Born in Raton, New Mexico, Debbie is the daughter of a coal miner who was killed in a mine accident. Her mom raised Debbie, her four sisters and brother for a number of years before marrying her step dad. The family came to Denver when she was 13. She attended Kepner Middle School. Debbie still regularly walks Sloans Lake with her middle school friend Michelle. Following graduation from West High School, the councilwoman was called to a life of public service. She worked for former Lt. Governor George Brown and U.S. Senator Floyd Haskell before accepting a position with Denver City Councilman Sal Carpio in 1979. She was elected as Carpio’s successor in 1987 and served until 2003 when term limits required she leave office. Councilwoman Ortega continued her public service after leaving office serving as the first executive director of Denver Commission on Homelessness. She serves as chair of Del Norte Neighborhood Development Corporation, a non-profit building affordable housing. She has also served on the board of directors and chair of the board of Latina Safe house.
Councilwoman Ortega raised her daughter Janelle in Denver. Janelle and her husband Gabe are also raising their four children in Denver.
Each of the 13 members of Denver City Council is elected to four-year terms. Eleven members represent districts of approximately people. Two members serve at-large representing the entire city. The role of an at-large council members is to represent the people when laws, resolutions and ordinances are passed. Members also assist constituents with city agencies.
There is not an average day as a member of City Council. Each day is different depending on the challenges our City is facing. It is important to me to hear from the public about the issues that are important to them. I can often be found at neighborhood meetings or with constituents or other stakeholders who are trying to solve a problem or change a law. Every Monday night City Council is in session beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesdays I am often in committee meetings. Many evenings I can be found at local events or neighborhood meetings to connect with residents.
Councilwoman Ortega focuses efforts on making sure Denver works for all its residents. She is committed to eliminating long-standing and persistent inequities and social injustice. She believes that when any member of our community suffers because of our actions or inaction, it diminishes the entire city.
Councilwoman Ortega has advocated reasonable regulation of the marijuana industry to prevent negative impacts on children and neighborhoods. During the 2016 amendments to the marijuana ordinance she sponsored an amendment to apply the 1,000-foot buffer from schools to marijuana grow facilities, to require notification of neighborhoods associations when facilities are locating in industrial zone districts near residential neighborhoods and supported an amendment to reduce the number of marijuana facilities in saturated neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Ortega supported an amendment to the odor ordinance to require marijuana grow facilities and other industries that generate odors to adopt and implement an odor-control plan. The ordinance also changed the complaint process.
Controversy erupted in 2013 when the City agreed to provide land to the Denver Public Schools for construction of a new school in southeast Denver. Many nearby residents believed the land involved was a part of Hentzel Park and could not be used for non-park purposes. The courts ruled that the land had never been officially designated as a park or as part of Hentzel Park and could be used for a school. To prevent future controversy, I have supported the designation of approximately 716 acres of land which are used and thought of as parks as official parkland.
The Downtown Denver Partnership recognized Councilwoman Ortega's role in the adoption of Lower Downtown’s Historic District and spearheading the establishment of a revolving loan fund that supported the redevelopment in lower downtown. The fund resulted in $8.1 million in private investment that renovated 149,500 square feet of previously vacant space creating 42 residences and providing space for 11 businesses creating 50 jobs.
The councilwoman identified and mitigated impacts to adjacent neighborhoods as a member of the Negotiation Committee for construction of the Pepsi Center and as a member of the Downtown Baseball Development Committee.
Councilwoman Ortega has been a champion for our environment. From the cleanup of the pollution in the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods from ASARCO and other industrial users to protecting our environment and our pocketbooks from the damage caused by disposable plastic bags, she is committed to protecting the environment for future generations. She is a member of the Colorado Hydrogen Coalition exploring hydrogen fuel for public vehicles.