Johnston and Brough hold final debate before June 6 mayoral election


On May 23, Denver mayoral candidates Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough held their final TV debate. It was a one-hour event on Denver7 sponsored by Colorado Public Radio, the Denver Post and Denverite. Anne Trujillo served as moderator Brough said it is important that people in Denver, where the median income is $94,000, should be able to “buy a home, afford childcare, feel safe in their neighborhood, and have their kids get the education they deserve in Denver Public Schools.”

Kelly Brough is former head of the Denver Metro Chamber and was chief of staff to Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Asked what they would do to tackle the backlog of applications for building permits in Denver and improve the operation of that department, Brough said she would bring in a contractor to clear the backlog and restructure the departments of forestry, planning, building code, fire, and transportation, so that they would all report to one person, focused on customer service.

Johnston said, “The people who are serving this city—teachers, nurses, firefighters, servers—80% of those folks can’t afford to live in this city. We have to solve that problem. A permitting process that is so slow that it drives up the cost of housing is one of the reasons I helped build a coalition of organizations around the state to take on the ballot measure for affordable housing, Proposition 123 that passed last year.” He would “push affordable (housing) projects to the front of the line.”

To the question of how to get affordable housing built in every city council district of Denver, despite neighborhood pushback, Johnston said, “I’ve committed to having 25,000 permanently affordable units built over the next eight years,” where residents would pay rent not to exceed 30% of their income. He would prioritize areas near buses and light rail, so that, “we could have more dense housing where everyone doesn’t have to have a car.”

Mike Johnston is a former state senator, teacher, principal, and non-profit executive.

Brough said, “We have to have a range of housing throughout our city.” She would work with the city council on land use to “add density where we’ve already made investments in transit and bus routes,” not just for affordability, but also for the environment, including air quality and water usage.

When it was pointed out that Denver spent $13.65 million on all aspects of homelessness between January 2019 and June 2022, Brough said she would address the problem by getting people to safe indoor and outdoor sites to stop repeated sweeps of the homeless. She would turn those who would not or could not comply over to Denver Cares, which deals with incapacitated individuals, and would arrest people only as an absolute last resort.

Asked how he would decide who gets the tiny homes he plans to make available for the unhoused, Johnston said, “Arresting people who are homeless is not the answer…the answer is getting people access to housing with the supportive services that we know people need.”
Both candidates would like to see the federal government act so that migrants arriving in Denver can be allowed to work while their permanent status is being determined.

Pointing to the average cost for childcare as being $1,575/month in Denver, and the shortage of available chil care providers, Brough pointed to the importance of paying childcare workers a living wage to improve and expand available resources.

Johnston said that universal pre-school, that he worked on, is helpful, but, “We need more childcare providers,” and suggested using vacant office space to retrofit as childcare facilities, along with training more childcare providers, who might also eventually become teachers.

On the issue of revitalizing Denver’s business districts, Johnston would add 200 first responders to increase safety, get the unhoused into housing, and encouraging Denver residents to return to downtown offices by making commuting on public transit free of charge for workers, seniors, and college students.

Brough pointed to her commitment to end unsanctioned camping in Denver during her first year in office to make downtown safer. She would also focus on adding downtown residences, possibly by transitioning vacant office buildings into residential units. She would also complete the revitalization of the 16th Street mall.

The candidates differed on whether the city should subsidize a new stadium for the Denver Broncos. Johnston opposes it while Brough would support it if Denver voters agreed.

Both candidates support the state police accountability law, more pickleball courts, and ranked choice voting.

Ballots for Denver mayor are in voters’ hands and must be returned by 7:00 p.m. on June 6.