Tattered Cover CEO abandons Denver mayoral campaign

Kwame Spearman dropped out Thursday and threw his support behind another candidate in the Denver mayoral race.


Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman’s three-month mayoral campaign ended Thursday, after Spearman didn’t gain traction with his hardline messages on homelessness and immigration.

Spearman joined the race in January, staking out relatively conservative positions on issues from homelessness to crime to immigration policy. 

He dropped out Thursday and threw his support to a center-right candidate and former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough.

The brief campaign, Spearman’s first run for elected office, focused on giving neighborhood groups more control and law-and-order declarations that won Spearman praise from conservatives.

> Video above: Interview with Denver mayoral candidate Kwame Spearman

Spearman said that unhoused people were “exploiting the system” and told talk radio station KNUS that it could be more enticing for some people to live in a homeless encampment than get a job.

When asked in a 9NEWS interview to explain how people experiencing homelessness were exploiting the system on a single-digit cold night, Spearman described repeatedly driving by people warming themselves or cooking food over a fire, which he said is against the law.

Spearman falsely claimed in a 9NEWS mayoral debate that a survey by Denver Homeless Out Loud found that the majority of the unhoused people contacted did not want a home. The survey actually found the overwhelming majority wanted a home.

Spearman said Denver should resume cooperation with immigration agents, a practice that ceased in 2017 by a unanimous vote of Denver City Council with the support of Mayor Michael Hancock. Spearman went on to tell a conservative talk radio station that if Denver didn’t cooperate with ICE agents, perhaps federal officials could nab their targets as they traveled home to the suburbs from work in the city.

His position on Denver’s status as a so-called sanctuary city was at odds with all but one candidate in the field of 17. Only Thomas Wolf also endorses renewed cooperation with ICE.

Spearman took a leave of absence from his duties at Tattered Cover bookstores partway through his brief run for mayor. Spearman said he did so voluntarily, not at the request of the company’s board.

Spearman had been the subject of a third-party investigation over workplace bullying and inappropriate behavior, as previously reported by the Denver Post and Denverite. Spearman told 9NEWS that the investigation cleared him of wrongdoing but declined to provide a copy of the findings. 

Tattered Cover, which is in the midst of an attempted turnaround under private equity ownership, found itself on the defensive about its CEO’s personal politics.

When customers said on social media they would not patronize the chain of bookstores because of Spearman’s stances on homelessness and immigration, the company responded on Twitter, writing in part, “Why are you punishing a bookstore whose CEO has since taken a leave of absence to join the mayoral race?”

Spearman announced his withdrawal first to CBS4 Denver and later in a written release to other media outlets.

“While I jumped in full throttle, it wasn’t enough to break through the crowded field,” Spearman said in a statement released by his campaign.

The Spearman campaign also released a statement from Brough accepting his endorsement.

“I’m honored to have his support and unite his voters behind our coalition aimed at building a better future for Denver,” Brough said.

Spearman’s campaign said votes for him would not count, but the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office told 9NEWS on Thursday that has yet to be determined.

Ballots were mailed to Denver voters on Monday. Spearman has not yet filed a motion to withdraw as a candidate, meaning that votes for him will still be counted unless he withdraws.

If Spearman withdraws, any votes for him would be counted as undervotes. That would potentially propel the frontrunner in the field closer to the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, although any candidate reaching that mark in the highly competitive 17-way race is extremely unlikely.



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