Denver voters had been excited about the idea of having a woman as mayor, Ms. Matthews said. “But I think that there were so many other better women candidates,” she added, mentioning progressive candidates who hadn’t made it past the April election.
Still, she said she had voted for Mr. Johnston both times, even though she did not like the reports of his donations from out of state. “That does give me some heartburn,” Ms. Matthews said.
In the 12 years under Mr. Hancock’s administration, Denver has seen major population growth — despite some losses during the coronavirus pandemic — and many of the challenges that come with it. Housing costs have risen, and homelessness has gotten worse.
“Whoever wins I think will have, at least for a while, a fair mandate to make some pretty significant public policy shifts on these issues,” Seth Masket, the director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, said in an interview before the early results were in. “I think a lot of other mayors of similar-size cities will be looking at Denver, just to see what comes out of this.”
Mr. Johnston — a former teacher, principal and education adviser to President Barack Obama — was first elected to the State Senate in 2009 and served until 2017, when he reached his term limit. Since then, he has run unsuccessfully both for governor and for the United States Senate.
More recently, he was the chief executive of Gary Community Ventures, an organization that combines philanthropy, investing and political funding. There, he played a leading role in advancing Proposition 123, an initiative to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars annually to providing affordable housing. It was approved by Colorado voters last year.
Before serving as the chief executive of the city Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Brough was Denver’s head of human resources, and she served as chief of staff for former Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now a U.S. senator.