Claudia Hanson Thiem, an organizer with the Boulder Progressives, kicked off the first candidate forum of the 2023 city election. Credit: John Herrick

Eight candidates for Boulder City Council and three candidates for city mayor attended a public forum at the Elks Lodge in Boulder on Wednesday, providing voters an early glimpse at who is running and what could be at stake in this year’s election. 

On Nov. 7, 2023, city voters will elect five people to the Boulder City Council, including city mayor. This year will mark the first time voters directly elect the mayor by a ranked choice vote. 

The candidate forum was organized by Boulder Progressives, a political organization that seeks to “protect human rights, and advance social and environmental justice.” Much of the dialogue centered around the cost of housing in Boulder and the city’s response to encampments of homeless people, an indication of the sorts of issues likely to divide candidates into opposing camps and shape their campaigns.

The race for city mayor is likely to be a fight among current city councilmembers: Bob Yates, who was the first to publicly announce his bid for mayor, Nicole Speer and Mayor Aaron Brockett. (Candidates must wait until August 8 before filing the paperwork to officially launch their campaigns and raise money, according to city rules.) 

The candidates for city council attending the forum were: 

  • Taishya Adams, the first Black woman to serve as a commissioner to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, founder of the Mukuyu Collective, an environmental organization, and inaugural member of the city’s Police Oversight Panel;
  • Silas Atkins, a paraeducator at Manhattan Middle School;
  • Justin Kalvin, a manager at the Sundown Saloon and member of the Downtown Management Commission;
  • Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal and author of two books;
  • Aaron Gabriel Neyer, a software engineer with a masters in ecopsychology from Naropa University;
  • Jennifer Robins, a consultant for Insite, a telecommunications company, and active volunteer in Boulder, including for the Boulder International Film Festival; 
  • Ryan Schuchard, a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Board and founder of More Mobility, a consulting firm promoting multimodal transportation;
  • Tara Winer, a city councilmember, manager at ePromos Promotional Products, a sales and marketing company, and member of the Downtown Boulder Community Initiatives, a charity arm of the Downtown Boulder Partnership.

For many of the city council candidates, the cost of living in Boulder is somewhat personal. Four of them — Adams, Atkins, Kalvin and Neyer — said they rent homes. 

“I’m part of a contingent that rents in Boulder, lives in Boulder, and works at the street level in Boulder,” Kalvin said. “I want to be a voice for those people that clean our streets, that serve our coffees to the affluent in town, and can’t afford to live in the town that they work in.” 

Lewis bought a home on University Hill in 2006 and said he has been able to “eke out a living here.” But he can’t say the same for many of his friends. 

“I always say I’ve had two or three housewarming parties in the last 20 years,” Lewis said.  

To help pin down the candidates on their politics, the organizers asked questions such as whether they support eliminating the city’s occupancy limits based on family status, allowing fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods, enacting rent control policies, and how they would address declining student enrollment in public schools. 

“I was the sole mayor of the State of Colorado to support the governor’s land-use bill,” Brockett said, referencing this year’s statewide land-use legislation that would have outlawed single-family zoning in certain areas of certain cities.

Another prominent issue at the forum was how the city should respond to encampments of homeless people: Should the city ticket people for sleeping in public spaces “when there are no shelter beds or legal camping available?” Are encampment sweeps an “effective use of resources to address homelessness?” And do the candidates “support creating a designated camping site for people experiencing homelessness?”

Councilmember Speer was the only candidate for mayor who indicated the city should be spending less money on clearing out encampments. (According to city officials, the city this year allocated more than $3 million to its Safe and Managed Public Spaces program, which includes encampment removals and enforcement of the camping ban.) 

“Encampment sweeps really just move people around. They don’t improve the issue of homelessness,” Speer said. “I would really love to see us invest instead in some of the solutions … like tiny homes, like safe parking. Those are the things that get people out of homelessness.” 

Robins was the only candidate to say “yes” in response to the question about whether encampment removals are an effective use of resources to address homelessness. She was not provided time to explain. “My husband and I moved to Boulder so our daughters could have a good education and a safe place to grow up,” she said in her opening remarks. 

The issue of encampments is likely to be a high-profile topic in the 2023 election. Residents last week submitted enough signatures to qualify their petition for the November ballot that would require the city to prioritize clearing out tents and propane tanks near schools. Other local organizers have indicated they plan to support candidates who “will make it their top priority to mitigate illegal encampments,” according to emails shared with Boulder Reporting Lab. 

During this year’s mayoral race in Denver, the issue of public safety was front and center. But at this week’s forum, the subject was hardly mentioned. To the extent it was, the organizers asked whether the volunteer-led Police Oversight Panel should be given more authority to discipline officers and whether the city’s police department budget is too high. 

Car dependence was another concern expressed by candidates. The organizers asked whether they supported opening West Pearl Street to cars or eliminating parking requirements, and more generally, how they would “reduce reliance on cars.” 

“We have to make our streets inviting for people to walk, bike and roll outside of vehicles,” Schuchard said. He added that Boulder needs more public transit and to “create more compact, space-efficient use of our land so that people can live near to where they want to go.” 

In an otherwise polarized political environment, the mood at the forum was relatively jovial. One candidate said he still has a lot to learn. Another gave out her cell phone number. Several said they plan to collaborate. 

“A vote for me is working collaboratively with all of you,” Adams said. “Laughing, crying, learning, healing with each other. Policies don’t do work. People do work. It is our relationships that we need to work on the most. In these 108 days, I invite you to come and talk to me.”

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. I’m guessing there’s not a conservative viewpoint among them. Same old, same old. Let’s solve homelessness (even though most of these “homeless” are transients from elsewhere), ignore public sentiment on housing (psstt … Prop 300 was voted down), blame cars for everything (though I’m quite sure all candidates own one or two) and promote rampant growth. Yep – pretty much encapsulates their views … sadly.

Leave a comment
Boulder Reporting Lab comments policy
All comments require an editor's review. BRL reserves the right to delete or turn off comments at any time. Please read our comments policy before commenting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *