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Denver To Elect A New Mayor For The First Time Since 2011

Democrats Brough and Johnston promise to address affordability, public safety, and homelessness.


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

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

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.” 

“The mayor is powerful … [and] often described as the strongest elected position in the state,” Harris added.

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 both Democrats. Denver’s last Republican mayor was Richard Batterton, who served from 1959 to 1963. 

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


in  on ,  Former Denver Metro Chamber CEO Kelly Brough, left, and former State Sen. Mike Johnston comfort each other after a mayoral runoff debate hosted at Regis University in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, May 11, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post) 

Brough’s endorsers include former Gov. Bill Ritter (D), former mayors Bill Vidal (D) and Wellington Webb (D), the Denver Police Protective Association, and the Marijuana Industry Group. The Republican Party of Denver also endorsed Brough. Andy Rougeot, the only Republican candidate to run this year, did not advance to the runoff. 

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

Johnston’s endorsers include U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D), former Mayor Federico Peña, and a number of local unions, including the Denver Area Labor Federation. Six candidates who ran in the April general election but did not advance to the runoff, including third-place finisher Lisa Calderón and fifth-place finisher Leslie Herod, also endorsed Johnston. 

An April poll found 38.9% of respondents supported Johnston and 34.1% supported Brough, a difference within the poll’s 4.8% 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.

A new construction crane looms over an encampment of unhoused people near 20th and Curtis in the City of Denver. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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

Johnston said the city had to 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 is the most populous city in Colorado and the 19th most populous city in the U.S. Twenty-nine of the 100 most populous cities, including Denver, are holding mayoral elections this year. Twelve of those have already taken place, and 17 are scheduled to take place later in the year. Of those, the elections in Jacksonville, Florida, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, are the only ones to have resulted in partisan change. Heading into the year, 20 of those cities had a Democratic mayor, six had a Republican mayor, two mayors were independent or nonpartisan, and one mayor’s partisan affiliation was unknown.

As of May 2023, Democrats hold 62 top-100 mayoral offices, Republicans hold 26, independents hold three, and nonpartisan mayors hold seven. Two mayors’ partisan affiliations are unknown.

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.

Produced in association with Ballotpedia

Edited by Jessi Rexroad Shull and Sterling Creighton Beard

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