After running virtually unopposed in previous years, Denver Mayor Mike Hancock has a new challenger: local cannabis entrepreneur Kayvan Khalatbari.
Khalatbari is the co-owner of a dream team combination of businesses which includes the pizza shop chain Sexy Pizza and Colorado’s second oldest medical marijuana dispensary, Denver Relief. The Iranian-born Denverite is also chairman of the board for the Minority Cannabis Business Association, which works to expand business opportunities for minorities in the cannabis industry.
In 2015, Khalatbari ran an unsuccessful campaign for city council, but this time around the mayor’s office may be ripe for a change as residents consider the rising cost of living and Hancock tries to draw attention away from a sexual harassment scandal. On Monday (April 16), Mayor Hancock announced a plan to increase the number of low-income affordable housing units in the city from 3,000 to 6,400 units over the next five years. That plan will be funded in part by an increase in the tax on marijuana sales from 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent.
Having officially announced his campaign in February, Khalatbari has already raised more than $100,000 in donations, more than any challenger has raised since Hancock was first elected in 2011. Since his first campaign, Hancock has proven to be an adept fundraiser, collecting donations that are normally seen in congressional races, outpacing the competition and eliminating them as a result. In his last bid for mayor in 2016, he raised $77,000 and has outdone himself this time raising more than $300,000 as he seeks a third term.
But the election, scheduled for May 7, 2019, is a long way away and there still is time for other candidates to catch up.
Khalatbari has focused his campaign on the city’s housing issues, homelessness, and a controversial proposal to expand the Interstate 70 highway. Last fall, the businessman-turned-politician partnered his pizza chain with Denver Homeless Out Loud, offering lockers outside of his restaurant locations for use by the homeless.
“This campaign is about a movement,” Khalatbari said in a statement, “building broad coalitions and having important conversations about what matters to the people of Denver.”