Denver mayor election: Ean Thomas Tafoya would focus on environment

Funny how a seemingly innocuous Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting can change a person’s life.

While Ean Thomas Tafoya studied at Metropolitan State University, a professor gave his class a choice of touring a recreational center or attending a parks board meeting. Tafoya said he had worked at rec centers for years so he opted for the meeting to try something new and that’s when doors started to open.

At the meeting, Tafoya said board members Leslie Twarogowski and Darrell Watson “goaded” him into testifying. He wasn’t sure what to discuss, so he spoke about what he knew. When he went to the park with his friends there weren’t any recycling options.

That complaint transformed into Tafoya’s first petition, which hundreds of students signed. Now you’ll find purple recycling dumpsters in Denver’s parks.

Turns out that night the board held its annual executive leadership meeting, Tafoya said. And Watson invited him to stay and meet Lauri Dannemiller, former Parks and Recreation director.

Tafoya said he wound up volunteering at city greenhouses and the department gave him hundreds of plants to help with his schoolwork.

He also met a member of Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation who encouraged him to become more involved with the civic group.

Tafoya began working in the mayor’s office. He attended every City Council meeting, learning everything the group learned.

“I started to understand city workers and how the city worked,” Tafoya said. “It was like getting a master’s in public administration.”

Now Tafoya, 36, is running for mayor in a crowded field. Coincidentally Watson and Twarogowski will be on the April ballot too as they run for seats on the City Council.

The Denver native (“fourth generation,” he’s quick to say) grew up in West Denver. Born at St. Anthony’s, he said, which he notes is now a movie theater and apartment complex. He’s quick to speak about the connections he holds to seemingly every corner of the city.

“I was raised at marches, raised doing service-based work, giving out gifts on holidays,” Tafoya said.

Born on Earth Day, Tafoya said he was “an environmentalist from the beginning.” He’s the Colorado state director for the environmental nonprofit GreenLatinos and is frequently involved in activist movements. He was among the dozens of people arrested in 2020 during a climate change protest held during Gov. Jared Polis’s annual state of the state address.

While he’s never before held elected office, Tafoya said he has experience working at the local, state and federal levels, which sets him aside from many of his opponents in the election.

If elected as mayor, Tafoya said he’d work to lower energy bills, protect air and water quality and improve the city’s infrastructure, particularly its transportation network, which he called “inherently dangerous.”

Housing, environment, public health and safety sit at the center of issues important to Denver, Tafoya said. Property crime is on the rise, he added, a symptom of economic strain that could be soothed by improved access to healthy food, reliable and affordable transportation and housing.

“There is an abundance for us, we need to have an abundance mindset,” Tafoya said. “I envision a city where my cousins could afford to buy my grandmother’s home.”

Plus, Tafoya noted, Denver isn’t an island and its problems don’t stop at the city limits. The mayor should work better with neighboring cities and counties to solve problems throughout the region.

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