National talking points are brought into local elections via online comments and attacks.
The Broomfield Ward 5 election that on the surface is about a homeless encampment, gun legislation, and a healthcare plan has delved into social media attacks including sexist remarks, body shaming, stances on Trans youth, and personal attacks.
Officially, Todd Cohen on Broomfield City Council faces a recall from his stance on a homeless shelter that never materialized, placement of above ground water tanks, failure to address suicide by firearms, and approving a new health care plan for Council members. Councilmember Heidi Henkel, who is up for re-election, is also being challenged on the same issues. Maria Boutrous is running to recall Cohen — whose term ends in 2025 — and Adam Gobetti is seeking to replace Henkel.
The election posts online have broadened to include national politics, stances on LGBTQ+ communities, and body-shaming via harsh social media posts. Some feel that local elected officials should not be voted for on any basis besides local issues, but many find it relevant what their closest representative believes about things like vaccines and who won the presidential election.
Additionally, much of the spotlight has been on Nextdoor and Facebook posts where both female candidates have been sexualized and faced personal attacks by both residents and Boutrous herself.
Accusations of canvassers getting into verbal confrontations abound. Boutrous showed YS screenshosts of neighbors complaining about anti-recall canvassers. Cohen and Henkel both believe Boutrous and her canvassers lied to voters.
“They’re willing just to blatantly lie. And in this case, they’re very aggressive. We heard from people who just signed the petition to get them off the doorstep,” Cohen stated. Henkel agreed, “Maria Boutros is the one that collected all the signatures for the recall. A lot of my neighbors were upset because she was very argumentative at the doors, very pushy.”
Henkel and Cohen both believe the recall petitioners lied when going door-to-door to collect signatures. Voters were allegedly told that the recall was about lowering taxes or that a homeless encampment would be created when plans for one never existed in the first place.
“We’re not gonna respond to allegations because if they want to, if they truly believe that we’ve lied, then they can just file a lawsuit any time,” Karl Honegger, an organizer for the recall efforts, rebutted.
Boutrous and other recall supporters felt that the attempt to stop the recall, and the potential threat of legal challenges, was an attempt to harass and silence citizen voices.
Hearing officer Karen Goldman allowed the recall to move forward, but Cohen noted, and the transcript reflects, that the petition gatherers did not testify as to whether they lied when gathering signatures so as not to incriminate themselves.
Despite the election proceeding, questions of its merits still surround the race. “Most people think of recalls as a tool for voters to remove somebody who’s broken the law, violated their oath, or something,” Cohen shared.
Colorado in fact has the third highest rate of recall elections across the nation. There are legitimate fears that recalls are being used as a growing tool to remove elected officials from office over policy disagreements rather than rules violations.
“They’re willing just to blatantly lie. And in this case, they’re very aggressive.”
The homeless encampment that never was
The leading issue on the recall is a homeless encampment idea that was talked about at City Council meetings. Cohen and Henkel spoke about the unhoused problem, and after discussion, moved towards supporting already existing programs. Boutrous and other recall supporters think this shows intent to create a new homeless camp near a school.
“They used a fictitious story about a homeless camp to go to people and say, ‘hey, these guys want to put homeless people in your neighborhood,’” Todd explained.
“I think they’re taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook in the sense they are trying to undo elections and in my case, leading with a big lie about a fictitious homeless camp to scare people into signing the signature, which was effective,” Cohen expanded.
“What I feel they should have done is [listen], instead of dismissing the concerns of their constituents that we don’t want our community to look like downtown Denver, and who would be blamed for that?” Boutrous expanded on the topic. “I don’t feel that their answer to that issue of homelessness and mental illness is to put a camp 2,000 feet from a Catholic school”
“Let’s dial back to what are the issues in our society that we can control at the local municipal level that are contributing to mental illness and homelessness,“ Boutrous shared.
When asked if the homeless shelter was still an issue, Honegger replied “They dropped it, but in July  when they were discussing it as an option, they very much supported it.” Boutrous replied that this specific homeless shelter is not an issue anymore, but is concerned that Henkel and Cohen would support one in the future.
Sexism and Social Media
YS reviewed multiple posts on Nextdoor and Facebook made by both pro-recall and anti-recall residents, and although not able to verify everything residents allege, a disturbing pattern of sexism emerged.
Separate photos of both Boutrous and Henkel in bathing suits have been posted on Nextdoor and Facebook that were inappropriately mocked and sexualized.
But it wasn’t just the photos. Rhetoric against Henkel reached a vitriolic level. Boutrous posted that Henkel was a “cow,” “narcissist,” “media whore,” as well as commenting multiple times on Henkel’s breasts.
“It was after she came after me. She has a horrible reputation using her publicly elected platform as a stage … People from other districts in Broomfield have come forward with horrible stories of what she has done to them,” Boutrous explained when asked about the above comments.
“At that point, the schoolyard bully got punched in the nose. Was it appropriate? Should either of us be engaged in that behavior? Was it something that, you know, adults should be doing? No, but in my opinion she shouldn’t have started it,” Boutrous elaborated.
“You don’t harass people with your boobs and then complain about people body shaming you,” Boutrous continued, referencing photos of Henkel in a bathing suit.
“I just invited her over to my house and she got offended by it.” Henkel replied regarding the social media exchange. Henkel also confronted Boutrous’ stance on gender affirming care for youth, with Henkel defending the right for youth to access care.
“I am a neighbor who lives 700 yards down the street from her and instead of crossing the street, knocking on my door, and having a civil conversation as a sitting public official, she engaged and attacked me and told me that I don’t know,” Boutrous expanded.
Boutrous claims the harassment is not a one-way street. “I have so many instances passed along to my attorney where I could have sued Heidi and Scott for defamation, and for sexual harassment.”
Indeed, Boutrous has been called horrible things online, but mostly by citizens, not by the candidates running. Boutrous has been mocked with made-up drag queen names and sexualized in comments and posts online as well.
Henkel has posted that she believes Boutrous to be an unsafe person for others to be around.
“It’s like, oh, let me show all of the examples of the mean and horrible things that Maria said about me and, and provide no context for the things that I have said and done,” Boutrous defended herself.
Boutrous is running to replace Cohen, but the social media interactions and interviews with YS show how vested the two recall candidates are in each other’s campaigns.
“You don’t harass people with your boobs and then complain about people body shaming you.”
Youths and LGBTQ+ Identity
One social media back-and-forth spawned out of a Facebook post regarding transgender athletes. Henkel defended a transgender athlete whereas Boutrous found it inappropriate to be allowed to compete in the gender class they identify as.
“I responded well, two can play at this game. I identified two as bovine and that’s where that [cow] comment came in,” Boutrous said.
Although Boutrous stated that she has no problem with people identifying as other sexualities or genders, and that she has even helped care for such people in her care facilities, she sees it as a problem for youths
She elaborated. “We’ve had a massive increase in the last 10 years of children who are identifying as transgender or questioning and whatever, and statistically that has never happened in society before. To me that is indicative of a push in society to put ideas in children’s heads and to confuse them to a large degree. That is not saying that isn’t saying that kids do not have issues with body dysmorphic disorder or anxiety and depression.”
Another possibility is acceptance of LGBTQ+ lifestyles has grown, and awareness of gender affirming treatments has allowed more people to freely express who they identify as.
Boutrous referenced a group called “Gays Against Groomers” who take a hard stance against transgender youth care, and expressed concern that LGBTQ+ groups support “groomers” — adults who are sexually attracted to children. When asked to point out specific groups that support this behavior, none were brought up.
“If you look up [Gays Against Groomers] on Wikipedia, it’s a far right group basically denying trans rights. She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about,” Henkel responded.
“I basically just feel like I don’t care what you do in your private time. As long as you don’t want to hurt someone else, especially vulnerable children,” Boutrous concluded.
Firearms and Mental Health
Cohen and Henkel have both been proponents of gun control measures in Broomfield. Although the recall groups accuse them both of doing nothing about the suicide rate, Cohen and Henkel both told YS that reducing access to firearms is part of the mental health solution.
However, these actions earned the ire of some constituents. “A lot of people were saying they were making unconstitutional moves to try to restrict gun access,” said Boutrous, who also voiced concerns over lawsuits that can stem from such legislation. “The gun issue is a very emotional hot topic. And my whole my whole thing is that regardless of how you or I feel about guns, it isn’t something to be addressed at the municipal level,” Boutrous argued.
Cohen disagrees, as does Henkel. “Actually, we can do things locally, the governor gave us permission,” Henkel rebutted.
Boutrous isn’t even Henkel’s opponent
YS asked Boutrous why she focuses so much on Henkel when her opponent is Cohen. She expanded that Henkel and her are neighbors and have a history of online confrontations stemming back to a time when Boutrous hosted right-wing political personality Scott McKay. Animosity has only grown from there.
Gobetti is the one running to unseat Henkel, but his social media presence takes the form of YouTube videos rather than attacks on Facebook or Nextdoor. Gobetti proposes ways to reduce spending in Broomfield but has commented on other topics like the social media “soap opera” that has surrounded the races.
“I feel like people need to get out more to be honest. I mean, my opponent all he does is get on YouTube and make pre scripted videos,” Henkel shared. “He hasn’t voted in a municipal election before.” Involvement in local politics is typically seen as beneficial for political newcomers.
Gobetti and Boutrous both campaign on lowering taxes and reducing spending.
Gobetti, in his campaign introduction video, stated that he intends to “Ensure our financial security… [and] in fact I would like to put money back in your pocket.” Boutrous also spoke against raising taxes, especially during post-Covid recovery.
“I think anyone can research, right? You know, how are you going to build policy? How are you going to build camaraderie with others?” Henkel expanded on issues that council members also face.
“I feel like people need to get out more to be honest. I mean, my opponent all he does is get on YouTube and make pre scripted videos.”
National politics trickles down
“I feel like the national politics, making somebody ‘the other,’ and dehumanizing them has just taken on a whole new realm of hate and people are buying into it,” Henkel expanded on hateful rhetoric and the effort to overturn elections via recall.
“I think the scary thing is the willingness such on the national level, for the right wing, to just lie to people blatantly just with Fox News and they have a huge megaphone to just make up things and scare people and just lead with fear,” Cohen reiterated. Both Cohen and Henkel believe the nasty rhetoric, lies about political positions, and anti-transgender positions have emerged in part due to Trump’s popularization of the tactics and hate.
“She’s promoting conspiracy theories along the lines of 2,000 Mules, and she’s telling people to take zinc pills and not the COVID vaccine. Calling the pope a globalist, which is an age-old, anti semitic and anti Catholic trope,” Cohen expanded on how Boutrous has brought national politics into the conversation. YS can confirm Boutrous did indeed post sentiments along these lines.
“I was suddenly labeled a Q-Anon conspiracy theorist. So that’s what I mean about the media going off and characters assassinating people. It’s asinine when we have such politicized, loaded language, it just creates more division in our society, and it hurts,” Boutrous defended herself.
When asked to clarify whether she believes Trump or Biden won the 2022 election, she defended with: “Well, but why am I being asked? That’s such a loaded question. There’s so much information that it could be dissected. There were completely relevant questions surrounding ballot harvesting. I don’t deserve to be bullied over questioning the integrity of elections. I am so tired of Trump, and Biden and Trumpism, and all this crap.”
She then steered the conversation back to local issues. “You, Heidi Henkel, haven’t put more than 1% [of the budget] towards the Public Works Department. We have had one pothole truck in this town for the last 20 years and you want to call me an election questioner? Does that make anybody feel better? What’s really important is that I don’t believe we have election interference going on in Broomfield.”
“I was suddenly labeled a Q-Anon conspiracy theorist. […] It’s asinine when we have such politicized, loaded language, it just creates more division in our society, and it hurts.”
Bringing it all Back Home
“It’s just the constant ‘let’s get into this whole Donald Trump, MAGA, hate everybody thing.’ It’s so dumb. It’s just a sad state of affairs. Let’s see if Heidi can apologize, quit all this, and just run a campaign about what she feels are meritorious, and the legitimate reasons why she believes she should be reelected. I mean, that’s what she should be focusing on. Not trashing other people and making shit up as part of her campaign platform,” Boutrous concluded.
“The lack of local journalism is definitely playing a role. The challenge here in Broomfield is the local paper doesn’t cover counsel like it used to, and to be very fair, very few people are actually reading the local paper anymore. People are relying unfortunately on platforms that cannot be relied on for being honest. Nextdoor is not a reliable source,” Cohen expanded on the lack of coverage and social media drama plaguing the campaign.
“We have a guy only voting in national politics, and who it sounds like only follows national politics, it’s concerning. We’ll have a person in office who has been absent most of the time traveling all the time, never voting. And then I don’t know if they’re actually going to be able to get a tree fixed,” Henkel expanded on her opponent, Gobetti.
“If you have a council that is spouting conspiracy theories and isn’t able to think constructively or critically about issues, it has a huge potential to embarrass the community,” Cohen expanded on why it is important to know Boutrous’ views on such topics.
“It’s pretty indicative of just how people react out of scarcity and fear versus abundance and joy,” Heidi said.
“Some of us embrace change and find it exciting and others find it unsettling. Unfortunately they’re easily stoked for someone to tell them that we can make things back the way you nostalgically think they were.” Cohen concluded.