Brough, Johnston rack up endorsements in Denver mayoral runoff
State lawmakers, former mayoral contenders choosing between moderate candidates ahead of June 6 election
Left: Denver mayor candidate Kelly Brough receives the endorsement of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance at an event on May 12, 2023. Right: Brough’s runoff opponent, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, receives the endorsement of progressive former mayoral candidates and Democratic state lawmakers in Civic Center Park on May 10, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
After more than 55% of Denver voters cast a ballot neither for Mike Johnston nor for Kelly Brough in the first round of the mayor’s race last month, the June 6 runoff election will be determined in large part by how many of their former opponents’ supporters the two remaining contenders can win over to their side.
That’s brought on a parade of competing endorsements between the two moderate candidates ahead of runoff ballots being mailed to voters this week.
Johnston, a former Democratic state senator and onetime candidate for both governor and U.S. Senate, placed first in the 16-candidate April 4 election with 24.5% of ballots cast, and has picked up endorsements from five former rivals who represented another 14.1% of the vote.
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Endorsing Johnston in an event at Civic Center Park on Wednesday were former mayoral candidates Ean Thomas Tafoya, Terrance Roberts, Jim Walsh and Al Gardner. They joined Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod, who placed fifth in the mayor’s race, in endorsing Johnston over Brough.
“Having shared countless debate and forum stages with Mike over the past months, I know that he has the passion, commitment, and vision to tackle Denver’s toughest problems,” Herod said in endorsing Johnston last month. “Mike and I share the value of public service, hard work, and doing right by our communities, and I am excited to work with him to deliver on our progressive vision for Denver.”
Meanwhile, Brough, the former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce head who secured her spot in the runoff with just over 20% of the first-round vote, has picked up official endorsements from Democratic state Sen. Chris Hansen, who earned the support of 4.8% of voters in the mayor race, and Thomas Wolf, an investment banker who campaigned on harsh anti-homelessness policies and received 1% of the vote.
“Denver needs a proven executive — Kelly Brough is the leader we can trust to deliver results,” Hansen said in his endorsement of Brough. “It’s going to take all of us to tackle Denver’s biggest challenges and I’m proud to join Kelly’s team.”
Brough has also picked up endorsements from Democratic state Rep. Alex Valdez and former Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman, both of whom entered the mayor’s race but later withdrew. And Robert Treta, a homebuilder who placed last in the April 4 election with 169 votes, said last week that he supports Brough in the runoff, as did 15th-place Renate Behrens, City Cast Denver reported Friday.
Two prominent former candidates on opposite ends of the mayoral race’s ideological spectrum have sat out the endorsement sweepstakes. Neither Lisa Calderón, the progressive activist who came up short of overtaking Brough with 18.2% of the vote, nor Andy Rougeot, who placed fourth with 11.5% as the race’s only self-identified Republican, have endorsed in the runoff.
Moderate track records
Brough and Johnston emerged from the crowded field of mayoral candidates after becoming by far the race’s two best-funded candidates, each receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions from wealthy donors and political insiders, and benefiting from millions more in outside super PAC expenditures from billionaires and real-estate interests.
After a first round that featured a wide range of perspectives and ideologies, the runoff campaign has featured few stark disagreements on policy between the two candidates, both of whom are veteran figures in Colorado’s centrist political establishment.
Brough served as then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2009, then led the conservative-leaning Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce for 12 years before stepping down ahead of her mayoral run. Some of her top endorsers include former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, both Democrats.
On Friday, she touted the endorsement of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of clergy and civil rights leaders in the city’s Black community. Pastor Paul Burleson, the Alliance’s vice president of political affairs, said that Brough’s experience is key to her appeal.
“That was the crowning point — knowing that she could hit the ground running, with no learning curve,” Burleson said. “We just believe that she brought so much to the table.”
Brough has also picked up endorsements from the Denver Police Protective Association and other unions representing law enforcement officers and firefighters. She was one of the only candidates in the mayor’s race to endorse a return of “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that bars people from suing law enforcement officers in their individual capacity. Colorado lawmakers, led by Herod, passed a landmark police reform bill that abolished qualified immunity in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“We believe that she has realistic solutions and can work collaboratively to build a culture where law enforcement has the training, the equipment and the community support necessary to meet the many challenges our city faces,” Tyson Worrell, the Denver police union’s president, said in a statement. “Kelly is the trusted leader we need to make Denver safer for all of its residents.”
During his time in the state Senate, Johnston became one of the state’s leading champions of education reform, a movement that has galled teachers’ unions and progressives who accuse it of undermining public education. From 2020 to 2022 he was the CEO of Gary Community Ventures, a Denver-based philanthropic organization founded by oil tycoon Sam Gary.
Though hardly a progressive firebrand himself, Johnston spoke at Wednesday’s event of the “coalition” he hopes to build as mayor. Along with former mayoral rivals, he received endorsements from Democratic state Sens. Julie Gonzales and James Coleman, adding to a list of supporters that also includes former Mayor Federico Peña and former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll.
“Make no mistake: We are the progressives in this race, and we have chose to back Mike,” said Herod. “We are the candidates who have consistently spoken about putting people over structures, over businesses — people always first.”
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