Brough, Johnston seek Denver mayorship in city’s fifth open election since 1959

Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston are running in a runoff election for Mayor of Denver, Colorado, on June 6. They advanced from a field of 22 candidates in the April 4 general election. Johnston received 25% of the vote, and Brough received 20%.

Incumbent Michael Hancock (D), first elected in 2011, is term-limited. This is Denver’s fifth open mayoral election since 1959.

Denverite‘s Kyle Harris wrote that residents “are worried about the city’s affordability … public safety and rising crime … [and] homelessness. People want solutions, and it’s clear that the people of the city understand that the mayor’s seat can try to tackle many of these issues.” Harris added, “The mayor is powerful … [and] often described as the strongest elected position in the state.”

Harris said Brough and Johnston are “centrist candidates … [who] cleaved toward the middle, offering an optimistic vision while gently pushing for using policing in their homelessness solutions.” While the election is officially nonpartisan, Brough and Johnston are Democrats.

Brough was chief of staff for former Mayor John Hickenlooper from 2003 to 2009 before becoming president and C.E.O. of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, a post she held until 2021.

Johnston is a former educator and school administrator who served in the state Senate from 2007 to 2019. Johnston finished third in the state’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Both candidates led in fundraising throughout the election cycle, having raised a cumulative $2.7 million dollars: $1.4 million to Brough and $1.3 million to Johnston.

Satellite spending has also played a role in this race. Advancing Denver has spent $2.2 million supporting Johnston, and A Better Denver has spent $1 million supporting Brough. Both organizations were created specifically to support their respective candidates.

A recent poll found 38.9% of respondents supporting Johnston, and 34.1% supporting Brough, both within the poll’s margin of error. Twenty-seven percent of respondents were undecided.

Both candidates say public safety, homelessness, and housing affordability are key issues in this race.

On the topic of homelessness, for example, Brough said, “[T]here is not a single, monolithic homeless population and so we need a coordinated set of nuanced, population-specific approaches,” including updates to the city’s shelter system, creating supportive housing units, and investing in services.

Johnston said, “[W]e must address … the lack of affordable housing, the absence of mental health support, and an explosion in the severity of addiction drugs.” Johnston pledged to “build 1,400 additional units of housing … ending homelessness in Denver by the end of my first term.”

Denver has a strong mayor government, where the mayor serves as chief executive, and the city council operates as a legislative branch. The mayor sets the city budget, nominates department heads, and appoints more than 700 officials citywide. The mayor also oversees the Denver International Airport, police and sheriff departments, and the community planning and development department.

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