votes, public statements and meetings with residents. And that was even before her planned Feb. 26 kickoff event where envelopes were ready again to be stuffed with checks and cash.

Payments through January included: A $500 payment from a construction company CEO in Houston, Texas, who is building a large apartment building at 38th Ave. and Lowell Blvd. in West Highland. Another $1,000 came from the Austin, Texas-based restaurant chain that Shepherd helped to get tax increment financing for a project on West Colfax. There was $1,000 from EnviroFinance, the lead redeveloper at St. Anthony; more than $2,000 from a property manager with restaurants speckling District 1; and more than $2,500 from entities related to Red Peak Properties, which in 2014 lost a heated battle vs. West Highland residents to plop three five-story apartment blocks next to the 100-year-old Victorian houses near 32nd Ave. and Lowell Blvd. A more detailed donations list is here.

To paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen: $2,000 here, $2,000 there…pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Compounding the ill will that the appearance of a major conflict of interest has created: Shepherd’s typically prickly demeanor when engaging large, organized groups of local residents that have sought her help in mitigating traffic problems and other impacts from various local projects. Some 500 residents petitioned against an upzoning to increase the allowable building size on some blocks in the St. Anthony project to 12 stories from the 5 stories originally promised. Shepherd voted "yes" on the upzoning, as requested by NAVA Real Estate Development. NAVA co-owner Brian Levitt is a Shepherd campaign funder.

Residents also cite Shepherd’s behavior during the multiyear battle with Red Peak, which among other things saw her promote as “compromises” design elements the developer already had in its original plans predating the rise of community opposition. More recently, residents reported that Shepherd glowered from the sidelines at a Feb. 17 community meeting staged by Houston-based Trammell Crow Residential — whose CEO Kenneth Valach gave Shepherd $500 — to promote a planned apartment project for Shepherd donor Gene Lucero.

In contrast with her smiling photo ops such as marching in the Martin Luther King Day Marade, many District 1 residents characterize Shepherd’s personal interactions with them as “disdainful” or “unhelpful,” and point to her lack of any significant initiatives on CIty Council. During this month’s near-record snowfall in Denver, Shepherd showed astonishing tone deafness when she posted a Facebook entry admonishing residents — in a district with numerous elderly residents — to clear their sidewalks because “the snow won’t remove itself.”

Clearly the rookie councilwoman faces an uphill battle to retain the seat she won by just a 5% margin in a 2011 runoff election.


About BillM

Bill Menezes has lived in Northwest Denver's City Council District 1 for 13 years.

6 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55 says:

    I mourn the old, rundown, pre-gentrified Highland neighborhood, where I raised my kids. Most of the elderly, poor, and Latino folks have been forced out now, their barbershops and panaderias replaced by boutique shops and condos. I know nothing about Ms. Shepherd, other than what I read here, but if she’s on the side of the scrapeoff developers, I’m against her.

    • Wong21fr says:

      Yes, because not promoting any development at all is certainly a great way of ensuring that the booming population of Denver where roughly 10,000 new residents every year are competing for housing is way of keeping the elderly, poor, and Latino in their houses.

  2. Denverite says:

    Hmmm…do I read a little sexism in this missive from writer Bill M? I am all for talking about candidate’s records but not about their personal appearance. How come only when someone (usually a male) writes about a female candidate or elected official do we read about what they were wearing, or if they were smiling, or not smiling, or glowering or their demeanor is described with the typical words used to denigrate women. In what is already a highly toxic media environment there is no room and certainly no need for this thinly veiled sexism.

    In fact, research by American University's Women and Politics Institute has shown that women are less likely than men to consider running for office because they perceive an unfair political environment. The U.S. still ranks 90th worldwide in the percentage of women serving in the national legislature. When the 113th Congress convened in January 2013, 82 percent of its members were men. Three-quarters of statewide elected officials and state legislators are men. Men occupy the governor’s mansion in 44 of the 50 states, and they run City Hall in 87 of the 100 largest cities across the country.

    Which is why the sexist slant to the author’s article has to be called out. The city election season has just kicked off. Let’s hope we can rise above rants like this one and have a discussion about the opportunities of living in the vibrant, diverse and dynamic neighborhood that is North Denver.


    • BillM says:

      There’s no sexist slant to this piece. Nowhere does it remark on anything Susan Shepherd wears or her “personal appearance.” It does remark on the personal “behavior” — in the form of a dismissive attitude and demeanor that countless constituents report — that Susan Shepherd freely engages in when interacting with District residents who challenge her developer funders.

      There is a direct contrast between Susan Shepherd’s public behavior when 1) She wants to engage in photo opportunities, and 2) When she is dealing with local residents who are asking for the same representation as the construction company CEO in Texas who pumped big bucks into her campaign fund.

      Don’t believe me? Talk to the numerous women in Northwest Denver who have related similar impressions to me based on their personal interactions with Susan Shepherd. Think they’re sexist for saying it? Talk to the woman who leads one neighborhood group who got a threatening voicemail scolding from Susan Shepherd, over an email the group circulated to its members telling them — horrors — to ask questions of Susan Shepherd at an upcoming public meeting. Think the woman who runs this group is sexist? Talk to the woman who took photos of Susan Shepherd glowering — and yes, that’s the term attendees at the meeting “reported”  — at residents during a meeting that one of Shepherd’s big campaign donors staged to promote a building project. Think the woman who reported that Shepherd was “glowering” is sexist? 

      Face it, the widespread opposition to Susan Shepherd has zero to do with her gender. It has everything to do with her lack of ethics, her lack of achievement and her choice to favor big campaign donors with projects in her district over her constituents. These would be a problem even if she didn’t treat constituents like shit during their personal encounters.

      • Wong21fr says:

        Is the same neighborhood group (NoHighRises in West Highlands) that tried to force their way into the Councilwomen’s home during the whole Red Peak fiasco?  

    • BlueCat says:

      I think it’s a stretch to read sexism into noting a contrast between smiling photo ops and unpleasant dismissive behavior. It’s no different than noting Republican pols, mainly male, posing smiling with troops as props while they stab them in the back on the floor of the House and Senate by cutting funding for the services they need.

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