Terrance Roberts

Terrance Roberts

Anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts wants to become the next mayor of Denver.

And he's offering city residents his "unconventional" candidacy as an alternative to "seasoned politicians," who he accused of failing to confront and resolve Denver's most pressing problems. 

Roberts, who is the subject of Julian Rubinstein’s book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood,” grew up in northeast Denver as a member of the Bloods for several years. He went from gang member to anti-gang activist, but later faced charges of attempted murder and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.

He is running for mayor at a time when the city grapples with major challenges, including soaring crime, spiking inflation and homelessness, fueled in part by the lack of affordable housing.

The city also seeks to extricate itself out of two years of a pandemic that hammered its residents and businesses. Indeed, Eric Sondermann, a political commentator who writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette papers, described Denver as a "tired place – tired of restricted pandemic living, for sure, but also tired of a long list of problems seemingly without progress or improvement" in a column about the race to replace Michael Hancock, the city's long-time mayor who is term-limited.    

Roberts said his experience gives him an edge to tackle these issues.

Roberts said he doesn’t see any “seasoned politicians” making real impacts on youth violence and homelessness in the city — the two main issues he hopes to improve on if elected. He said he has the most “sensible plan to make Denver the best city in the world,” and that he’s excited to take ownership of his “unconventional” campaign.

“We can't afford to let one of these seasoned politicians who are not speaking on these issues just become mayor of Denver so they can transition to the White House,” Roberts said. “ I don't want to let that happen to my city. I don't want to let that happen to anybody who lives in Denver.”

As he outlined an ambitious agenda he vowed to accomplish if elected to office, Roberts' pitch to residents is that he can get the job done.  

Roberts said he has already been working to solve the issues he cares about since 2004 through his activism with the Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, which he described as “a political party for justice,” and that it’s time for the city to have a mayor willing to take the kinds of actions he has. 

“A lot of the things that I put my name on publicly, those initiatives have been completed and they've been completed with excellence,” Roberts said. “Citizens like myself shouldn't have to do as much protesting and rabble rousing just to get a little bit of what we're trying to do for our community heard.”

Part of solving the homelessness issue, Roberts said, is creating more public housing, as opposed to just affordable housing. He said instead of banning camping and pushing homeless folks around the city, he wants to create large encampments with trash receptacles, bathrooms, laundry equipment and safe electricity usage for them.

Roberts said he knows what the kids involved in gangs need – precisely because he grew up around violence in his community and his previous life as a gang member.

He said he also hopes to make the music and film industry a more prominent part of Denver’s culture to provide non-violent alternatives for the youth.

“I know several youth and a lot of young leaders who can use their leadership for violence who will put down a Glock and pick up and pick up a camera,” Roberts said. “Our violence problem in Denver is mainly youth violence dealing with gangs, and we can definitely wrap our minds around working with children who just want a safe outlet for something to do.”

Roberts said if elected, he would seek to change the city charter to limit a mayor's tenure to two terms, as opposed to three, and he would put more power in the hands of the city council.

“We cannot have any more mayors run a city of this size for 12 years,” Roberts said. “No one needs to be mayor for 12 years, even if you're a good mayor.”

Roberts said acknowledged that he is a polarizing figure, a label some have used to describe him. But he's also proud to call himself progressive, and he said he is ultimately “the candidate for the people.”

“I know that I have a tendency to have to say things that in a city like Denver people are afraid to say because we do have powerful political machines here,” Roberts said. “If people think I'm polarizing because I stand up to power in this city, then I'll accept it.”