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From left: Denver mayoral candidate Kelly Brough is congratulated by well-wishers during an election eve watch party late Tuesday in north Denver. Denver mayoral candidate Mike Johnston autographs yard signs for the children of his supporters before entering an election eve watch party in a hotel in lower downtown Denver. (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough, the former CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, appeared poised Tuesday night to advance to a June 6 runoff election that will decide who will be Denver’s next mayor.

As of 11:30 p.m., Johnston and Brough held commanding leads and were on track to finish No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Tuesday’s municipal election among the 16 contenders for Denver’s top office.

The other 14 candidates lagged far behind the top two candidates’ vote totals. 

A candidate needed to win more than 50% of the vote Tuesday to prevent a runoff election. Johnston and Brough each had about 25% of the vote at 11:30 p.m., with the next closest candidate, Lisa Calderón, with just 15% of the vote.

Denver elections officials said there were about 65,000 ballots left to count on Tuesday night. The next batch of results will be posted at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“Denver chose optimism and hope and change tonight,” Johnston told supporters at his campaign’s election night watch party. “Denver declared that (it) believes in bold ideas, with real, concrete plans to actually accomplish those bold ideas.”

Johnston said there was an “incredible field” of candidates in the mayoral race with incredible ideas. He said he was committed to making those ideas reality if he’s elected mayor.

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Brough, who would be the first woman mayor in Denver, wasn’t declaring victory on Tuesday night. “Nobody would have predicted a life story like mine would allow me to be in this moment,” she said to supporters at her campaign’s watch party.

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The winner of the runoff will take over from Mayor Michael Hancock in July. Hancock was elected in 2011 and went on to win two subsequent, four-year terms leading the Mile High City. Denver mayors dating back to the 1960s have served multiple terms before leaving office, meaning it’s possible whoever wins the June runoff will be in charge for many years.

Denver’s next mayor, along with a newly elected 13-member City Council, will face a city struggling with its unhoused population, a downtown that hasn’t recovered from the pandemic shutdown, a lack of affordable housing and rising crime.

Low turnout, big money in Denver races

Turnout in the contest for one of the most powerful elected positions in the state was about 26% on Tuesday evening just before voting ended.

Big money was raised and spent in the mayoral contest. Candidates raised $6.6 million and outside groups spent nearly $3.7 million

Much of that outside cash supported Johnston, with a super PAC, Advancing Denver, spending more than $2.2 million on TV ads and mailers backing his campaign. Venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, one of the cofounders of LinkedIn, put at least $780,000 into the group, while former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry gave the political action committee at least $300,000.

A Better Denver spent more than $974,000 to support Brough, with $471,000 of that coming from the National Association of Realtors Fund. 

But candidates for mayor and other offices also benefited for the first time from the city’s Fair Elections Fund, intended to discourage big donors from influencing municipal contests. About $8 million went to match donations of $50 and less by a factor of nine.

Denver’s next mayor will be paid nearly $206,000. 

Denver City Council races

As of 11:30 p.m., state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez led the field for one of two at-large city council seats with 24,353 votes. Three candidates — former state Sen. Penfield Tate, Travis Leiker and Sarah Parady — were battling for second place in that tight race. (There is no runoff in the at-large contest.)

Gonzales-Gutierrez, Tate, Leiker and Parady were separated by just 2 percentage points at 11:30 p.m.

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In the race for 11 other council seats — in which there is a runoff if no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes — incumbents Amanda Sandoval, Kevin Flynn, Jamie Torres, Amanda Sawyer, Paul Kashmann and Stacie Gilmore were all set to handily win reelection. 

Diana Romero Campbell was beating Tony Pigford with 56% of the vote in the open District 4 seat.

Incumbents Chris Hinds, in District 10, and Candi CdeBaca, in District 9, looked like they were headed to the runoff as of 11:30 p.m.. Two other open council seats — Districts 7 and 8 — with multiple candidates also appear headed to the runoff.

Council members are considered full-time and are paid nearly $97,000 a year. They have full-time staff.

Voters were leaning toward rejecting Referred Question 2O, which would have let developers carry out a plan to build housing and commercial space in the 155 acres of vacant land that used to be the Park Hill Golf Course. As of 11:30 p.m., 60% of the votes counted were opposed to the measure while 40% were in favor.

Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien was poised to cruise to another term over his challenger, Erik Clarke.

Colorado Springs mayoral contest heading to May 16 runoff

Businessman Yemi Mobolade, a political newcomer and African immigrant, and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams appeared headed for a runoff based on early returns in the Colorado Springs mayoral election. 

At 10:40 p.m., Mobolade had nearly 29% of the vote with Williams, now a city councilman, at 20%. Former City Councilwoman Sallie Clark had about 18% of the vote in the 12-way contest. (A candidate needed to win more than 50% of the vote to win the race outright on Tuesday.)

The two-candidate runoff will be held May 16. The three front-runners for mayor are also the three top fundraisers.

Correction:This story was updated at 8:20 a.m. to include the correct the salary for the next mayor.

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Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...