DENVER — A group of progressive Latino community leaders met with Denver Mayor Mike Johnston for more than an hour on Wednesday, discussing his job performance during his first four months in office.
They issued a report card — grading his progress on a variety of issues — and gave the mayor a “D” overall.
The community leaders said the mayor has come up short in several areas, from public safety to education equity to changing the leadership culture in city government.
The mayor said he disagrees with much of their assessment but was happy to receive their feedback.
When former mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon endorsed Johnston for a job she wanted, she wasn’t exactly thrilled. In fact, Johnston wasn’t even invited to her announcement.
“I knew the alternative was worse,” Calderon said.
Calderon vowed to hold the mayor to commitments she said he made when he sought her endorsement. Six months later, Calderon and other Latino community leaders met with Johnston behind closed doors at the Denver City-County Building to discuss his performance in several key areas.
“The Latinos United [Neighbors] Association is a collective that developed after the mayor's race to really make sure that Latino voices, progressive voices, working families have a voice in this administration,” said Calderon. “And it has been a tough road.”
After meeting with the mayor, the collective held a press conference in front of Johnston's office and unveiled their report card.
“We have just issued our grade to Mayor Johnston for his first four months, which is a ‘D,’” said Calderon.
On public safety and leadership culture, the group gave the mayor an “F.” They said Johnston has left women out of key positions within the police, fire, and sheriff’s departments. They also said he’s held over too many people from the Hancock administration.
Calderson said she’s heard from women in all three departments.
“They want a fair opportunity to compete for those top positions, and they are being denied it,” said Calderon. “We understand he's only been in office since July. But there were lots of things that he could have done that were low-hanging fruit that he chose not to do. One is interviewing any women for the public safety departments.”
Earlier this month, Johnston announced he was reappointing Armando Saldate as the executive director of the Department of Safety. He also asked Ron Thomas to continue serving as Denver police chief. Both Saldate and Thomas were appointed to their positions under the prior administration.
The leaders gave the mayor an “F” on gentrification and displacement, saying he has been too focused on his Housing 1000 initiative.
“A lot of his attention are on micro-communities, but we have people struggling to stay in their homes who will become homeless,” said Calderon.
They issued the mayor a mix of C’s and D’s on a number of other issues, including education equity, economic justice, labor support and immigration.
The mayor emerged from the meeting trying to sound upbeat.
“We had a good conversation,” Johnston said. “This is a four-year agenda, so we've got a lot of time to get all this work done. We're getting started. We never thought it'd be done in the first 100 days. Like any big work, it's not done in the first 100 days.”
Johnston said he disagrees with much of the community leaders’ assessment but was happy to listen to their feedback.
“I'm always excited to sit down and get feedback from any constituent or stakeholder group. We have many stakeholder groups all around the city that have issues that they're all concerned about, that we're staying a regular touch with,” said Johnston. “I have big goals for the next four years, for the next eight years, things like 25,000 permanently affordable units, things like housing, a thousand in the next six months, or 2,000 in the next two years.”
The mayor also responded to accusations that his administration has not been transparent on the homelessness and migrant crises, a concern raised last week by Denver City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore.
Gilmore resigned as chair of the Safety and Housing Committee because she said she wasn’t getting critical information about the administration’s plans.
“I decided to step down as chair of the safety committee because I didn't feel like I was being provided with all the information that I needed to be a good chair of the safety committee. I need to have full access and timely access to important information,” she said.
Gilmore said she felt the Johnston administration was giving her just enough information to get through the committee but was withholding other information. She said no one told her about a migrant shelter that opened in her district. According to the councilwoman, the shelter opened in early October, and she learned about it on Nov. 17.
“No one thought that it was important to send me a text message,” said Gilmore. “I had to ask around and found somebody who provided me the information.”
Johnston pushed back on assertions that his team is not being transparent.
“I think we've done more public outreach than any administration in history,” said Johnston. “I don't know any other department or any other mayor that's done 55 town halls in 120 days or sat and talked with three or 4,000 residents and been available to take feedback at every step of the way. I think we're the most accessible mayor administration that I've certainly lived through, and we'll continue to do that.”
Calderon said the community leaders plan to meet with Johnston and members of his team periodically.
Despite giving him low scores, Calderon said she does not regret endorsing him.
“Do I regret endorsing him? No, I don't because I knew the alternative was worse,” said Calderon. “He has kept his commitment to meeting with us. He met with us right after the election, but meetings are not progress.”