Denver mayoral runoff voter guide: Compare candidates Mike Johnston, Kelly Brough on key issues this election

Denver mayoral candidates on the issues: This voter guide lays out where Mike Johnston, Kelly Brough stand on crime, homelessness, affordability, housing, school safety, migrants and transportation.
Posted: 8:34 PM, May 24, 2023
Updated: 2023-05-25 11:55:07-04

DENVER — Voters in Denver looking to decide between Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough as the city's next mayor have a wide-range of critical issues on their minds heading into the June 6 run-off election. Both candidates debated on Denver7 showcasing key differences in approach to crime in Denver, affordability, homelessness, school safety, equity, the migrant crisis and other important issues that will face the city's next mayor.

To help voters make their choice, this Denver7 story breaks out by topic where Johnston and Brough stand. Watch the embedded videos or read their answers to questions from debate moderator Anne Trujillo, Denver7 anchor and our partners with Colorado Public Radio, The Denver Post and Denverite.

Denver mayoral candidates Johnston and Brough were among a field of 17 candidates to advance to the June 6 runoff following the April 4 general election, in which no candidates received more than 50% of the vote.

Runoff ballots were mailed out beginning May 15 and can be returned anytime at a 24-hour ballot drop-off box. The last day to send a ballot back by mail is May 30, which is also the last day to register to vote and receive a ballot by mail.

June 6 is Election Day and all mailed ballots must be returned by 7 p.m., according to the city elections website. Voters must also be in line by 7 p.m. to cast a vote in person.

Denver election links:



Q: Both candidates released tax documents as part of the Denver mayoral campaign. Kelly Brough reported a 2021 income of around $272,000 and Mike Johnston, along with his wife, reported a joint-income of $603,000. With those incomes, we asked how both candidates feel they would be in touch with Denver’s working families who make on average $94,000 a year.

Denver’s mayoral candidates on how they’re in touch with working families

A: Mike Johnston

I've spent the last two decades of my career serving working families all across the city of Denver, I started my career as a teacher and a school principal, know what it's like to be able to live on those salaries and have to be able to try to support a family in the city spend time as a state senator, where it is also not a well paid job. I was fortunate the last couple of years to work at a foundation and have the chance to lead it there. But all of my career has been focused on how we make sure we can support those families who are farthest from opportunity. That means for me, making sure everybody has access to a livable wage, it means making sure they have access to affordable housing, and make sure you get access to things we know we're driving up costs, like child care. And so I think that experience has been a huge benefit for me, including the more than 10 years I spent with the community office up in North Park Hill. We're neighbors who come in and out of my office every day to talk about the issues that were most relevant for them. I think that service and that connection to community, for me as a real driver for the policies I want to take on as the mayor.

A: Kelly Brough

I think for me, you know, my family grew up and I received assistance when I was a kid. So, my family knows what it's like to work multiple jobs and still need help to put food on your table, and keep a roof over your head. When I first moved to Denver for probably the first 20 or 25 years, my husband and I struggled. We were probably making maybe the median. But in that time, we could still buy a home. My parents helped care for our kids because we couldn't afford childcare. We too worked multiple jobs to try to figure out how to make ends meet and find a path forward. The difference today though, is - and the next mayor has to focus on this - is I believe today's residents should have the same exact opportunities where you can buy a home again in the city that you're working hard, where you can afford childcare. And I know we can assist with that. Where you can feel safe in your neighborhoods and your kids get the education they deserve in Denver Public Schools. Those are the things I'll focus on for Denver's working families.


On the topic of the housing crisis, we asked several questions, including digging deeper into why Denver’s building permits office has struggled to catch up with serious backlogs that delay development, including for affordable housing projects in the city. 

How would Denver’s mayoral candidates address the city’s affordable housing crisis

Kelly Brough

There's two things I would do. Denver is significantly behind today. And the reason this is so critical is this not only costs money on those apartments that are being built, but it costs money for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, for Habitat for Humanity, for affordable housing we're trying to build in our city, I would bring in contractors, there's companies who can help us catch up and really get behind that backlog, which is overwhelming. The second thing I do is restructure the Department. Today, it's very siloed. We have multiple departments from the Department of Forestry, the building code, the planning department, the fire department, the transportation department, all trying to coordinate this work, I'd make it one team, with one person in charge of it. Really focused on delivering customer service, and making sure we get that housing done more efficiently and more cost effectively.

Mike Johnston

I think the most important thing here that we see every day is we can't afford a Denver where Denverites can't afford to live. Right now we know the very residents who are serving the city, the teachers, nurses, firefighters, servers, 80% of those folks can't afford to live in this city tonight. And that is a dramatic problem we have to solve. And we're making that problem worse by having a permitting process that is so slow that it drives up the cost of those units. And it makes us wait longer and longer to get those units built. So, that was one of the reasons why I helped build a coalition of organizations around the state to take on our first statewide ballot measure to take on affordable housing, that was proposition 123, which passed last year. And a key part of that is not just putting $300 million a year each year into expanding more affordable housing, it's actually forcing cities and counties to move faster in the permitting process. So I would use those regulations to push to get a 90-day fast track approval process in Denver for affordable units. So, we know we can push those affordable projects to the front of the line. We can get them moving, we can get them built, we can get people housed in the units that they know they can afford, and they can afford to stay in.

Continuing on the topic of housing, both candidates have endorsed permanent supportive housing and short-term housing. But in places like Los Angeles, some neighborhoods are pushing back against building these types of communities. We asked if the candidates would guarantee that type of supportive housing will be available in every district? And if so, how would the candidate deal with eventual pushback?

Mike Johnston

I think that one of the things we know is that if we are going to be able to make the city more affordable, we have to build more affordable units. I've committed to a vision to build 25,000 units that are permanently affordable over the next eight years. And that would allow people who live in those units to not have to pay more than 30% of what they make to rent. And so if you're a teacher making $40,000 a year, you don't have to pay more than $1,000 a month, and you don't have to worry, your rent is gonna get jacked up each month because your rent doesn't go up unless your income goes up. And that allows us to bring density and to bring supportive housing around the city. I think we do want to focus on the places where we have access to public transit, we have access to light rail or to buses. So we can have more dense housing that don't always require everyone to have a car because they have an easy and convenient way to get to work. I think we want to bring affordable housing to all of the regions of Denver. But we also want to prioritize those places that have the best access to transit, as places where we can build the greatest density. And that's what I would work with neighborhoods to do.

Kelly Brough

To make a city work, we have to have a range of housing throughout our city. And the most important decision the next mayor can make is work with City Council on our land use. And this is where we have to build density where we've already made investments in our transit system, but our major bus routes, and this isn't just for affordability, this is also for our environment, for transportation reasons, air quality reasons, water usage. So, you'll see my administration really focus on building that more affordable housing, not just rent, but for sale as well throughout our city in every neighborhood, so that we're building where we should have density, but we're also building so our kids can access schools they never could have accessed.

Families can own homes and neighborhoods they never could have afforded. And I will look at publicly owned land to be able to deliver that product. So it's more affordable, like a land bank or land trust, and it will be throughout our city.


In April, Denver’s City Auditor released a report stating Denver spends more than it reports on homelessness including $3 million on outreach, $2.5 million on cleanups totaling around $13 million. It’s likely that figure is higher. With that number in mind, candidate Brough has said the use of arrests would be a last resort option. We asked if she would stand by that and knowing there is a shortage of Denver police officers, where would the resources come from to arrest people?

How each Denver mayoral candidate would specifically address homelessness

Kelly Brough

I have to emphasize what the auditor is focused on in his audit is the cost of continually sweeping people and how ineffective that is. And so I'm proposing we actually stopped doing that, and instead with urgency, we get people to safer safe outdoor sites, indoor when we can, but safe outdoor sites. So we stopped sweeping people, and we actually start to save lives. In that process, if somebody refuses to go or more importantly, isn't capable of making that decision for themselves, I have said I would take them to a place like Denver Cares that we have today. This is a facility for someone who's intoxicated or high and can't take care of themselves. And I would take people to those locations to take care of them through this process.

Mike Johnston’s plan to address homelessness includes building micro communities of tiny homes. We asked how his plan would prioritize who gets the first pick of those units.

Mike Johnston

And I'm glad to come back to this. I don't think arresting people who are homeless is the answer. I think the answer is getting people access to housing, getting people access to housing that have the supportive services we know people need. An example is I was talking to a guy outside of a shelter a few weeks ago, who had a construction hat in his bag and was saying that he's been working construction, but ended up homeless again, after 11 months of work, because he had to choose between going to get a shift for construction at 5:30 in the morning, or go into the methadone clinic where he's getting treatment to get off his addiction. And because he had to choose treatment, he missed the shift, couldn't pay the rent and was back on the street. That's not someone that needs to be arrested, that someone that needs access to housing needs access to services, exactly that support. What we know is that if we create this kind of housing, we know there's people who want to go there and overwhelming numbers. And so that's why we want to build this scale quickly. These tiny homes can be built quickly. We can convert hotels quickly, that allows us to move people to those sites that we know they overwhelmingly want to go. And so for me, that's how we solve it, we can solve it with real speed.

Both Johnston and Brough have delivered plans addressing the needs of unhoused community members. We asked a question from the Sun Valley Community Coalition on each candidate’s plan to address the need for affordable housing for low income Denverites and the missing middle that does not displace current residents.

Mike Johnston

I'm so glad that you raised this because this is what we're finding. There's a huge gap of affordable housing, not just for folks that are unhoused, but for people that are working full jobs, sometimes two full jobs still can't get access to housing. This is why it's so important to make sure we have housing that we can guarantee people is affordable, and will stay affordable. So my proposal will build these 25,000 units or convert existing units to be permanently affordable. So people can get access to them at any income level. If you're making $20,000 a year or $30,000 a year or $60,000 a year. We know we have families that are married couples making $80,000 a year that still can't afford to raise kids in the city. And this links your rent to what you're actually making. And so you don't have a scenario where someone's paying 50% of what they make to income, or sorry to rent. That's what's happening around the city right now. And that's what's making it impossible for people to stay in the city for so for me that priority is about meeting people at whatever income level they're at, and making sure they can get access to housing that doesn't burden them and keep them from being able to pay for food for their kids or transportation or the rest of the medication or core services families need.

Kelly Brough

This is so key because I think we have to start thinking about housing as the continuum that it really is. So while I'll focus on, you know, hardworking families and how we make sure they stay, I'm going to tie it back to - this is all part of how we also address unhoused in our city and prevent it. And so for me, I think what has worked in other cities that I think is extremely promising is something called master leasing, where either your housing authority or a nonprofit we would create would start to master lease, in essence, negotiate leases in mass, and we'd be able to pass that reduced rent and hold it flat for years to our own residents. We know two things about that. One, it allows us to rehouse people who are unhoused today, and over 40% are estimated to have jobs, so we know that will help us. But it also allows hardworking families to not lose their homes and prevent homelessness. Because in that instance, the master lease signer gets a phone call before someone's evicted, and we start to get ahead of the challenge we face today.


On the topic of the migrant surge, Denver’s chief financial officer estimated the city will have spent up to $20 million caring for migrants by June. With more than 10,000 migrants arriving in the city, Denver is spending around $1,000 per week per migrant. The federal government has reimbursed less than $1 million of that cost forcing the city to rely on community partnerships to help people. We asked each candidate what more should the city be doing to curb these costs.

How Denver mayoral candidates Johnston, Brough would handle migrant surge

Kelly Brough

I got the chance in December when we had the first influx of migrants to volunteer…… and see firsthand the incredible response our city has conducted. And frankly, we should all be proud of what we've done. But I think as you point out, Anne, it is not sustainable – what we're doing today. So, a few things we can do differently. It's estimated about 70% of the migrants coming to our city today are actually trying to get to another city. So this is where I think we have to ask the federal government to start coordinating at the border. So we actually get people where they're trying to go, and they're not being shuffled around our nation. Because that's a huge part of that expense today. But the second reality is we're telling people who are coming here seeking refugee status, that it will take months and months – best case, probably six (months) and years before we know if they receive that status in our nation. And meanwhile, you can't work. My priority will be allowing people to work until they can find out what their status is.

Mike Johnston

I was speaking to some of the migrants last week about this. And they'll all tell the same story. Everyone come up to me and said, ‘hey, where can I find a job? Where can I find a place to work? I want to work, what are the options?’ And at the same time, I have business leaders calling me and saying, ‘Hey, I have so many jobs I can't fill. How can I hire those folks’? So the only challenge we have right now is we have people in this country who want to work, we have businesses who want to hire them. And we have a federal government who won't get out of the way to let those employers hire those people who want to get to work. And so I would push President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas (Department of Homeland Security) to say these folks should have temporary protective status now. They should be able to get to work right now, while we're waiting to see what their long term status is. But it doesn't serve them or us to have them here, not able to do what they want, which is to support themselves. And the second is, we have to find ways to solve cost as a community. The city doesn't have to do this all on our own, we should reach out to churches and nonprofits and community partners, other regional partners to say, Denver doesn't have to carry all this cost on our own. We don't have to pay rent and hotels every single night. Where do we have community partners who can help solve this housing? I think that's a much better way to go about it.

Following up, we asked how as mayor, each candidate would reach out to Denver’s neighboring communities to take some of the burden off local nonprofits, who are facing a financial burden helping migrants in the short term.

Mike Johnston

For me, there's a step that I do even before that, which is – right now I would call El Paso – because right now, most of these migrants are coming from El Paso, and they're being put on a bus to Denver with no knowledge, they're coming to Denver or no desire to stay in Denver. We could help ease a lot of this pressure by working with El Paso in advance to say, if you have folks that know they're trying to get to Boston are trying to get to Chicago, let's put them on a bus to Chicago in the first place, not come to Denver as a first stop. And then when we know what that volume is, we can work with our neighboring communities to say, alright, what capacity does Denver have? And what capacity could Colorado Springs have? What capacity could Fort Collins have? What capacity could Grand Junction have? This is what we did after Katrina in New Orleans, and we knew there were refugees coming to Colorado. We partnered in advance, we worked with other municipalities, we identified locations, and we moved people to places where we knew there was staff and support. We can do the same thing here, it just takes a more proactive approach and more regional partnership to make sure we get it done.

Kelly Brough

For me, I do what I've already done as a candidate. We have a number of organizations, the Metro mayor's caucus, I think, is one of the strongest that really brings together all of this region's mayors. I've met with a number of mayors in this region, and I talked with them about my homeless plan. And then I believe we actually can't address our unhoused population unless we actually work together. And seven mayors in the metro area have endorsed my homeless plan and me as a candidate. I would do the same kind of work on issues like this. And frankly, other issues that we face, from transportation to air quality, to climate issues. We have to do these things as a region. But I would use more than just the Metro mayor's caucus. We also have the Colorado counties incorporated CCI, we have the Colorado Municipal League. Those are all structures that are perfectly situated to allow us to come in and begin those partnerships immediately.


In December 2022, the average monthly cost of childcare in Denver was $1,575 – a cost burden for many families. Supply of care is also an issue. For example, some families face an overwhelming wait list for child care and closings like that of the Wonder Academy in the Golden Triangle neighborhood compound the issue. We asked how each candidate would address the lack of child care facilities in Denver.

What Denver’s mayoral candidates would do about rising childcare costs

Kelly Brough

Such a huge issue. Is a huge issue for my family as I raised my daughters, and it's even more challenging today. And like so many families, frankly, my parents are who saved us and helped us raise our daughters because we couldn't afford childcare in our city. Today, we do have the Denver preschool program. It's up for reauthorization in 2026, I think, which means we'll start looking at that reauthorization by 2024. I would start partnering in our community of early childcare providers and talk about if we could move the age down on that given that we now have full-day K and preschool support from the state and see if we could get to more families earlier with the financial support and the quality programs that it offers. But here's the real issue, we have to address pay. If we're going to have enough workers to provide the care that we need, we have to address the pay of the workers in this field. And I would work with that same group to come up with solutions to address that issue.

Mike Johnston

After housing, we know that childcare is the single most difficult cost that families face right now. This is one we have to take action on. I'm proud I've been working on this for the last several years, we actually worked with a broad coalition of leaders around the state to bring universal preschool to Colorado with the 2020 ballot measure. That's going to make a huge difference for four year olds and family's ability to get access to preschool for those four year olds. And also that means in Denver, we allowed it for the Denver preschool program to move that support down to expand to more three year olds, so we'll be able to expand that care. But there are a couple things we have to continue to do. One is we need more actual providers. We live in a childcare desert, where it's too many neighborhoods that don't have access to providers at all. So we want to help ramp up and scale more providers. That includes things like in downtown Denver using vacant office spaces to be able to retrofit those for childcare facilities to folks bringing their kids downtown can place them there. That means training more people who want to enter into being childcare providers. And that's a great pipeline for us to get them to become teachers. But we have to be able to both train those people, prepare them, pay them and get them access to sites where they can teach.


Shifting to the topic of Denver’s economy. Denver7 has heard from the community concerned about crime, safety and the impact hybrid work has had on decreasing foot traffic to local businesses. We asked both candidates what three specific ideas they have to help revive Denver’s business districts.

Denver mayor candidates on the city’s economy, jobs and state of downtown

Mike Johnston

I do think you mentioned some of the most important parts of reviving business, which is when I talk to business leaders today, particularly about downtown, they'll say – and my employees felt the same way – they're worried about their safety and downtown. So for me, that's the start of making sure we put more first responders onto the street. I've come out to say we should put 200 more first responders. That means, yes, officers that are out walking beats and being visible in neighborhoods to talk to business leaders and residents. It means mental health and paramedics when we need those, I think that's an important step. The second is getting folks who are unhoused access to housing and services and stability. That's really important. But the third is encouraging people to come back downtown, particularly to work. That means doing things like I've proposed partnering with business to make commuting to and from downtown, free for commuters on public transit, light rail and bus lines. Free for college kids or students, supportive of seniors, so it's easier to get to and from downtown, you can have childcare facilities now downtown, and you know, you have a safer, more stable downtown. Those things will make the biggest difference and getting a downtown it's gonna be vibrant again.

Kelly Brough

I've committed to end unsanctioned camping my first year. And this is just so important that people have a safer place to be, housing and shelter that they can be at. I think that will help our downtown tremendously. But I also believe we have to start to focus on increasing residential downtown. Where we get people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and today we are losing office buildings and other cities have found transitioning some of those office buildings to residential, really helps restore the vibrancy of your downtown. I also believe we have to focus on the completion of the mall. There's no question that that construction is impacting your experience downtown and feelings of isolation. So I'd really focus to make sure we stay on time and maybe earlier so we can complete that construction and start to rebuild and create the events that invite people to be part of our downtown again.

Mayor Hacock has said remote work has promoted employment and retention, yet enacted a policy that requires many city employees to be at their desk at least three days a week. We asked if the candidates feel city employees should be a part of the solution to promote economic activity in downtown Denver.

Kelly Brough

When I think about the responsibility of the mayor in terms of the workforce, it's about how can we best deliver customer service, deliver deliver results. And so I will really focus on every single decision being about supporting our customers and that looks different. We have a number of city employees who come in every single day, they didn't get a break during the pandemic. We have others who maybe have flexibility. There's no question that employees are downtown, probably about the same amount that our private sector employees are downtown today. I think we could look at how could we increase the times, the work locations even, even if it's not in the office, and I think this has to be true for a private sector and public sector. Because the public sector alone is not going to be able to revitalize our downtown. But I think together, with strategies that bring workers here or funner activities – things we do before and after work – I think could also help revitalize it.

Mike Johnston

Yes, I do believe we want to encourage more workers to come to work downtown. That means private sector businesses, that means our own workers. And I'll tell you this is not just a – it would be nice to have more people in downtown – this is a fundamental equity issue for the city. If you are someone who works as a server at a restaurant, and you don't have a lunch shift anymore, that's a huge impact on your income every month. If you're someone who works at a retail shop downtown, and you don't have an 8 to 4 shift anymore during the day, that's a huge impact on your family's income. And we know a lot of those jobs that don't have the privilege of being able to be remote, are relying on a lot of us to be able to be back in person to not just revive the vibrance of downtown, but to make sure those people whose jobs depend on us have the ability to get that access to services. So, I see our city employees, certainly the folks that I appoint, and the city employees we work with, as part of that call the service. Our fundamental mission is to help revive the city. And part of that work for us is to make sure we revive downtown. Of course, there's still ways to have flexibility and figure out what people need department by department. But we will push to try to make sure all of the city's employees can come and help us revive downtown and we'll be part of that.

The following round of questions are for simple yes and no responses from the candidates.

Denver mayor candidate answers on trash service, rank-choice voting, snow plowing and pickleball courts

Do you support Denver residents paying for trash service through the city’s new fee?

Mike Johnston: Yes.

Kelly Brough: Yes.

Do you support rank choice voting?

Kelly Brough: Yes.

Mike Johnston: Yes.

Should Denver add more pickleball courts?

Kelly Brough: Yes.

Mike Johnston: Yes.

Should Denver change its snow plowing policy?

Mike Johnston: Yes.

Kelly Brough: No.

Would you support taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Denver Broncos?

Kelly Brough: Only with a vote.

Mike Johnston: No.

Are the Denver Nuggets going to make history and go all the way?

Mike Johnston: Yes!

Kelly Brough: Of course they are! And how about that game last night?


During Denver7’s mayoral debate, former candidate Lisa Calderón, who placed third in the general election, asked the candidates the first question on the topic of equity. She asks, with nearly half of Denver residents being people of color with the largest share being Latinos at about 34%, would each candidate as mayor appoint women of color to their leadership and transition teams?

Denver mayoral candidates share vision for equity in their administration

Kelly Brough

Absolutely. But let me describe the process I want to go through because it's exciting. I look at those cabinet positions as the most critical decision that I'll make as your mayor. And so I will create stakeholder groups – community coming together to help identify who are the best applicants. And this kind of process works for two reasons. One is, by having diverse stakeholders help look at resumes, identify critical issues, we'll get the chance to ensure everyone who applies, really gets careful consideration. But my experience is, it also encourages really diverse applicants and top talent to apply. The second reason I'll do it this way, and I'll hire from the top qualified candidates that that stakeholder group recommends – is because it also means that we hire someone that our stakeholders, people who care deeply about that job now are invested in – that there's ownership and together we can begin the work immediately. I think we'll make more progress and have more success. That's what my process will look like.

Mike Johnston

Thank you, Dr. Calderón for the question. Absolutely. The answer is we will ensure that we have both incredibly diverse transition teams and incredibly diverse leadership teams, including making sure women of color are heavily represented in those moments. I've had the chance to lead in different roles over the course of my life, starting as a school principal. Led three different schools around the metro area. And in each of those places, one of the most important keys to success is making sure you have diverse leaders around you who have connections to the community, to the kids to the neighborhood who have different lived experiences - that always makes a leadership group stronger. The same was true when I was in the State Senate and open to community office in North Park Hill, we had the chance to be both leading with community and neighbors and also making sure that those community leaders had voices. In our policy work, we created a citizens cabinet which was made up of all of those neighbors who had experienced lived experience or expertise on a given topic who could help inform the policies that we chose – did that as a foundation leader, and will absolutely do that, as the next mayor is to make sure we have a cabinet that looks like our city. And we have a transition team. It looks like our city.

Following up on the topic of equity is a question from Servicios de la Raza asking how each candidate intends to increase resources for community-led initiatives by community-based organizations of color.

Mike Johnston

I've been proud to partner with Servicios de la Raza in the past and proud to have the support of Anita and Rudy, who are working so hard to make that happen there. What we know is that the city can't solve all these problems on their own. And the only way we get big problems solved is by actually being able to partner with nonprofits who have the most expertise – they're the closest to the problem – and they have the relationships that are able to deliver really transformational results in our neighborhoods. So the way I would approach it is to say, ‘What's the big problem we're trying to solve?’ Whether that's homelessness, whether that's mental health support, whether that's affordable housing? And then who are the community leaders that are closest to that problem? Who are the ones that have real insight into what's working and what's not? How do we get them at the table to help us design the solution, and then have them at the table to help us decide how to deliver the services and the programs that people need. And how to make sure we can put the best programs and the best people connected to those services so that we know people are getting services from committee members they know and trust that are delivering real results on the taxpayer dollars that we're using.

Kelly Brough

I will absolutely engage our community and our diverse community partners in this work. And I'll give you an example of how I've done it in my history. When I was CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in 2018, we set out to address the inequities we saw in our economy around race and gender. And what we did is engage exactly these community partners to identify the most critical issues, but more importantly, the strategies and the approaches to remove barriers. So we could address homeownership in our region, and address the fact that people of color are less likely to own a home to address the income inequities that we see for gender and race and to address and even educational attainment. When we did the work that way, what we found is our community partners could identify the barriers, and we were way more successful at removing those barriers and addressing the issue. I do the same thing as your mayor. Partner with our community so we can get the issues right, and get the strategies right and make progress.


Safety and crime are top priorities for voters in Denver. On this topic, we begin by turning over the mic to former mayoral candidate Andy Rougeot, who placed fourth in the general election. He asked, with Denver seeing almost a tripling of murders in the past 10 years and with the city becoming a car theft capital, would either candidate commit to an increase in funding for more police on the streets. 

Denver mayoral candidates on crime, public safety and increasing funding for police

Kelly Brough

My focus and good to hear from you, Andy, my focus on this is we have an authorized strength of 1,600 today, and we're about 150 officers still short. I attended the academy graduation of 37. This was about a month ago, and I've met with the new academy class, which has about 57 officers in it. We're building, but I'm gonna guess we're still going to be about 100 short, even with that. My commitment is to hit the 1,600 and to focus on increasing our mental health professionals, our star responders, so we free our officers up to be at the issues we most critically need them to be at. By doing that, I think we can address both of the issues. To your point Andy, of making sure we respond and can address the community safety issues from a police perspective, but also serve our community on the mental health issues that they need us on today.

Mike Johnston

We know you can't feel at home in a city where you don't feel safe. If you ever had the experience of walking out your front of your house to your car being stolen or coming home to your house being robbed or having to sit at your kitchen table and talk to your kids about their fears of school shootings – You know how real that is. And so I do believe to take this on, it's going to require more officers and more first responders. That's why I've committed to putting 200 more first responders onto the street. That would include both officers would include mental health workers, and would include paramedics and EMTs. But it also means deploying them to a different kind of job. It means recruiting those people from the communities that they serve. So they represent the neighborhoods that they're going to serve. It means training them differently, to have them be able to be experts in how to build relationships and de-escalate conflict. And it means deploying them to a different type of job. I want back a real version of community-based policing, where we have officers that are walking neighborhoods, they're visible, they're talking to neighbors, they're giving you their business cards, you can see them and ask them a question. And they can do what I did as a school principal, which is be out in the hallways to stop bad decisions before they happen.

Continuing on the subject of policing and safety, the next question comes from Reverend Ben Sanders of New Hope Baptist Church. He asks, what policies each candidate would enact to create a system that holds bad police officers accountable?

Mike Johnston

Great to see you, Ben. And always great to see you preach – you people should show up at New Hope and hear him. I do think a really important part of this is accountability. You know, I'd say there's certain professions where we expect incredibly high levels of execution. You don't go to DIA and get on an airplane and say, ‘Oh, it's great. This airline has 70% of their pilots are pretty good. But the other 30% continue to crash.’ When you have high levels of public safety involved in something like a police officer, we should expect high levels of accountability. And this is a place where Kelly and I have different opinions. I supported the legislation that put in place officer accountability, including meaning if someone violated someone's constitutional rights, the way that the folks did that killed George Floyd, they could be accountable and civilly liable. I want to keep that accountability in place. I don't think we should go back on it. And I want to make sure we both recruit a well-prepared and trained force, but also that we hold people accountable to the highest standards. Because when you have that public trust, you have to make sure you deliver on it. I think we should expect that of every officer.

Kelly Brough

Yeah, let me first say, Mike, that's a misrepresentation. I do support that legislation. And to the question, let me focus on, I've been endorsed by the almost 1,500 police officers who serve our city every single day, and by the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance, representing over 40 black churches. I appreciate this question, because I think this is exactly what the next mayor has to do is bring our community together to address these kinds of issues, where we prove we're capable of holding our officers accountable, and at the same time supporting them. And there is no relationship in our life where both of those things don't have to be true. I would use the office of the independent monitor to help do this work, which is already in place and established. We also have a Director of the Department of Safety, who's a civilian who oversees some of this work, but just as importantly to me is – a focus on changing our police department in the culture becoming more transparent, so we can gain trust with community and also ensure we're getting constant feedback to improve our service.

Finally, on the subject of safety and crime, both candidates have discussed that by the time a crime happens, the mayor already has failed constituents. With that in mind, how can a mayor effectively prevent crime?

Kelly Brough

This is a space that comes from some experience when I was John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff when he was mayor. And the chief of police came to me one May, with concerns about we were seeing a rise in violence among our youth. And instead of simply adding officers, what we did is for the first time in Denver's history, we opened our rec centers for free. And what we saw that summer is we saw both our kids as victims of crime, but also committing crime – both went down. To this day, our rec centers are free. What you'll see is every single member of my cabinet, focus on what they control in terms of the drivers of crime. And we know what they are. Stable housing, so we'll focus on making sure our families are in stable housing. We’ll focus on access to economic opportunity through our Department of Economic Development. We'll focus on making sure our kids have recreational opportunities, are forming relationships with peers and adults. We’ll focus on supporting Denver Public Schools to deliver the education that gives our kids hope and a possible future. Those are the things that will reduce crime in our city.

Mike Johnston

I think that's important. This topic is about three things. It's about prevention, it's about intervention, and it's about safety. The prevention steps are: the best way to keep a 17-year-old from getting his hands on a gun is to make sure that that child when he's 12 gets his hands on a passion – a sense of purpose, a sense of commitment, the thing that gets you up in the morning, keeps you in positive peer groups. And for me, that's why I would support expanding a program we established that would allow kids to get access to after school and summer school programming in areas of their passion, whether it's arts, whether it's athletics, whether it's science, whether it's math, that's critical. Second is, when we know that there is a 13 or 14 or 15 year old, or any person who's made some initial bad decisions and is getting into the criminal justice system – that's when you have to really provide wrap-around intervention, therapy, counseling support intervention from any of the school based violence we've seen, we had early indications those young people were at risk, we didn't give them the intervention that they need. And third is we have to have people in the settings where they're most likely to be safe. That may mean alternative schools or alternative settings for young people and intervention and probation for adults.


Switching gears to school safety at Colorado’s largest school district. After the shooting death of a student and another shooting that injured two Deans at East High School, a Denver7 Investigation uncovered dozens of students currently on pat down protocols at DPS schools. We asked the candidates how as mayor, each could make effective change in a district where you have no oversight.

Denver mayoral candidates Johnston, Brough debate school safety at DPS

Mike Johnston

As a school principal, I've navigated this problem multiple times, which is you have young people that have different sets of needs. I ran alternative schools that serve kids with very serious criminal histories. And we were well-suited to support those young people. And so I think that means if someone has a gun background, and they've been expelled for bringing a gun to school before, it doesn't mean the best placement for them as in a 3,000 student comprehensive high school. There are smaller alternative settings where we can give that student a great public education, but actually still make sure that that young person is safe, and the rest of the students around him or her are safe. What I would do here is I would partner more directly with the school district. I would make sure we reinstitute the school district coordinating committee where you have city council people and school board members, Mayor and Superintendent sitting down and talking. I would work on more of the after school and summer program, work on more than mental health support we can provide through Denver Health to the district. And in places where we disagree, I would make that clear to and be able to call out publicly what I think the district needs to do. But we want to start with partnership, but make sure we're never compromising people's public safety.

Kelly Brough

I would definitely focus on the partnership aspect from, as you point out Anne, the mayor doesn't have direct control over our schools. And so here's a few things from my experience as chief of staff. We ran the city school coordinating committee, which brought together school board members in the superintendent, the mayor and city council. And you could talk about these issues and explore solutions together. But it resulted in really meaningful advances like the city of Denver started picking up trash for our school district to save the money. So they didn't have to pay a contractor to do it. I think that same kind of expertise could come from our police department on what are strategies to make our schools safe, what are strategies to ensure our kids are safe, and that there's alternatives for kids who maybe aren't ready or prepared to be in our schools. I also think though this is where we have to restore confidence in our school board. And in November, there's three seats up, and I would advocate for three people in November who restore confidence that they're running our school district, both educating our kids and keeping them safe.

Denver7’s Anne Trujillo followed up on this point asking if both candidates would be willing to be vocal on who is running for the school board and let the public know who each support.

Mike Johnston: Yes.

Kelly Brough: Yes.


The next topic covers transportation. RTD provides nearly all of the diverse transit services, yet faces long term budget issues, isn’t affordable for all Denverites and doesn’t reach all neighborhoods. Is it the city government’s responsibility to step up and pay for more transit services in the city? If so, what would be each candidate’s approach?

Denver mayoral candidates lay out approaches to address transportation issues facing the city

Kelly Brough

Yeah, we're seeing it already, Deseret, where the city of Denver is looking at bus rapid transit on Colfax. I'll be looking at it on Colorado Boulevard, Federal Boulevard – huge opportunities. But I've also met with the general manager at RTD. I've met with some of the board members there to talk about the challenge, we have to make that system work. It's a massive investment. But it's critical for air quality, for transportation, all those issues, and frankly, affordability. And so some of the things I'm encouraged that they're looking at is bringing that price down, I think we have to bring the price down for our employers to afford an eco pass to extremely low levels where every employer says: I'm buying that eco pass, particularly for our transit dependent employees, because it is so expensive to buy it on your own. I also think, and this is what I talked to RTD about, I think our students should ride for free, both our high school kids and our college students. These are trains and buses that are running already. Putting our kids on them is not an increase in expense. But it is an increase in utilization. And so I would partner with them to do those kinds of things.

Mike Johnston

I do think this is a real crisis where our current transit system is not being used well, for a couple of reasons. One is, people find it not always safe, they find it not always convenient, they find it not always reliable, and often not always affordable. And so, there are things we have to do to change a number of those. There are some easy first steps. Our residents who work at the airport have to pay to use public transit to get there, which means they're in cars, adding more traffic to Peña Boulevard and having to pay for parking. We should make it easier for those employees to get to and from work on transit. We should also make it easier as I laid out earlier to get people to and from work downtown on public transit and be able to get access to those eco passes for free. What that would mean is more encouragement, people using transit and more ability for them to get to downtown, which is a neighborhood we want to revive anyway. Right now actually, part of the reasons why it feels unsafe is because there aren't enough riders. By putting more riders onto the RTD, we both actually get more safety, and we can get more reliability of routes. Because the more riders we have, the more routes we can generate, the more frequent the bus or light rail becomes, the more likely folks are to use it.

Staying on transportation, Denver’s approach to streets has changed. We’re learning how to divide that space between drivers and cyclists, scooters and pedestrians. Is Denver on the right path when it comes to adding more protected lanes for non-vehicle uses? And if so, how would you navigate the recurring tensions in neighborhoods such as when street parking is taken away by the city?

Mike Johnston

We know we have to do both. And we know that there are a lot of folks like me with three kids who got to run a lot of errands or aren't gonna be able to always use public transit to get to and from their next spot. So we do have to continue to make sure that we have accessible and easy to navigate roads for cars. But we do want to every chance we can – find a way to make it easier for folks to get out of cars. That means yes, if you are a biker, or bike commuter or want to take your family out for a ride, that means dedicated bike lanes that are safe. That means they either have a median between the bike lane and the drivers, or they have the sticks, or they have the ability to have an elevated road, something that provides real safety for you to take your daughter or your mother out on a ride. That's important. But we also can be able to build a network of maps. So you know, if you're trying to get from southeast Denver to downtown or from northwest to southeast, you know what those routes are, and how to get on them and access them. And so we can do both, we can both make it easy for vehicles, but we can also encourage people to get out of vehicles to get onto bikes and get into public transit. That's also why we want to build more of our housing around public transit to make it easier for folks to not have to have cars at all.

Kelly Brough

I've commuted for 30 years on my bike. And so I have a lot of experience of understanding how great it can be. And in the beginning, when I started commuting, it was to save money on gas and parking. And so I think it's critically important that we make sure people have this option and it feels safe. But I also worry about – we have a vision zero. Vision Zero is that we kill zero pedestrians and zero cyclists on their bike, and we're heading in the wrong direction. I am pro not killing people on their bike. So I really think we have to do a quick check to make sure we're making the right investments in the right place. I don't mean to slow it down. I mean to actually speed it up, so that we get this right and we are keeping people safe and our kids feel safe riding to school and we feel safe running errands or riding to work. And without doing that we are never going to address the challenges we face in transportation or air quality or our environment. So I'm very committed to addressing this for all residents.

Taking up the topic of Vision Zero, the plan to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, what would need to be reset? How do you fix the vision and reverse the trend?

Kelly Brough

I think this is where we see other cities around the nation actually making great progress on their vision zero. They're seeing their numbers decline in people dying in traffic, or in interaction with traffic. And so what I would do is look at those cities that are making great progress and ask the question: What are they doing? And what do we need to change anything we're doing. But I've also seen more recently, some studies that show if we could focus on the highest accident areas where we're seeing those collisions and make improvements there, I'm also going to guess we could see drastic improvement very quickly. So I would focus on the data that tells us where our problems and those collisions literally are occurring, so we can make the improvements as a priority in those areas.

Mike Johnston

I think there are a couple of key steps. One is we do want to provide, as we discussed, as many incentives as possible for folks to get out of vehicles. And part of that means access to public transit. Another is being deliberate about how we try to build and develop neighborhoods, which was what we many of us want is the ability to have walkable neighborhoods where you can build housing that is connected to commercial and retail where you can come out of your house, you can walk to the grocery store, you can walk to a restaurant, you can walk to your kids school. And we know the places where we have those kinds of neighborhoods that are walkable, we see less traffic deaths, where we have places where you have massive major throughways coming in the middle of residential neighborhoods. And it's hard to pass there aren't easy pedestrian walkways, there aren't easy biking walkways or biking ways that really affects the safety. So it's a matter of both being deliberate about building a bike infrastructure around the city, giving people access to public transit, but also being thoughtful about how we're developing neighborhoods. So they're built for pedestrians and for bikers, so you're not trying to put a pedestrian in the middle of a six-lane road.


Moving to climate change, as part of a bustling metro, should there be a unified climate vision for the entire Front Range? As mayor, how could you lead that effort?

How the Denver Mayoral candidates differ on combating climate change

Mike Johnston

We live in a city that many people choose to move to or choose to stay in because of its proximity to the natural environment. That is part of Denver's essential brand. We also live in a city right now that tragically is one of six or seven worst in the country in terms of air quality. So that means in any given day you might want to take your mom or your daughter out for a hike this summer, you're not sure you’ll able to do that without putting some of their health at risk. We can't afford to keep that as the future for Denver. That's why I think it takes aggressive action to be able to move us towards a greener climate. Yes, I would partner with the region to be able to do it. But I also don't want to wait for the rest of the region. One of the opportunities Denver has is we don't have to wait for the federal government to act or wait for the state government to act. We can move aggressively to move off of fossil fuels – move to electrify our residential and commercial buildings, and use wind and solar to be able to power our resources around the city. So we are both building our economy and making it greener. And we can do that with a rely on equity and making sure we're getting resources to those communities that need it the most.

Kelly Brough

Yes, yes, and yes – I'm going to say to this question. Listen, we can do all the things Mike just said and make huge advancements in Denver. But the concern is we can't make the impact we need to make by going it alone. And so I really would focus on how do we bring the region, even the state with us in a commitment to make these goals that we have laid out. And here's the good news, we have serious resources available to us. And I think when we start to bring more partners into the work, I think we're going to increase the likelihood we could bring those resources home through the inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Jobs Act, this is an opportunity for us to look throughout our region, and make sure we're investing in those communities who have been the most negatively impacted in our history. We've made a commitment of 50% of our funds going directly into those communities. And I would work with people throughout our region to ask they make the same commitment, and do exactly the same work with us so we can have the kind of impact we have to have as we make this transition.


The next question specifically for candidate Mike Johnston. After running several campaigns for several offices, we asked if Johnston would commit to voters to fulfill a full term as Denver Mayor if elected?

Denver Mayoral candidates share how they would lead the city

Mike Johnston

Absolutely, I will commit to that. My entire reason for being in this race is that I believe deeply in Denver. I know that we have some real challenges to solve, but I am deeply committed to making sure we solve them. And so I'm an all in to make sure we can be the first city to say we took on major challenges around homelessness and we're able to make historic successes in both getting people access to services and being able to get access back for everyone to use our sidewalks in our public parks. We can be able to make this a city that's both thriving economically and still one where everybody can afford to live. And we can make it both safe and protected in all of our neighborhoods. That's why I'm in this race. I was out of politics for four years working at a foundation, committed to solving these problems, and saw a real opportunity where the right mayor with the right vision could actually deliver something transformatively different… I'm entirely committed to doing that and excited to partner with this city over the next eight years to get it done.

Next, we asked Kelly Brough about her decade-long role serving as President and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. During that time, did Brough ever advocate for a position that she morally disagreed with?

Kelly Brough

This is an interesting question, because I have obviously reflected a lot in the last six months about the work I did at the chamber. And for me, I think about – there's kind of a combination of two issues here. One is the stereotype of who the chamber is. And I think about who the chamber is: 3,000 members, has a 55-member board who guides those positions. Those 3,000 members, 80% of them are small businesses, who are often led by women and people of color, LGBTQ+ community. And I think about the work they did, where they drove immigration reform around the nation with other business leaders. They helped open primaries for unaffiliated voters in our state, stood up to their own membership in oil and gas when we felt it wasn't the right approach that they were suggesting for our state. Helped fund college for DPS graduates. So I've never thought of it as a difference in a moral obligation. I do understand, I might have taken a different position on something. But I also know these are people who care deeply about our community just like you and I do.


Closing the Denver7 Mayoral Debate, we asked both candidates for closing statements including to explain what sets each other apart and why they want to be the next Mayor of Denver.

Hear why Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough want to be Denver’s next mayor

Kelly Brough

I'm running for this job because, the truth is every beautiful thing I have in my life, I have because I chose Denver, and I'm so grateful my family chose Denver. And I share the same vision you have for our city as residents here, a vision where you too can create a community and raise your family – where you could start a business. Or you could afford to buy a home again. Where your kids get the education that they deserve. Where you have access to real economic opportunity. Where we house and shelter those who are most vulnerable, where we all feel safe in our neighborhoods. And I know that vision is possible, because I've led the city before when I was John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff. My experience tells me I have the skills and the ability to lead our city and bring back just what I described to you – our shared vision. I would love to have your vote and your support so we can get to work.

Mike Johnston

I do think there are real differences on our approach on these things. I'm proud of the time I've spent dedicating myself to progressive battles for working families, things like supporting expanding minimum wage and supporting expanding family medical leave – things on which Kelly's had a different approach. But that's not I think the biggest question the city faces, the question we face is what is possible for the city? What's the vision for the Denver we all want to build. And for me, the vision I have is a city where you can take your kids out to any neighborhood in Denver on a Friday night and sit on the 16th Street Mall and have a beer and they can run around behind you not worry once about their safety. It’s a city we can take those same kids and drop them off to kindergarten and have that teacher sweep them up in their arms and give them a hug. And you know, that teacher can still afford to live in this city that she serves. And it is a city where yes, you can walk around through any of our neighborhoods at any time and not have to see anybody who has to sleep on the streets. That’s a Denver we can build. And that's a Denver I'm committed to building together with your help.

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