The three official candidates for Boulder mayor participated in an election forum this week at the Boulder Public Library, providing among the first glimpses of where they stand on pressing policy questions and how they plan to get their message across to voters.
Voters this year will elect city mayor for the first time. Historically, the city council has appointed one of its colleagues to the position. While the role of mayor will not change, the historic significance of this vote only increases the stakes of the 2023 election. A majority on the nine-member Boulder City Council is also up for grabs.
Three councilmembers are running for mayor: Mayor Aaron Brockett, a co-founder of a software development company; Nicole Speer, a scientist; and Bob Yates, a retired lawyer and telecommunications executive. Other candidates have until Monday, Aug. 28, to petition to run for mayor or city council in the Nov. 7 election.
The event was hosted by PLAN-Boulder County, a political organization that has long advocated for preserving city open space and, more recently, against urban density. The Boulder Progressives, a political organization that supports housing density, hosted an election forum earlier this year.
No one candidate dominated this week’s forum. And unlike on the national debate stage, personal slights were practically non-existent. Despite the lack of fireworks, the candidates pushed a variety of policy preferences, offering voters additional clarity to help set them apart in the lead up to the election.
Yates was often unequivocal on where he stood on certain issues. Concerning transportation, while his colleagues rallied around expansive policies like “vision-zero efforts” and “universal design standards,” Yates kept his response simple.
“Some people ride buses, some people drive cars, some people ride bikes. Those are all great modes of transportation. But what’s the bane of transportation no matter what mode you use?” Yates asked. “Potholes. Oh my god, those potholes are huge this year.”
Speer leaned into nuance. In response to public safety, she began by saying she wanted to “broaden the definition of public safety” to include flood and fire risks, traffic violence, suicide and mental illness. “‘None of us will be safe until everyone has what they need,’” she said, quoting a phrase she has heard from Lindsey Loberg, the former chair of the city’s Human Relations Commission. On the issue of housing affordability, she discussed raising the minimum wage so people can afford to live in Boulder.
Brockett often cited his personal experiences. On the question of transportation, he said his wife, Cherry Anderson, was hit by a driver while walking across North Broadway, a street that was recently redeveloped much to the dissatisfaction of cycling safety advocates. (She sustained minor injuries.) Asked about housing costs, he mentioned his children. “I have kids who are 17 and 20 and they have no hope in their eyes of ever affording a place to live in Boulder,” he said.
All of the candidates have served together on the city council since 2021. As they each described the last two years, they essentially summed up their differences in political ideology.
Yates lamented his position in the minority.
“Over the last two years, that council majority voted to give away the beautiful library that we sit in today. That council majority voted to yield the city’s local land-use authority to the state. That council majority decided to appoint someone to our Police Oversight Panel who was not qualified for the job, and had to be removed two months later,” he said. “And just last week, that council majority voted to increase the occupancy limits for Boulder’s rental properties without ensuring that rent would be affordable for those tenants.”
On certain issues, Speer also has been outvoted. Notably, she voted against the 2023 budget because it increased spending on the city’s homeless encampment removal program to more than $3 million per year.
“I will say that no one is really listening to me on issues of homelessness,” she said. “Rather than trying to invest in some different kinds of approaches than what we’re currently doing, we doubled down.”
Brockett stood by much of the council’s work he helped lead over the last two years. In response to a question about rising homelessness, he listed recent policy achievements: the creation of a new day services center, the construction of permanently affordable housing, a proposed respite center for homeless people who are transitioning out of the hospital.
“We’ve got some new things coming online,” he said. “We have to stand up additional solutions to get people off the streets and into housing.”
Also attending the event were several candidates for the Boulder City Council: Taishya Adams, the first Black woman to serve as a commissioner to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, founder of the Mukuyu Collective environmental organization, and an inaugural member of the city’s Police Oversight Panel; and Jacques Decalo, a former Tesla employee who was born in Boulder and graduated from Western Washington University. Paul Tweedlie also attended the event but has not yet officially registered to begin campaigning.
On the issue of housing and transportation, Decalo suggested increasing free bus routes like the HOP, repurposing vacant office spaces for housing, and charging developers higher commercial linkage fees, which are used to subsidize affordable housing. “We need to not push for sprawl, but push for redevelopment and infill,” he said.
Adams sought to unpack the nuance of important topics. On the issue of public safety, for instance, she began with a question: “Whose safety are we talking about?”
She mentioned Zayd Atkinson, who was confronted by a city officer after picking up trash outside his home, and the city’s unhoused residents.
“I believe we have a perception versus reality problem,” Adams said.
“We tend to focus on what we can see. And so we see what’s going on on the creek,” she said, referring to homeless encampments, “and we see what’s going on in some of our public spaces. But it’s what we don’t see that also needs to be addressed.”
She cited the struggles associated with food insecurity, lack of public transportation, the cost of child care and low wages for workers.
“We must have intersectional programming,” she added, “that intersects by education, housing, and workforce.”
Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that Nicole Speer was quoting Lindsey Loberg, the former chair of the city’s Human Relations Commission, when she said “None of us will be safe until everyone has what they need.”