Ballots will arrive for Denverites again during the coming week, albeit much shorter in length. While I live just outside the city lines, if I could cast a vote for mayor, it would be for Mike Johnston.
Both my personal history with Johnston and watching him closely on the campaign trail convinced me he is the right person to lead Denver, and the surrounding regional metro area, into the future.
This is no knock on his opponent. In every interaction I had with Kelly Brough, and there were plenty while I worked on another campaign through the initial April election, she struck me as very competent, warm and kind. I think she would make a fine mayor.
But Johnston offers something more than fine.
During the pandemic, I had the chance to work closely with Johnston at COVIDCheck Colorado. From January through August 2021, I served as the organization’s general counsel. From that vantage I saw exactly how Johnston’s leadership style helped to activate and empower the people who worked with him.
Johnston is both brilliant and dedicated. That is evident to anyone who listens to him talk about policy matters for more than a couple minutes. But he does not force his solutions on the people who work with him. Instead, he dedicates himself to creating buy-in.
During the pandemic, that was incredibly important. The people at COVIDCheck worked tireless hours through the most challenging conditions imaginable. Johnston helped provide a sense of purpose and mission that guided them through those tough times. And when the most difficult moments arrived — when it felt as though things may become overwhelming and we would be swept away — Johnston rolled up his sleeves and redoubled efforts to support his team.
A recent story questioning those efforts raised my hackles more than a little. I was offended when the former director of Colorado’s COVID-19 Innovation Response Team decided to denigrate our work by referring to it as “a relatively simple task.” Apparently, she was upset that Johnston used the term “I” when referring to the work of COVIDCheck; though, she seemed to be happy to use the same verbiage when she left her post before the really challenging work of mass vaccinations began.
From my personal experience, I can say unequivocally there was nothing simple about providing testing and vaccinations during a pandemic. As I wrote when I finished my time with COVIDCheck, it was a logistical and regulatory nightmare that required the combined efforts of “governments, private sector groups and individuals to fill holes and support one another.”
Those are the coalitions Johnston frequently highlights in his stump speech. And if it had not been for Johnston taking a leadership role creating COVIDCheck, much of that work wouldn’t have happened. Without his efforts, Colorado would have been left to fill the massive hole left behind.
The more than 1.5 million tests provided by COVIDCheck would be enough for every Denver resident twice over. At the time, the Denver Public Schools Chief of Staff recognized, “We couldn’t do any of our regular testing for staff and students without the capacity or partnership of COVIDCheck Colorado.”
And that is without getting into the significantly more complex distribution of vaccines. What Johnston accomplished through COVIDCheck and its partners would normally have taken years or decades. Together they did it in weeks and months. It is in no small measure due to Johnston’s leadership.
The Daily Sun-Up podcast | More episodes
Honestly, if I had not already been committed to Leslie Herod’s campaign when Johnston got into the race, I have no doubt I would have immediately signed up to work for him again. People who work for Johnston — or more appropriately to his leadership style, people who work with Johnston — wake up each morning knowing they will do something to make the world a better place.
Given the crises in homelessness, public safety and housing affordability faced by Denver today, that is exactly what we need in a mayor. At a critical juncture for the city, Mike Johnston is the right choice for mayor of Denver.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)
Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.