Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty Images
Former state Sen. Mike Johnston speaks during a mayoral runoff debate on Thursday, May 11.
CNN  — 

Former Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston will be the next mayor of Denver after his opponent, Kelly Brough, called to concede Tuesday’s runoff.

“I called Mike – and I hope he is surrounded by as beautiful people as I am tonight – and I wished him Godspeed in the work ahead because our city is challenged and it needs a lot of work,” said Brough, a former CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce who, if elected, would have been the city’s first female mayor.

Johnston is poised to succeed term-limited Democratic incumbent Michael Hancock in Colorado’s largest city.

Both candidates advanced to the runoff after finishing in the top two in the crowded first round in April, Johnston with 24% to 20% for Brough. While the race is officially nonpartisan, both candidates identified as Democrats.

Johnston was appointed to the Colorado State Senate in 2009 and served through 2017 when he was term-limited. He worked as a teacher and principal for over a decade before his time in the Colorado legislature and was an adviser on education issues during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Both Johnston and Brough benefited from outside spending, Johnston more so, according to the most recent data from the Office of the Denver Clerk and Recorder ahead of the election.

Wealthy donors, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, poured money into a pro-Johnston super PAC, Advancing Denver.

A Better Denver, a super PAC whose donors include the National Association of Realtors, backed Brough and ran an ad that accused Johnston of lying about building Colorado’s Covid-19 testing program and his role in the passage of gun control bills.

Johnston’s campaign said the ad “intentionally misleads voters with untrue statements and ‘supporting evidence’ that is taken out of context.” He also made a cease-and-desist demand for TV stations to stop airing the ad.

Both candidates focused their campaign on homelessness and vowed to make solving the crisis a top priority.

Johnston noted in an ad that he was running for mayor because of “a moral obligation to house everyone in Denver.” He said “that means building new housing right now with the mental health, addiction and job training services that people need to rebuild their lives and get back on their feet.

His mayoral campaign was backed by Federico Peña, the first Hispanic mayor of Denver, US Rep. Brittany Pettersen and several of the losing candidates from the April first round, including progressives Lisa Calderon, who finished in third place, and state Rep. Leslie Herod, who finished fifth.

Johnston made two other bids for office in recent years. He ran for governor in 2018, losing in the Democratic primary to Jared Polis, who is now serving his second gubernatorial term. Johnston also briefly ran for US Senate during the 2020 cycle but withdrew shortly after Hickenlooper entered the race.

Brough was the first female head of Denver’s human resource department and the first woman to lead the local Chamber of Commerce. She previously worked as chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, now the state’s junior US senator.

She earned endorsements from the Denver police union and the Denver Metro Association of Realtors as well as from former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, the city’s first Black mayor, and former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who served more than a decade as Denver district attorney.

Brough had pledged to eliminate unsanctioned encampments in her first year of office.

This story has been updated with Brough’s concession.