Less than four years after voters turned Shepherd out of office for supporting inappropriate development, her top political lieutenant, Dave Sabados, is running for her old seat.
Sabados is challenging the man who beat Shepherd, Rafael Espinoza, a city councilman who has won plaudits for championing smart development while curbing the worst abuses of power in Denver city government.
Sabados announced his candidacy in an email that blanketed inboxes throughout North Denver. One recipient told the North Denver News, “I have never heard of this guy, and I really want to know how he got our email address.” What was absent from that email was any mention of Sabados’ record in propping up Shepherd’s flagging political career. Also absent was any mention of Sabados history: his only employment has been working as a political operative, as shown by a review of his LinkedIn profile and social media accounts.
The Sabados run campaign resulted in Shepherd’s loss, a defeat that stunned the Denver political world. Shepherd was the first incumbent to lose a city council race in nearly 30 years in Denver. And now, despite that political malpractice, Sabados wants to represent Denver’s District 1 at City Hall.
Espinoza’s dramatic underdog victory in 2015 represented the utter rejection of the Shepherd-Sabados embrace of runaway development at the cost of neighborhood quality of life. As a result, the brakes have been put on runaway development in North Denver, and Espinoza has supported historic protections for key neighborhood assets.
Activists fear that a Sabados win would again put the direction of the area in the hands of wealthy developers.
For his part, Sabados is pinning his hopes on an appeal to renters. “As a longtime Denver renter myself, I hope to bring a voice for the nearly 1/2 of Denver residents who rent instead of own.” Much of Sabados’ campaign material suggests some sort of rent control, despite the fact that the courts and state law bar such measures. On other issues, Sabados’ lack of specifics seem to reflect his long tenure running political campaigns. That absence is one of the key burdens that shadowed Shepherd— she ran as a neighborhood advocate who rapidly became a developer favorite. Those shadows are likely to dog Sabados’ efforts as well.