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Many new faces to politics have been popping out of the woodwork for the upcoming mayoral election, which is just a mere month away. Jamie Gielles is one of those hopefuls that sees potential in the role to be bigger in more ways than simply a portal for city growth and developmental.

Having acted as a government-adjacent community consultant to the largest boom of development in Denver’s RiNo Art District, she has seen firsthand the pitfalls of poor planning and accountability, acknowledging a shift in sustainability needs to happen.

Gielles is running against a handful of progressive and innovative minds, in addition to the incumbent Hancock himself, in the May 7 mayoral election, and this creative district mediator has a clear vision of what Denver needs to focus on in order to become a community restored with pride.

Why did you decide to run for mayor?

I believe that the citizens of the city deserve better, and I believe that as a really progressive city, we can be a leader in so many different things, and I don’t see that leadership emerging. I’ve worked in neighborhoods across the city; I’ve also spent my entire career working in cities around the world on urban growth issues, urban growth policy, and I’ve worked on trying to push the city to do better for the last few years. I finally came to the realization that if you believe there’s an opportunity to do better and you’re not seeing it, then you need to step in and try to make a change at the top.

What is lacking in current leadership that you would do differently?

Growth has been a driving force the last eight years or so with the current mayor in office, but it is unmanaged growth. It is growth that is pretty much happening to us, not for us.

Really great leaders plan for the future in city leadership and harness that growth to be able to invest in all the things needed to sustain it. Things like transit, affordable housing, addressing social issues like homelessness, certainly the environment, and our green space. But, we have been sort of just riding the wave of growth, and leadership has been applauding themselves, patting themselves on the back for that growth. I think they have forgotten that it’s their job to ensure that it’s sustainable growth and that it will carry us into the future of Denver.

I would say another issue, for both myself and from what I’m hearing in the community, is we are really concerned with leadership that isn’t ethical or accountable for actions that have been taken. I think we have to expect the best out of our leaders, and a lot of people feel like they’re not getting that.

What issues do you see that are most important to tackle?

There are five key areas that we have really focused on, but before I dive into the five, I would start by saying that what’s driving me in my thinking on all the issues is that we have to refocus our sights on ensuring that Denver is a place with a good quality of life. As it grows, changes, and develops, that is not only environmentally but also economically sustainable. Ensuring there’s housing people can afford, jobs, good wages, that small businesses don’t get pushed out, and that we can sustain growth in a thoughtful way.

One of the biggest complaints we hear right now is that it feels like the city is infringing on people’s neighborhoods and spaces, and when buildings do get built, they’re done fast and cheap, without great architecture and thought. We shouldn’t be allowing developers to slap up projects on every corner of the city there should be some thoughtfulness about how development contributes to the overall well-being of the city.

Transit is a huge piece for me, and we have been talking on the campaign trail about the return of the streetcar.

Denver is a city that was built on a streetcar network, so it’s why we have all these cute little commercial districts mixed in with older neighborhoods. We have to build a transit network that connects neighborhoods to each other, and across the city, that provides an alternative to getting in your car.

Affordable and sustainable housing is another core piece, and that’s less about massive financial investment from the city and more about helping the city get out of the way. We need to help encourage that affordable development get built through policy and different programs and ensuring that it gets built all over the city, not just on the fringes.

Addressing homelessness really thoughtfully with actual solutions, moving to a housing-first model, and coordinating mental health services, social services, and also access to jobs. We have a huge labor shortage, and we have a lot of people on the street that do want to work and just need that opportunity.

And then the final, and certainly not the least important piece, is sustainability, our environment, and our green space. We are slipping backwards in our environmental goals, and it’s unfortunate to see that, plus the loss of green space in Denver, given we have such a wonderful climate, and people so enjoy the outdoors here. That goes back to that quality of life mentality.

How do you hope to help marginalized people, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals if you’re elected?

Overall, we’ve got a big focus on equity and inclusivity as part of my campaign platform. I have always been a believer that you set a big table and you invite everybody to it, and you are welcoming and considerate of the complexities of experiences that they bring to the table and that you’re thoughtful about them as you’re crafting, whether its policies or programs or services that the city can provide.

I’m a huge supporter of the LGBTQ community; I think from a policy background and just a public stance background, I see it as a mayor’s roles to, especially in this federal climate, ensure that the community knows that they’re always going to be welcome and protected under my watch. They’ll always be part of our administration and our team, that we will always represent their interests as we are thinking through any level of policy or project work that we are doing and that will be very focused on ensuring that we are an equitable and inclusive city for the community as a whole.

How has the campaign journey been going for you?

It’s been a wild and incredible adventure. I don’t think anybody knows what to expect when they set out on this. I didn’t have some grand stand that I was going to run for mayor. At this time last year, I had no intention of doing this, so what it was really motivated by was a desire to get involved and make a difference in the city.

I really wanted to help identify people, leaders in the community, who would step up and run for office to ensure we have a great city going forward. That turned into me runnin, in a kind of interesting way, and it’s been full-throttle since November 1. What I can say for sure is that I’m a different person now than I was even then, and I think I’m going to come out of this process, one way or another, very much changed for the better.

But, one of the things that probably made me the most overwhelmed with emotion in the process are the kids kids. Last week I was at a meet-and-greet house party event, and several people had brought their children, and in particular all the teenagers there were young women. They sat and just watched and listened intently, and afterwards they approached me and were inspired and excited. They were full of really good questions, like concerns about gun control in school and the mental health of their fellow students.

I’ve had the opportunity to see all corners of the city, meet all sorts of people, hear how passionate people are about their community, hear how much they want to get involved, and know that people believe in investing in being better. While it’s an exhausting experience, it’s also an incredibly uplifting one at the end of the day.

But, one of the things that probably made me the most overwhelmed with emotion in the process are the kids kids. Last week I was at a meet-and-greet house party event, and several people had brought their children, and in particular all the teenagers there were young women. They sat and just watched and listened intently, and afterwards they approached me and were inspired and excited. They were full of really good questions, like concerns about gun control in school and the mental health of their fellow students.

As we’ve seen a lot of women get involved in the campaign, and a lot of women bringing their young daughters to things. I would say that, for me personally has been one of the more moving pieces of this to be able to be a role model in a way that I’ve never really been before. Just by running and being brave enough to talk about what I want to do differently has been something I won’t ever forget, and certainly has gotten my mind thinking how do I do more. How do I do more to help the kids, young girls, and people become more invested in the well being of their communities.

It is the coolest part of this,and I haven’t been elected yet. It’s just the sheer fact that people find it very brave that you’re willing to go through the journey is pretty cool.

What does life look like for you outside of the campaign?

Oh my gosh. There is not a spare moment. I will say, I have a incredible husband, and I have an eight-year-old stepson. For me, it’s about every spare moment I can squeeze in of couch cuddling and popcorn making and that sort of thing. I mean that; they have been on the campaign trail with me; they are working every weekend with me; the days are long and exhausting, and so for us, it’s about squeezing in some quality time together.

It’s really just all about finding a balance, because the campaign can absorb every little bit of you and knock you down some days, and so you need to restore yourself with people who love you.

It’s important to be surrounded by friends and family that can help give you a little perspective that what you’re doing is a big step, and just doing it is enough to be proud of each day.

What do you want to see the city look like in five to ten years?

Oh my gosh; I can see it in my head. I think I have to start by saying that I love Denver as my adopted hometown, and so many people do love the city, but certainly I feel like people have lost a bit of pride in it. I want this to be a place that people boast about. I truly envision a green city bustling with small businesses, streetcars down the road, bicycles everywhere, active public spaces.

For me, it’s about, how do we rebuild community with our community? How do we look at neighborhoods as places of connection, and then, how do we build a city that knits together our neighborhoods?

I have this picture in my head that isn’t about shiny convention centers or aerotropolis, or things like that. It’s about the community, people, healthy neighborhoods, a vibrant urban core, ways to move, and ways to gather and celebrate. That’s focus of what I would love my legacy to be as mayor.

Photos courtesy of Jamie Giellis for Denver.