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Auon’tai Anderson will exit the Denver School Board to run for House District 8 | #schoolsaftey

Denver School Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson is abandoning his race to defend his seat. One of the youngest elected officials in Colorado history, Anderson will step down from the school board in November to run for state representative in House District 8.

That’s the Northeast Denver district represented by Leslie Herod, who will be termed-out in 2024. She told Denverite she had not endorsed anybody in the race.

Four other candidates have filed paperwork to run in District 8: Victor Bencomo, Christi Devoe, Lindsay Gilchrist and Sharron Pettiford.


On a sunny Thursday, two days after former State Senator Mike Johnston won his bid to be the city’s next mayor, Anderson met with Denverite to discuss why he’s seeking state office.

Anderson drove a black SUV into the industrial parking lot of Prodigy Coffeehouse in the Clayton Neighborhood of East Denver. Missing was his signature backward baseball cap — the flair he wore that galled his many critics, and reminded everyone that he was allied with students and stood in solidarity with youth who were dubbed “thugs” for wearing their hats backward.

On Thursday, Anderson showed up full-blown CEO in style: Smooth gray vest, matching suit pants and a pink spotted tie — in an age when wealthy politicians often dress down to bond with the rest of us.

In his time in office, Anderson has become more formal. He uses official titles to address his critics, competitors and colleagues in elected office — rarely using their first names. And he demands his critics, of which there are many, to do the same by using his title and full name: Vice President Auon’tai Anderson.

As a 24-year-old politician often dismissed for his age, he’s had to earn respect.


In recent decades, District 8 included Denver’s last plurality Black neighborhood and has had largely Black representatives.

Many longtime families have been priced out of the area since housing costs spiked over the past decade. The rise of largely white Central Park on the old Stapleton Airport site — named after Klan mayor Benjamin Stapleton — has shifted the district’s demographics.

“We must keep it a historically Black seat,” Anderson said. “We now have an opportunity to continue delivering for Black Denverites.”

And not just for the residents who live there now, but those who have been priced out by soaring rents and long to return to their community.

“My Algebra teacher told me that I would never make it out of the hood,” Anderson said. “And you know, she was right. I didn’t make it out of the hood. I chose to stay and give back. And now I want to take the hood to the House of Representatives.”


Anderson’s campaign to be a state representative has four pillars: protecting workers’ rights, reproductive health care, education, and community safety.

He’s also a champion of doing away with a statewide ban on rent control; prohibiting the possession of assault weapons; criminal justice reform; police accountability; free public education including at state universities; funding mental health care in schools; protecting curriculum that mandates the teaching of Black, Indigenous and Latino history; and protecting the rights of LGBTQ students across the state.

His run is inspired by what he believed were bad policies shot down by the Democratic majority in the state legislature.

“I got really frustrated because we didn’t pass rent control,” he said. “We didn’t pass an assault weapons ban. We have seen good bills die. And we need people that are going to run and be unapologetically a Democrat, not a Democrat when it’s convenient.”

Though he’s kept his run quiet, he said he’s already racked up 80 endorsements including heavyweights in the Black community.

Longtime organizer and media activist Jeff Fard, better known as Brother Jeff, has known Anderson since he was a student at Manuel High School.

“When folks think about Auon’tai, you would think that they’re covering or discussing someone who’s been around politics and leadership for 30 or 40 years,” Fard said. “We got to remember Auon’tai is barely 24 years old.”

Fard views Anderson as the future of political and community leadership in Colorado.

“I’m going to back Auon’tai as far as he’d like to go,” Fard said. “I believe he’s going to be the first Black governor. That was something I heard him say when he was in high school.”

Anderson also counts University of Colorado Regent and business owner Wanda James, Jefferson County Commissioner Andy Kerr, Erie Mayor Justin Brooks, Steadman Principal Mike Atkins, Bishop Jerry Demmer and Superintendent Patrick Demmer of the Ministerial Alliance; and community activist Candice Bailey. among his supporters.


Anderson grew up working class and and continues to struggle to stay in Denver, a community where the cost of living, particularly rent, has risen faster than wages and made it hard for people to thrive.

His single mom and grandmother raised him. He’s not shy to admit that he’s not always been smooth around the edges.

Anderson said he’s been homeless. Now, he’s a renter making ends meet with campaign consulting and nonprofit work.

“I know what it means to have to have to pick and choose,” he said. “Do you pay the light bill? Or do you pay the phone bill?”


Now 24, he’s had more wins and faced more criticism, scrutiny and blunt racism than many politicians.

Anderson ran on a campaign of ending the school-to-prison pipeline. He championed cutting armed police officers from the schools, a policy that led critics to send him hate mail riddled with racial slurs.

During his time on the School Board, a woman testified at the statehouse and accused Anderson of 64 acts of sexual assault on minors. No individuals came forward with their own stories. He denied the accusations.

Another anonymous woman accused him of sexual assault, a claim raised by Black Lives Matter 5280.

Anderson faced a sexual assault case the Denver Police Department brought to the District Attorney’s office. But Beth McCann, Denver District Attorney, opted not to prosecute, noting she couldn’t prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A 96-page Denver Public Schools investigation found those claims unsubstantiated.

The Denver Public School Board did censure him over some acts the investigation surfaced. The report stated that when he was the head of the anti-gun violence group Never Again Colorado in 2018, he made “unwelcome sexual comments and advances” and “engaged in unwelcome sexual contact,” as Chalkbeat reported.

While on the school board, he flirted with a 16-year-old on social media and made two intimidating posts to people involved in the investigation, according to the 96-page report.

None of the substantiated incidents involved Denver Public Schools students or the district.

The Denver Post Editorial Board supported the censure, and wrote, “Until trust is regained, the board should demand that Anderson not contact or communicate with students — from any school district — unless another adult in a position of authority is present.”

Anderson, himself, acknowledged lessons learned through the ordeal.

“It definitely exposed gaps and mistakes that I’ve made as a young person and before serving in elected office,” he said of the report. “But also, I want people to remember that I’m in my 20s.”

During the tumult, he fell into a depression and considered taking his own life. But he found support in family, some friends and through therapy. He took a brief retreat from social media and began to block his uncivil critics.

“I’m grateful that we were able to go ahead and get those hits out the way now,” he said. “Because now that I’ve been through the wringer and now that I’ve been through the fire, I’ve come out on the other side of everything.”


Some critics are still trying to push him from office and community life. 

When he announced his run for a second term on the School Board, the conservative talk radio station KNUS pledged to defeat him.

KNUS conservative talk show host Steffan Tubbs, who temporarily lost his job after being arrested for domestic violence in a case that was eventually dismissed, regularly blasts Anderson for his opposition to police during the summer of 2020, his push to remove school resource officers out of the classroom, and the school board investigation.

Tubbs has pushed Anderson to resign from the school board and leave political life.

“This man, young man, is poison,” he said to his listeners, blasting Denverites who voted for him.


Anderson’s early political success has threatened the status quo and the white right, said Fard, which explains the scrutiny.

“He’s been under attack early, as opposed to supported, nurtured and given the guidance and direction that I think many young leaders need and deserve,” Fard said. “So rather than attacking the future, why not support it? The status quo chose to attack it, and I believe that’s why you see the scrutiny of Auon’tai Anderson.”

Fard is impressed with Anderson’s willingness to continue in office despite the attacks.

“That’s the boldness of youth,” Fard said. “If you think about young people, they’re generally not locked into the status quo because they haven’t been forged in or a part of the status quo, particularly when you think about his route to political victory. The reason that you see Auon’tai under so much scrutiny is because he actually garnered 65,000 votes in a citywide election.”

In fact, he received 67,213 in his at-large race. That’s more than any mayoral candidate received in April’s general election.

“Anybody who looks at politics in the long game knows that it’s really important to begin to destroy somebody very early on before they are able to harness and garner the reality of that type of backing and support,” Fard said.


In his time in office, Anderson said, he accomplished everything he set out to do on the Denver School Board.

The district passed a major LGBTQ inclusion resolution, a resolution to endorse students to vote in school board elections, and a resolution about safe storage for guns.

He helped lead the district through the pandemic, ensuring students who relied on school-provided meals stayed fed.

“I knew what it meant to rely on school meals, and I was a voice to keep our systems operational and our communities fed,” he said.

Anderson worked to help raise wages for paraprofessionals to $20 an hour.

“I’ve been a para-educator in this district before,” he said. “I know what it means to make $12.38 and not have enough money to put food on my table and keep the lights on.”

Among his proudest accomplishments was passing a universal dyslexia screener for all 21,000 students in the district.

“I would say that the Anderson era of the Denver School Board was consequential,” he said. “Yes, that there were mistakes. Yes, that there were bumps in the road. But we weathered the storm each time, and we came out on the other side.”

His time in office has been marked by conflicts between school-board members, who have relied on mediators, at times, even to speak.

“In my time in office, I have been the political punching bag for many on the conservative right,” Anderson said. “And also for those who are moderate Dems, who are just not comfortable with change.”


Anderson had ambitions for multiple elected roles in the past 12 months and considered leaving political life altogether.

After the battles of 2021, he was worn out. He knew he was missing the experience most people have during their 20s and considered not running for any office at all.

“I actually did consider leaving the Denver School Board and just not running for anything, just retiring from politics in the interim,” he said. “But there was a need, and I needed to step up and just be able to serve my community. And so I don’t do this because I want to be elected. I’m doing this because I know my community needs a champion.”

He briefly weighed running for an at-large City Council seat, before deciding his work on the school board was too important. So at the end of November, Anderson announced he would be running for another term on the school board.

His campaign launched with a sensational ad that likened his trials over the past four years to a lynching. It opened with him cutting a rope and walking away, then veered into a more traditional campaign video that ended with a crowd chanting his name: “Auon’tai.”


Anderson said his decision to leave the School Board race and run to represent District 8 was informed by conversations with community members who wanted him to address things over which he had no power.

“I just believe that I am going to be able to best serve our communities in the State Capitol,” he said.

After multiple shootings at East High School, he spoke with parents demanding action on things he could not control from his post on the School Board.

“I was having to tell parents, ‘I’m sorry,’ and students, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t fix that. I’m not a legislator. I can’t pass an assault weapons ban,’” he recalled. “And one person challenged me and said, ‘Well, then what are you going to do about it?’ And so this is me doing something about it. I’m taking the call from community.”

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