Councilmember Nicole Speer submitted paperwork on Tuesday to run for city mayor. Credit: John Herrick

Councilmember Nicole Speer formally launched her campaign for city mayor on Tuesday, marking the official start of the city’s first direct election of its mayor by a ranked choice vote. 

Speer delivered a brief speech to her supporters outside the Boulder Municipal Building after dropping off her petition for candidacy. She thanked them for showing up and pledged to help bring a new perspective to city government. 

“I know you work. I know you have kids. I know your time is precious,” Speer, 46, told the crowd of about three-dozen people. “Together, we really will create the city of the future, where all of us can live in safety with dignity, where we have trust in each other and our government again, and where we are connected, and recognize that the only way forward is together.” 

Speer’s official declaration comes after Councilmember Bob Yates and Mayor Aaron Brockett announced plans to run for city mayor. Aug. 8 was the first day candidates could petition to run for elected office in the 2023 election. They need at least 25 signatures from registered voters in order to qualify. The last day to file the paperwork is Aug. 28, according to the city’s election rules

On Nov. 7, city voters will elect the mayor by a ranked choice. Previously, councilmembers appointed one of their colleagues as mayor, who manages council meetings and represents the city, among other tasks. 

If elected, Speer said she would bring an important viewpoint to the role. 

“This is the first time that we are electing Boulder’s mayor. And the fact that I can be here as a queer woman, as a mother, as a scientist — things have changed. Seeing all of you here today, I know that more change is on the horizon,” she said. “It matters when we have different perspectives in the room, at the table.” 

Speer moved to the City of Boulder in 2005 to pursue postdoctoral research at the University of Colorado Boulder. She now works as the director of research services at the university’s Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium, a research facility and lab space for neuroscientists. She and her husband have two children and live in the Tantra Lake neighborhood in South Boulder. 

She made her political debut in 2021, when she was elected to a four-year term on the Boulder City Council. Speer now serves as a council representative for Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), a regional transportation planning agency governed by local elected officials. She is also a member of the United Campus Workers Colorado, a union for the University of Colorado, and the NAACP Boulder County

In an interview with Boulder Reporting Lab, Speer said one of her main priorities is to address the “economic precarity” of living in Boulder. Particularly concerning, she said, is the city’s recent spike in evictions, the displacement of older adults and people with disabilities, and the rise in homelessness, including among public school students. She said she wants to relax the city’s zoning laws to make it easier to build housing, dedicate more money to affordable and transitional housing, and raise the city’s minimum wage.

The issue of homelessness is likely to be a major topic in the 2023 election, with some political organizers seeking to elevate concerns around homeless encampments in particular to encourage people to vote. While Speer was delivering a speech on Tuesday, city workers could be seen clearing out an encampment of homeless people along the Boulder Creek multi-use path. 

“We know there are so many in our community for whom the status quo is not working,” Speer said. “We have some evidence of how the status quo is not working behind us this morning, as people are being forcibly removed from the only place they could find to go.” 

Speer has frequently volunteered for Feet Forward, a nonprofit organization that provides support services to homeless people. More recently, she attended a memorial for Candance Weber, a 46-year-old homeless person who died after falling in Boulder Creek. In light of her experiences with unhoused people, she said she views the city’s camping ban as harmful. She cited an April 2023 peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that encampment sweeps lead to “substantial increases in morbidity and mortality over a 10-year period.”

“I spent a ton of time just trying to understand homelessness from a science-based perspective. And one of the things that kept coming up was how displacement policies really don’t help and possibly make things worse,” she told Boulder Reporting Lab. “You need people to be safe and stable in order to access services, and when people are just being moved from one place to another, they are not safe and they are not stable.” 

Politically, Speer leans to the left of her mayoral rivals on the issue of homeless encampments. Unlike Councilmembers Yates and Brockett, Speer voted against approving the 2023 city budget, primarily because it increased the city’s spending on clearing out encampments. (In 2023, the city plans to spend more than $3 million on its encampment removal program, according to city officials.) 

Speer supports creating a “safe outdoor space,” also known as a sanctioned encampment, in the city. This could include setting up tents, tiny homes or other temporary structures for people to live in. Separately, she wants to launch a 24/7 mental health first responder program and invest more money in detox, sober living and transitional housing programs. (She credited Jen Livovich, the founder of Streetscape who has experienced homelessness in Boulder, as having first proposed some of these ideas.) 

Apart from pushing certain policies, Speer sees the role of mayor as an opportunity to get more people involved in local government. She also said she wants to be a mentor for the next generation of leaders.

“If I am doing my job well, in three years, there will be other people who are more capable and more qualified and more able to take on this work than I am,” Speer told Boulder Reporting Lab. “And that’s really what I want to do — just crack the council open a bit to create more opportunities for people who have typically not been on council.” 

During her petition signing party on Tuesday, she asked her supporters to raise a hand if this was the first time they had been to such an event before. About half the hands went up.

“I hope that throughout this election that we can raise everyone’s voices,” Speer said. “The more that you all continue to show up and engage, the more that we can change.”

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:

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