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Meet the candidates running for Denver Mayor: Mike Johnston

9NEWS asked all 17 people running for Denver to answer the same policy questions.

DENVER — There are 17 people on the 2023 ballot for Denver Mayor, all vying to replace Michael Hancock after three terms in office. If that's not the most ever, it's at least the biggest pool of candidates for that office in decades, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder's Office, which checked their sample paper ballots going back to 1946.

Each candidate has their own ideas regarding crime, homelessness, housing affordability and more. We asked all of them the same policy questions and asked for written responses.

Below you'll find Mike Johnston's answers, all unedited and in the candidate's own words, as well as documents related to policy proposals.

You can see the other candidates' responses here.

Denver's Election Day is April 4.

Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston focused on education reform as a teacher and principal prior to serving in the Colorado State Senate. Following unsuccessful runs for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate and Governor, Johnston worked for Gary Community Ventures, a foundation focused on improving outcomes for kids and families.

Political affiliation: Democrat

Long-form questions

In a single sentence, why are you running for mayor?

I’m running for Mayor to build Denver into America’s best city because I know these problems are fixable and together we can end unsheltered homelessness and make this city affordable, safe, and vibrant for everyone.

Please provide specifics on your plan to improve public safety and reduce crime in Denver. Specifically, please note whether the Denver Police budget should be increased or decreased (including funding diversion to non-police emergency responses).

Our City faces a crisis in public safety that must be addressed. I will protect Denver by putting 200 more first responders on the streets, including mental health professionals, EMTs and police officers, so that we have the right first responder responding to the right situation. Not every situation requires a police officer, and in many situations a police officer is not the right person to respond to someone in a mental health or physical health crisis. We will reform the police department to provide more community-based policing where officers build relationships and rapport with neighbors. I will also convert two pods of the Denver Jail to mental health and addiction treatment facilities, which will allow us to use diversionary courts to get low-level offenders the treatment they need. Too often we are putting people into the correctional system when their real need is treatment. I will also create an Auto Theft Unit for the first time at DPD so we have the people and the tools to prevent and investigate auto theft. As Mayor, I will also restore civility in our public spaces by ensuring that public drug use, harassment, and assault will not be tolerated. I will push for common sense consequences to crime including moving motor vehicle theft back to a felony, and aggressively enforcing our state’s gun laws to prevent needless gun violence.

You can read my full detailed plan and budget here.

What should the City of Denver do to promote affordable housing? 

I spent the past two years traveling around the state and the country working with housing experts and visiting cities that were doing a much better job solving the housing crisis. I realized there were three problems, regulatory obstacles that slowed down permitting, sustainable public funding for affordable housing, and amplifying the voices of the silent majority that wants to bring down the price of housing. With housing supply failing to keep pace with growth, Denver is quickly becoming a city that only the rich can afford. As Mayor, I will make affordable housing one of my top priorities so the nurses, firefighters, and workers who serve our city everyday can afford to live here. My plan for affordable housing will utilize funds made available through Prop 123 to do the following:

  • Create over 25,000 permanently affordable units so teachers, nurses, and firefighters can live in the city they serve.
  • Cut the regulatory red tape by requiring the City of Denver to approve affordable housing permits within 90 days.
  • Prevent rent increases so that eligible Denver residents won’t pay more than 30% of their income to rent.
  • Build mixed income developments that ensure a healthy mix of market rate and affordable units and create diverse neighborhoods.
  • Put money in people’s pockets by helping renters in eligible units save up to $100 every time they pay rent.
  • Provide down payment assistance to help working families buy homes and support community land trusts to make buying a home more affordable.

You can read my full detailed plan and budget here.

How should Denver change its approach to addressing homelessness?

We know that the current approach to homelessness is not working because people who are experiencing homelessness have no place to go. We can address our homelessness crisis by addressing three overlapping crises: the lack of affordable housing, the absence of mental health support, and an explosion in the severity of addictive drugs. My plan to end homelessness in my first term will do the following:

Build 1,400 units of safe, stable, and dignified housing in 10-20 microcommunities throughout the city that will provide wraparound services, including mental health and addiction care and workforce training.

These micro communities will be made up of 40-60 tiny homes or hotel conversions, both practices that we know have worked in Denver.

Create a sense of community by moving people who live together in encampments into the same microcommunities and offer a diverse array of microcommunities to meet individual needs.

Stop eviction and displacement by investing in prevention to reduce the number of residents who become homeless.

Appoint a Senior Advisor to the Mayor on Homelessness who will coordinate city efforts on homelessness across all departments of the city.

Lead compassionate enforcement of the camping ban for those who are unwilling or unable to move into microcommunities.

You can read my full detailed plan and budget here.

How should Denver change its approach to mobility and safe streets?

We need to ensure that Denver’s streets work for everyone, whether you commute by car, bus, bike, or you walk. That starts with re-imagining the way people move around our city by building both market rate and affordable housing units near Transit Oriented Developments so folks have access to public transit and increase walkability. As Mayor, I will also ensure the City works to make bike lanes safer and easier to use, which will help reduce the number of pedestrian and biker injuries and deaths, decrease traffic, and help the City meet our climate goals. We need to create a connected network of high comfort bike trails that connect our entire city, making it easier for people to get around on bike, and increase public transit usage and convenience so more and more people can take public transit and use bikes and micro mobility as their last mile solution.

The Mayor has significant control over a $3-4 billion budget and will hire cabinet members who oversee roughly 12,000 employees. Please detail your experience with budgets and hiring.  

I have been a CEO managing a budget, staff and operations for 20 years, starting as a school principal, then a nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneur, and most recently as the CEO of Gary Community Ventures where I managed a $400 million corpus. While at Gary, I created and launched many organizations, but the most visible one was COVID Check, which was a statewide COVID testing and vaccination organization that I launched with an innovative idea to provide teachers with regular COVID testing so we could reopen schools. I grew COVID CHECK to 1,500 employees and operated 50 testing sites, vaccinated and tested more than 1 million Coloradans, and won the Downtown Denver Partnership award for best response to COVID. This is a unique part of my qualifications that demonstrates that not only can I run large organizations, but that I can organize them to deliver world class public services that people value.

Should the City of Denver explore ways to exert more control over Denver Public Schools? If so, how would you do that and what would be your goal?

The City of Denver should continue to work closely with Denver Public Schools to ensure our students are receiving the best education and our teachers and school staff receive the support they need. As Mayor, my goal is to work closely with teachers, administrators, and parents to make sure the City is supporting Denver Public Schools in the best way, while using my position to push for better outcomes. I would build a closer working partnership with DPS, including by funding efforts to expand high-quality after school and summer programming for low-income kids and supporting the expansion of mental health services in school-based health clinics through a partnership with Denver Health. This will deepen the partnership between the City and the district and make clear that the City has a deep commitment to the success of Denver’s students. Therefore, the mayor must be a clear and consistent voice that supports the District when they are succeeding and holds them accountable when they are deviating from their commitment to high-quality teaching and learning.

Please assess the Hancock administration’s response to the influx of migrants from the southern border since December 2022. What should Denver do to prepare for and respond to another potential influx of migrants?  

The City of Denver and the broader network of community non-profits did an admirable job supporting an unprecedented influx of migrants. We need to be prepared for additional waves of migrants that may arrive, and my first step would be to pursue a regional approach. Denver cannot handle this volume of inflow all the time, but we can partner with other cities around the region and around the State who would help absorb some of the migrants as their services permit. The more advance planning we do the better prepared our partners would be. We also need to be preparing to support migrants in the amnesty application process. Additionally, there is a tremendous need for labor all across the metro region, so we must prepare to help them immediately get to work when they get documentation, since that is precisely what our undocumented neighbors want—a steady job.

What should Denver do to prevent the displacement of longtime residents due to gentrification and tax burdens?

One of the best ways we can avoid gentrification and ensure people can stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in is by creating a city-wide down payment assistance program that helps people access the funds they need to purchase a home. We know this works because we’ve done it through our Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth, which provided down payment assistance for Black families in Denver and helped hundreds of families purchase homes and close the wealth gap. As Mayor, I would expand this program city-wide to make it easier for people to buy a home, stay in the neighborhood they love, and build wealth.

What should be done to revitalize downtown Denver (vis-à-vis office occupancy, the 16th Street Mall, crime)?

As the CEO of a business located at Union Station, I have seen this problem firsthand over the last three years. Denver needs to revitalize downtown by solving our crisis with homelessness and crime. In addition, the next Mayor needs to lead the charge to encourage businesses to return in person by first doing the same with city workers and then encouraging others to follow suit by providing incentives to come back downtown, such as downtown childcare facilities and discounted and free public transit.

What is within the power of the City of Denver to fight the opioid epidemic? What steps should regional or state leaders take in cooperation to reduce fentanyl deaths?

The explosion in severity of addictive drugs has touched every corner of this City. We cannot let our streets become open air drug markets where highly-addictive opioids are easily accessible. Right now, too few people have reliable access to addiction treatment, and they’re left without any support. That’s why as Mayor, I will work to expand access to mental health and addiction services by providing wrap-around care in micro-communities for people experiencing homelessness and by converting two pods of the Denver Jail into mental health and addiction treatment facilities so that low-level offenders can get the support they need to get back on their feet. However, we cannot continue to take a hands-off approach to the opioid crisis facing our city. The decision to decriminalize fentanyl was a mistake, and I will work closely with regional and state leaders to get fentanyl off the streets and reduce drug-related deaths.

Xcel Energy's franchise agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2026. What will you seek from the next agreement that protects Denver customers from high utility bills?

Skyrocketing rates for energy over the last few months have put too many Denverites in a position where they have to decide whether to pay for groceries or pay for heat, even as Xcel reports massive profits. As Mayor, I will seek to renegotiate a contract that incentivizes energy companies to work to keep rates as low as possible when the prices of resources like natural gas rise. I will also negotiate to have more transparency in how Xcel determines their rates for the City and offer programs to help residents pay for their utility bills in a fair and equitable way. This also underscores why we need to move aggressively to electrify Denver so that we can move more of our energy supply onto renewable sources like wind and solar that do not put us at risk for the price spikes of natural gas.

Denver has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030. A sales tax approved by voters funds the city's climate action goals. What, if any, changes would you make to Denver's climate action goals and how would you make green energy and environmentally sustainable living available across income levels?

Denver’s climate action goals are ambitious and it is critical to meet these goals to combat climate change. I am committed to transforming the city into a national leader in clean energy and climate sustainability by committing to have 100 percent of Denver’s electricity sourced from renewable sources by 2040. This requires electrifying our fleet and electrifying our buildings while reducing vehicle emissions by providing incentives to increase the use of public transit, increase ridership, and increase route frequency and ride quality. Whether it’s through building community solar gardens which will make renewable solar energy more accessible or building affordable housing in Denver so the people that work here can live here and stop communities 20, 30, 40 miles to work, the City should take action to support individual Denverites who want to live more sustainably. We must also take a more aggressive approach to preserving water by incentivizing turf and xeriscaping wherever possible.

Yes or No

Will you enforce Denver’s camping ban?


Should Denver maintain its effective status as a sanctuary city through noncooperation with immigration agents? 


Will you vote to support development of the Park Hill Golf Course as currently proposed on the April ballot?


Do you support the use of any Denver taxpayer funds to build a new football stadium for the Broncos? 


Should Denver reduce vehicle volumes downtown?


Did you support Mayor Michael Hancock’s re-election in 2019?


If the Colorado legislature lifts the ban on local rent control, should Denver pursue some form of rent control?


Should Denver pursue the creation of a supervised drug injection site with the permission of the state legislature?


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