If you haven’t heard of Denver’s rising star and mayoral candidate Kalyn Heffernan, YOU ARE MISSING OUT! A local source of comedy, creativity and inspiration, I caught up to Heffernan to get her to answer some questions about her campaign and her connection to Denver.
Q: Was there a specific event that solidified your desire to run for mayor? I know you said in your Westword interview your three day protection of Medicaid rights in Gardner’s office prompted more vocal support.
A: My friends have joked that I’m the mayor for a while because I’m so recognizable and after sitting-in Cory Gardner’s office for 3 days to demand Medicaid, making national headlines to protect medicaid, more people asked me to “run” for mayor. I’ve jokingly said I’ll never run for any political office because I am a wheelchair user. On April Fools Day last year, I posted a video about sitting for mayor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZXjww3nO34&t=17s and designed a Kalyn4Mayor logo. Within a day, there was so much community support, I decided I had to throw my name in the race officially. We made another video that next week portraying my fear, and skepticism, while also detailing the simple process to file as a candidate https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVW5qEixego&t=3s
I am rolling out a poor people’s campaign focused on accessibility. Not just physical access to spaces, but access to politics, access to income/wealth, access to housing, education, public transportation, safety, and human rights. This campaign is highlighting more attention to the organizations, artists, and organizers who already work to make this city more equitable every day hoping to build relationships with working-class people and marginalized communities left out of the democratic process. I am strategizing around disenfranchised people to support their voice, vision, and vote. While campaigning, I am also being very honest and transparent about the barriers and inaccessibility to politics. We are actively trying to ask, answer, and solve problems in real-time with our limited campaign funds. With the small amount of money we’ve raised in this campaign, we’ve already fed hundreds of unhoused neighbors, paid artists, made art, and built ramps making the city accessible one step at a time. I want to see candidates use their campaign contributions to build up communities instead of just paying to play. This mayor race is now over $2M and it represents how much money is floating around when that same money could be used to support and solve city problems now. We are re-purposing predatory real estate (cash 4 houses, we buy ugly houses) signs that prey on poor communities instead of paying hundreds if not thousands of campaign dollars on yard signs that will only be used in the next few months. We are creating more art because creativity is the key to human liberation and imagination is more important than knowledge. “Radical social change has to be viewed as a two-sided transformational process, of ourselves and of our institutions, a process requiring protracted struggle and not just a D-day replacement of one set of rulers with another.” When we shape our surroundings to look and feel the way we want, we are empowered to make the changes we see necessary for our survival and stability.
Q: You have a great feel for the pulse of the community of Denver. What resources do you use to keep tabs on opportunities or resources? (anything from Facebook pages, nonprofits, group meetings, businesses)
A: I try to keep tabs on as much possible and I’m still learning so much! This campaign is really about building relations with the dope orgs, organizers, artists already making real shit happen now. I hope that the Kalyn4Mayor pages live past the campaign as a place to find resources and connect to community happenings. We are having a “Politics are a Drag Show” Sunday 4/7 @ Blush & Blu 3-7PM all ages. which will be full of rad orgs, organizers, youth, performances, art, tarot readings and resources.
Q:Who inspires you most in your life?
A: Seriously, I’m surrounded by so many inspiring people, artists, and organizers, it’s hard to name just one.
Q:What historical figure do you relate to the most?
A: I do love Frida, but i’m also so inspired by the Denver history I continue to learn. We live in a city rich with resistance.
Q: What would words of advice would you offer anyone that wants to volunteer or be of service? Where could they start?
A: Start where you feel most driven, concerned or connected to. Building relationships and having conversations is the easiest and most impactful way you can get involved today!
Q: What is your favorite bus route and why? Do you still ride the bus now as a mayoral candidate?
A: You gotta love the 15 late at night, or the 31, there’s never a dull moment. I spent a lot of time waiting at the bus stop on 15th & Stout as a teenager. But yes i still ride the bus all over. Right now I ride the 24 to swansea every morning to teach my music production class.
Q:What did your average day look like before you running for mayor? How has it changed?
A: I guess none of my days are very average. I hardly stop working even when I’m out, i’m always surrounded by movers and shakers and we always have awesome ideas and reasons to collaborate. I feel like i’m in grad school right now, because i fill out so many questionnaires every night for mayoral things. I’m doing a lot of home researching policies, finding cities who are successful in housing everyone, and connecting wild creative ways to bring more people to the table. Still booking a ton of shows, but these are all “mayor” related and it’s been a different experience than booking tours. We have to do things much faster because there’s only a month left. Also making mayoral videos in a hurry is a new job. We’re kind of like a little South Park production team where i write a script, record voice overs, my gf usually gets perfect shots on her iphone from her wheelchair, gregg helps direct, and we send it to kyle in santa fe to get edited sometimes over night. Everything we’re doing is much more fast pace, which has been quite the ride. Haven’t been rapping on stage as much, but now i’m trying to master the show of debates/forums. It’s a much dryer audience, and i have to be on about real issues in a hurry, so that’s the new show i’m trying to be confident in. it’s kind of like a rap battle (which i didn’t do much) so i’m getting better at tactfully jabbing opponents when they say one thing, but i know what they’ve done.
Q:When nothing seems to be going your way, what memory or thoughts do you use to stay strong?
A: whewwwww. Well i cry a lot more these days and sometimes just have to take sollace in feeling overwhelmed. Because my schedule is so busy, and i don’t have the option to be alone as often, i’ve been emotional in public way more, which i think is a big deal for this “tough guy” Everytime this mayoral, politic thing feels too overwhelmingly scummy, there’s people reminding me why it’s important every other minute. It’s been pretty impressive how much attention we’re making worldwide with a tampon string budget.
Q:What inspires you most about Denver?
A: you know this is something i haven’t been able to articulate until more recently. I’ve always been a really proud Denver kid, and even after traveling across the world, it’s the only city i want to fight so hard for. It’s a trip. There’s a pretty intense force in this city and the more i learn my history about the Chicano movement, the ADAPT legacy, the jazz scene, the indigenous rituals, it’s no wonder I’m so entrenched in this life.
Q: Are there any people or organizations you’d like to thank for supporting you and all you do?
A: Youth On Record! YOR has employed me for the past 6/7 years and given me the opportunity to connect with youth across the city which has such an impact on my life. I’m so humbled to be able to share my life and love and learn from rascal teenagers every day.
Q: Coffee or tea? Do you take cream and sugar? What kind of tea?
A: I didn’t drink coffee till i was like 27 and now I’m hooked on strong iced coffee. Cream and sugar yes
Q: You’ve talked about protecting and securing affordable housing. What neighborhood do you live in?
A: I live on the westside by la alma. I actually live in public housing.
Q: How do you plan to protect and secure affordable housing?
A: As mayor, I would eliminate the urban camping ban immediately! More homeless people died in Denver last year than ever before and will likely continue if the city doesn’t make this a top priority. The city’s “booming” economy has not made the city attainable for most black, brown, indigenous, or low-income disabled persons to live in Denver. A greater number of Hispanics, Chicanx, Latinx people are being displaced from Denver than any other major U.S. city. We are seeing are the vicious cycles of colonization. Denver was taken from Natives – over time different Denver neighborhoods are taken by higher socioeconomic groups, and once again we repeat the process- where one group sees another community as exploitable and less deserving of land, shelter, and resources. Specifically, rent has increased 80% in 10 years, and our wages/avg income do not remotely reflect that exponential increase. Most people left without shelter have a disability, have experienced trauma, abuse, and intersect with marginalized identities. Our shelters are not typically accessible, safe, or enough esp for queer/trans woc. The city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to destroy people’s belongings, while the Denver business’ will likely spend over a million dollars to fight the Right to Survive initiative on the upcoming ballot. If we spent the same amount of money solving the problem as we did fighting the problem, we would not be in such a crisis. This is the most important issue facing our city and it would be my top priority. We won’t solve anything if we don’t see homeless people as humans with rights first. I am in full support of the Right to Survive initiative. I believe all humans have the right to shelter and that no human existing in a public space is “illegal.”
There are many creative ways to solve the crisis, but only if it is our top priority. There are enough vacant apartments in Denver to house the state’s homeless population. The city is sitting on many vacant properties that could be used to house people affordably. Groups like Interfaith Alliance, who are working with faith-based communities to turn their properties into affordable housing will have my support. I will continue to work with Denver Housing Authority on their housing plan, and will insist that the permanent affordable housing fund be increased to meet the needs of our community. I would mandate every new development to provide more affordable, low-income units and support people acquiring land through community land trusts. We need to support tiny home villages and accessory dwelling units while also ensuring that predatory house buying practices are regulated, if not altogether eliminated.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t money as much as it is priorities. If the city prioritized our most vulnerable populations, we would not be in such a burden. Again – our city has a wealth of resources. We must bring together the best minds in housing, with authentic community leaders to find solutions that will provide access to housing to our most vulnerable populations. if we don’t increase wages for the average resident, we will never get out of this housing crisis. Right now the way people can access affordable housing is based on the AMI (Average Median Income) 87% of Denver’s renter households earn less than $35,000 annually which is far less than the AMI. i would prioritize those make 0-30% AMI first. We need to decrease the cost of living while increasing wages until our city’s residents can readily access housing. If more people earning higher wages, the AMI would more closely reflect the wages of average residents and not just the upper/middle class. It is possible so long as it’s our top priority. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5xpCf6vAKw&t=1s
We must also simultaneously continue to support and fund mental health care, trauma-informed health care, crisis intervention, and rehabilitation support organizations to keep people who are housed safe and stable.
Q: Denver has seen numerous changes in recent years. What do you like about the evolution of our city and what do you dislike?
A: I really always loved Denver the way it was. But the only constant truth is change and i will say that a lot of these nu Denver areas are typically more accessible. It’s unfortunate that accessibility is prioritized to “booming business” areas, but I do like ramps, and curb cuts. I also take advantage of the new bike lanes, because it’s usually faster for me to mob through the streets in my power chair.
Q: If you smoke weed, what do you like to use? (pipes, joints, etc)
A: I’ll tell you I’m not partaking in recreational weed or alcohol much at all these days. Mostly because I’m doing too much. But when I do, it’s jointed for me. I’m pretty snobby about it.
Q: Do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?
A: Join us, join the party, tell your friends to tell their friends to get out and vote MAY 7! At the very very least, vote YES ON 300 – RIGHT TO SURVIVE!! Find me on all the channels Kalyn 4 Mayor and let’s make as much noise as we can. Start small, dream big, dream Denver.