Play-by-play reporting is usually reserved for sports, but Denver’s mayoral runoff is starting to feel like it deserves that same treatment.

For the first time since 1995, an incumbent mayor in Denver is facing a runoff election. When ballots were counted on May 7, no candidate—including Mayor Michael Hancock and his five challengers—received more than 50 percent of the vote, triggering a runoff that will decide Denver’s next mayor. Hancock, who is vying for a third term, received nearly 39 percent of the general election vote, while first-time candidate Jamie Giellis won about 25 percent.

Hype around the mayoral runoff race picked up noticeably on May 14 when the candidates held dueling press conferences. On that morning, in Civic Center Park, Hancock announced he’d received endorsements from three former mayors: John Hickenlooper, Bill Vidal, and Wellington Webb (all three had endorsed him in previous campaigns).

Just 30 minutes later, Giellis held a press conference in front of the Denver City and County Building with former opponents Lisa Calderón and Penfield Tate III (who’d collectively earned about one-third of the vote on May 7). The pair put their support behind Giellis, thus giving their supporters a nudge on whom to pick on the runoff ballot.

Later that same day, Giellis came under fire after she was unable to identify what the NAACP acronym stands for during an interview hosted by Shay J for Brother Jeff Fard’s Facebook Live show, prompting Twitter and Facebook to buzz with questions about her background. A day later, a 2009 tweet in which Giellis questioned “why so many cities feel it necessary to have a Chinatown” resurfaced, further stoking online criticism. Giellis ultimately deleted her personal Twitter and Instagram accounts.

This past weekend, Hancock’s campaign released a commercial using her words as evidence that she’s “racially insensitive.” And on Sunday, in a statement, Giellis’ campaign responded by reminding voters about sexual harassment claims made against the mayor.

All of this happened before ballots were mailed out on May 20, and we still have weeks to go.

To help you make sense of the race, we sat down with both candidates last week to talk about criticisms, plans for the city’s future, and mushrooms (because we had to ask).

Read 5280‘s Q&A with Challenger Jamie Giellis

Jamie Giellis photographed on Old South Pearl Street. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Read 5280‘s Q&A with Incumbent Michael Hancock

Mayor Michael Hancock at Sloan’s Lake. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.