AURORA, Colo. — An Aurora community activist who has been vocal in the Black Lives Matter and demands for police accountability movements wants to run for city council but is banned from doing so.
On February 10, Candice Bailey announced her intentions to run for an at-large council position with the city via Facebook.
Bailey says she wants to tackle issues like police reform, homelessness, the effects of gentrification on the community, small businesses support and transportation funding among other things.
“We have a lot of issues to tackle within our city and we need someone who is educated and ready to dig into those things,” she said.
Bailey already serves on a few advisory boards that help form potential policies for the city. Now, she says she’s ready for an even bigger role in the community.
There’s just one thing holding Bailey back from a political future: her past. Bailey was convicted of felony assault more than 20 years ago, which prohibits her from holding office in Aurora.
Article I, section 54-3 of the Aurora city charter says, “Persons convicted of a felony shall not become a candidate and are not qualified to hold elective office.”
The charter was created and approved by voters in 1961. Neither federal nor state law ban someone from holding office for a federal conviction under most circumstances unless the person is convicted of things like violating public trust or bribery, according to the ACLU of Colorado.
“I could run for Congress right now. I can run for just about everything but this city. Isn’t that interesting,” said Bailey.
The felony stems back to an altercation between Bailey’s group of friends and another group in 1999. A man from the other group and Bailey both pulled guns out and shot at one another.
No one was injured from the shooting and both Bailey and the other shooter were charged as a result.
“There’s nothing about me that wants to belittle the circumstance that I was in because it was not a minor situation. There’s nothing about me that doesn’t hold myself accountable for that situation and the possibilities of what could have happened as a result of my behavior,” she said.
Bailey also faced a series of misdemeanor crimes in the 1990s and early 2000s, mainly for traffic violations and had other charges dropped.
Since then, she says she has evolved and wants to bring her experience within the judicial system to the city council.
“We are human and we will make mistakes. It’s what you do after the mistake that matters,” Bailey said. “I think my life is a testimony to the capacity for change which is something that Aurora is asking for, is starving for.”
In order to be able to run, Bailey has three options, none of which are particularly speedy processes.
First, she could try to get a pardon from the governor, something Bailey says she is in the process of applying for.
During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis didn’t speak specifically about Bailey’s case but said he has an advisory board that helps him make decisions about pardons after looking into an individual’s history.
The second option Bailey has is to try to change the city charter but that requires a vote of the people. Any amendments to the city charter would need to be placed on a ballot either by city council or by a signature petition.
“I would support changing the charter to allow felons to hold office so long as their voting rights have been restored,” said Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman.
According to Colorado law, felons who are currently serving time in prison cannot vote. Once they are out of prison their voting rights are restored, even if they are on parole.
However, this process would mean that Bailey would not be able to run in the next election until voters approve of the change.
The third option Bailey has is to sue the city for a violation of her constitutional rights.
“A city has no legitimate business barring someone from running for office simply because they have a past felony conviction,” said Mark Silverstein, the legal director from the ACLU of Colorado.
Silverstein says the Colorado Supreme Court has reaffirmed in numerous cases that running for office is a fundamental right and that the burden falls on the city to present a compelling reason for why a felon should not be allowed to run for elected office in order to prove the constitutionality of the ordinance.
“Provisions like this in Aurora also violate the rights of voters. Voters have a right to vote for the candidate that they want to represent them,” Silverstein said.
He has fought a similar ordinance in the past in Colorado Springs and was able to get it repealed.
Bailey is now considering her legal options, saying even if she is not given a chance to run, this change could help clear the way for someone else in the future.
She believes this is a Jim Crow era law that disproportionately disqualifies black and brown candidates from running for office since they were more convicted of felonies in the criminal justice system.
“I think people have this idea in their mind that if you get engaged in civic engagement and that equals or equates to you are a perfect human being. I don’t believe that to be true. I believe that the imperfect human beings need to be engaged,” she said.
Bailey isn’t sure that the voters would even elect her; she says she just wants a chance to try to gain their trust and let them decide whether she’s worthy.
“How an individual can evolve is how America needs to evolve. We can make mistakes. Our mistakes of our past don’t condemn our future, but we must do a few things. We must be accountable, we must be present and we must be willing to make those changes,” she said.