The 2020 Census showed that North Denver Metro cities have become more diverse in the past decade, but representation on local city councils has not kept up.
About 49% of residents in Brighton, Commerce City, Thornton, Northglenn and Westminster are non-White, according to an average of 2020 Census data. Meanwhile, about 18% of members of the various city councils are non-White.
But it’s not just about statistics, say current city council members of color. Residents from minority communities who serve on city councils bring a unique perspective that others might not have.
When Northglenn City Councilor Julie Mullica ran for the council in 2017, she said she wanted to represent all of my community.
“But as I continued to move around and talked to people, it definitely turned into a higher issue for me,” Mullica said. “I realized, `Wow, this is a really important perspective and voice that I am bringing to council that I think is important for the city of Northglenn.’”
On the campaign trail, Mullica, who identifies as Chicana, said constituents of color shared with her stories about experiencing racism in the city, she said. Having someone on the council that looked like them might promote a greater spirit of inclusivity, the residents told her.
And when Mullica joined the council, she saw opportunities to address that. A major priority for her was establishing a diversity, inclusivity, and social equity (DISE) board, which the city established in 2020.
That was one new idea from the diverse perspective Mullica feels she has brought to the table. She also noted other initiatives that former Councilors Antonio Esquibel and Jordan Sauers suggested, such as making sure city events featured more Latin music bands or city movie nights included Spanish subtitles.
Though Sauers and Esquibel no longer serve on council, Shannon Lukeman-Hiromasa is another city councilor of color in Northglenn. Mullica and Lukeman-Hiromasa are running to stay on the council this November election. With Mullica and Lukeman-Hiromasa, the Northglenn City Council is 25% non-white, though the city is 48% non-White, 2020 Census data shows.
Thornton is 49% non-White, while the council is 22% non-White. Commerce City is 60% non-White and its city council is 33% non-White. About half of Brighton is non-White, but only one city councilor is non-White. In Westminster, a city about 36% non-White, is represented by an entirely White city council.
Commerce City Councilman José Guardiola said he also thinks diverse representation on city councils is critical. Although he said it isn’t just about having non-White voices on council. There are other layers.
Guardiola is a first-generation U.S. citizen because his parents moved to Commerce City in 1983 from Mexico. When he ran for council, that was at the forefront of his mind.
He said, “I wondered who was representing that first-generation or that recent immigrant, the undocumented in Commerce City … Third and fourth generations (Latino residents) are far removed from recent immigrants and there is a big difference.”
Since joining the council, Guardiola said residents have been glad to have a city councilor like himself who speaks Spanish and attends Spanish-speaking meetings. Guardiola is running for reelection this November.
Roberta Ayala, who is running for city council in Thornton this November, echoed Guardiola, saying diversity just shouldn’t be for diversity’s sake.
“A piece of the conversation that has been missing is about representation for working class people of color on our city council,” Ayala said.
Ayala, who has worked as a union organizer, is pushing for a progressive agenda on various socio-economic issues, a perspective she says she has from her own experience as a Hispanic resident of Thornton of 30 years.
As the city grows to the north, she wants to make sure that the south side of town, where more residents of color live, aren’t left behind. That means revitalizing parts of south Thornton that are blighted, addressing food desserts, and cleaning up contamination at the Thornton Shopping Center, which Ayala and others have called an example of environmental racism.
Obi Ezeadi, who is running for Westminster City Council in November, shares a similar line of thinking as Ayala about the perspective he can bring to the council.
“The council has been all white, all upper-middle class,” Ezeadi said. “So, it’s not just race. When I think about equity, I think about race, income class, sexuality, gender.”
Ezeadi acknowledges that current council members promote the idea of diversity, but said that’s not the same as a council member who has, “...experienced what they (working-class residents of color) have gone through.”
Ezeadi listed a couple of examples of inequity he sees in the city that he feels has been absent among discussions on the council, including “tree equity” — in that there are more trees and green space in the northern, higher-income part of town — or the disproportionate negative financial impact of the pandemic on minority-owned businesses.
Ezeadi said he would like to see the council adopt criteria for development proposals that include questions aimed at issues of inequity in town, such as, “How would this proposal impact south Westminster or the Black population?”
It’s not just about a person’s appearance or the sound of their name, Ezeadi reiterated.
“Diversity impacts the decision-making of things,” he said. “It impacts the wealth gaps, the income gaps, and the climate change burdens.”