• Sat. Dec 9th, 2023

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Denver mayor candidates’ tax records shed light on their finances

Denver’s next mayor could be a businessman whose household brought in $1 million-plus in 2021 or a retiree who reported no income that year.

The job also could be filled by any of the several candidates who reported six-figure incomes over the past five tax years from a variety of sources: banking, entrepreneurship or serving as chief executives.

Whoever wins will earn nearly $190,000 a year — or possibly more, after the City Council adjusts officials’ salaries in coming weeks — to lead a city of 711,000 people and a municipal government with more than 14,000 workers.

The Denver Post asked each of the 17 candidates on the ballot for copies of their tax returns for 2017 through 2021. Eleven agreed, though a representative for one didn’t follow through by The Post’s deadline. Another provided viewing access to the documents, but not copies.

The documents do not show the candidates’ total assets, only reported income and related snapshots of their finances; sometimes included attachments show profits or losses from businesses and investments. The Post has requested mayoral candidates’ tax returns in several past races, including 2011, the last time there was no incumbent running.

Here’s a summation, in alphabetical order, for a period that included steady economic growth, a steep pandemic pause for many Coloradans, and the bounceback that followed.

Renate Behrans


Behrans said she did not have an income, and thus did not file tax returns from 2017 to 2021.

Kelly Brough

Former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

Brough’s tax returns cover her final full years as the head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. She stepped down from the position in September 2021, after 12 years of leading the business advocacy organization. For 2017 through 2020, she reported about $412,000, $433,000, $435,000 and finally $434,000 in income from the Chamber. In 2021, the year she stepped down, she reported about $220,000 in income from the Chamber.

Starting in 2019, she also started reporting other income that added about $57,000 that year, with $54,000 reported in 2020 and $46,000 in 2021. Brough said that money came from serving on the corporate board for Delta Dental. In all, she saw her total reported income move from $432,000 in 2017 to a peak of about $503,000 in 2019. It dipped to about $491,000 in 2020 and, in 2021, the year she stepped down from the Chamber, she reported a total income of about $272,000.

Lisa Calderón

Executive Director of Emerge Colorado, an organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for public office

Calderón reported the lowest recurring income of the top fundraising candidates through the years of tax returns requested by The Post. In 2017, she reported about $62,000 in income. In 2018, it dropped to about $19,000 in wages, plus about $13,500 in unemployment compensation after she lost a contract with the city. She has an ongoing lawsuit against the city and Mayor Michael Hancock alleging her firing was retaliation for criticism.

After losing that income, and running for mayor in 2019, her income started moving back up.

In 2019, she reported about $57,500 in total income, including about $5,000 from the University of Colorado and Aspen Institute as part of her additional work as a public speaker, trainer and educator. In 2020, she reported $66,000 in total income.

She cracked six figures in 2021, with a total reported income of about $106,000 between teaching in the criminal justice department at Regis University, serving as chief of staff for Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, and as executive director for political training organization Rocky Mountain Emerge. That year she also earned $8,000 as a trainer and consultant for The Center for Trauma and Resilience.

Al Gardner

Information technology executive at Salud Family Health

Gardner did not return messages through email, text message and phone requesting the returns.

Chris Hansen

Colorado state senator

Hansen and his wife, Ulcca, a chief program officer at an education nonprofit, jointly reported a total income of between about $156,000 in 2017 and $154,000 in 2018. In 2019, their income jumped to about $222,000, before dipping to $193,000 the following tax year. It bounced back in 2021 to $223,000. They reported most of their income as wages, with some of it reported as income. The filing did not distinguish between their incomes.

Hansen was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2016 and has served in the Senate since 2020. The former engineer, who previously worked in the energy industry, helped found the Colorado Energy & Water Institute, which gathers North American leaders to discuss policies and solutions on those issues.

Most of the couple’s income comes from his wife’s work in education, he said. He said he made between $15,000 and $30,000 a year from his part-time work with the institute, plus about $30,000 as a state legislator (he was grandfathered into a lower legislative pay rate). Some of the fluctuations in their income also came from the sale of their home, which Hansen said was put immediately into their new family home.

Leslie Herod

State representative and chair of the Caring for Denver Foundation, which distributes proceeds from a city sales tax to mental health and substance abuse programs

After initially agreeing to provide her tax returns, Herod’s campaign did not follow through.

Mike Johnston

Former state senator and former president and CEO of Gary Community Ventures, a youth- and family-focused philanthropic foundation.

Johnston provided five years of the federal tax forms he filed jointly with his wife, Courtney, a lawyer who’s a chief deputy in the Denver District Attorney’s Office; attachments and schedules weren’t included. Between 2017 and 2021, their total reported income ranged from $434,973 to a high of $761,931, including substantial real estate income from a boutique hotel in Vail, long owned by Mike’s family (more on that below).

The period began with Johnston’s departure from the Colorado Senate and then two political campaigns — for governor in 2018 (he lost the Democratic primary) and for U.S. Senate in 2019 (he withdrew once now-Sen. John Hickenlooper entered the race). The couple’s combined reported wages of $341,903 and $248,928 for 2017 and 2018, respectively, included Johnston’s income from education consulting for a training center for teachers and principals in Texas, his campaign said. In 2019, their reported wages of $165,583 largely came from Courtney’s salary.

Their combined wages then increased steeply – to $504,779 in 2020 and $602,557 in 2021 – after Mike became president and CEO of Gary Community Ventures.

During the five-year period, they reported other income totaling nearly $950,000 — largely real estate income from the Johnston family’s Christiania Lodge in Vail, according to Craig Hughes, a strategist for his campaign. Hughes said that Johnston paid taxes on that income, but “almost all” of it was reinvested back into the hotel for upkeep, repairs, maintenance and improvements.

Aurelio Martinez

Retired information technology professional

Martinez declined to share his tax returns ahead of the election. In an email to The Post, he wrote, “At this time we are not at liberty to share private and personal information. However, once Aurelio Martinez is sworn in as Denver Mayor, we will be happy to provide you with personal tax returns.”

Debbie Ortega

Denver City Council at-large member

Ortega provided five years of tax returns. Between 2017 and 2021, her reported income ranged between about $70,100 and $77,400. That’s actually lower than the standard annual salary for City Council members, which in mid-2021 was $98,878. Ortega said the difference was saved for retirement through the city’s pre-tax deferred compensation plan.

Terrance Roberts

Building inspector and anti-gang activist

Roberts provided his complete 2021 tax filings but said he could not locate tax returns for prior years. He also provided a W-2 form for 2020 that shows wages and tax withholdings. In 2021, he reported total income of $94,255, including his salary as a building inspector for Zillow Homes Inc. and $1,000 in business income for speeches and seminars. In 2020, his reported wages at Zillow were $97,000.

Trinidad Rodriguez

Former investment banker

Rodriguez and his wife reported the single-largest windfall year of any of the candidates: a total income of nearly $1.3 million in 2017. It reflected “substantial commissions” from his revenue production, he said.

Their income tapered off to about $291,000 in 2018 and $300,000 in 2019 before a capital gains-fueled spike in 2020. That year, he and his wife, a doctor, reported an adjusted gross income of $582,000. Of that, about $351,000 was from capital gains from the sale of a rental property.

In 2021, the couple reported $374,000 in total income, of which $74,000 was capital gains from the appreciation of stock holdings.

Andy Rougeot

Former owner of RG Maintenance, a commercial maintenance business

Rougeot, who is largely self-funding his campaign, saw his income soar at the turn of the decade. He reported a total income of $968,000 in 2021 — more than 10 times the total income he reported in 2020 and more than three times his next highest earning year, 2019. Combined with the salary of his wife, Rosalie, the household topped $1 million in reported earnings, though deductions dropped their combined taxable income to about $945,000. His wife works as a marketing manager for the Vail Corporation but reported her income separately.

His returns show a meteoric rise as his primary business, Rogue Mountain LLC, launched, operating as commercial maintenance business RG Maintenance. He reported a negative income in 2017 on the back of negative earnings. The next year made up for it, with more than $150,000 in reported income in 2018. However, the pandemic appeared to take a toll on the business in 2020. He reported less than $100,000 in net income after business losses of $55,000.

As the business owner, his income would fluctuate in profitability, according to his campaign. He no longer owns the business as of July.

He also owns a small portion, less than 2%, of three other businesses. Those are injection molding business Bancroft Holdings; Leopard Holdings LLC, which owns a small percentage of a business that provides cold storage for medical samples; and IT service business Zirconia LLC. The three reported combined losses of less than $7,000 in 2021.

Kwame Spearman

Tattered Cover CEO and co-owner

Spearman’s campaign provided four years’ worth of complete tax filings, from 2017 through 2020, and said his 2021 tax return was unavailable because it was still being processed. In late 2020, Spearman bought the Tattered Cover Book Store as part of a new ownership group and became its CEO. Spearman has said he’s taken a sabbatical from running the bookstore as he campaigns for mayor.

His earlier returns show that prior to 2021, he lived in New York City and rented out his condo back in Denver, where he grew up. In 2017, he was chief business officer of the Boston-based B.GOOD restaurant chain, later becoming general manager of its European locations; he reported a total income of $170,000 that year. In 2018, he went to work for Knotel, a shared-workspace company based in New York City, as head of expansion, and his total income decreased to $147,141, including some money earned from consulting.

While at Knotel, his income grew to $187,660 in 2019 and $204,687 in 2020; at the end of that year, he took part in the Tattered Cover purchase in Denver. Spearman’s campaign did not fulfill a request for an estimate of his earnings from the store in 2021 by The Post’s deadline.

Ean Thomas Tafoya

Colorado state director, GreenLatinos

Tafoya’s campaign did not provide his tax returns.

Robert Treta

Owner, Treta Consultants

Treta said he would provide his tax returns if he qualified for the runoff election between the top-two candidates. He said he wasn’t trying to hide his income — he said he usually makes around $200,000 a year and sold $3 million in real estate in 2022 — but didn’t want to spend time with his accountant while campaigning in this crowded field of candidates.


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