Kelly Brough, the longtime CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, has filed paperwork to run for mayor of Denver.
Brough, who also served as then-mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff in the mid-2000s, is widely seen as a “tier-one” candidate. She potentially has a broad base of financial support among the business community due to her 12 years running the Chamber.
“I raised my girls here in Denver, and my parents live in the metro now,” said Brough. “I think we have an obligation to leave something that really works for them”
“We want a city where we feel safe. Where we take pride in our city again. A place our kids can find and create a home for themselves. I don’t think we have those things today.”
Brough says she will participate in the city’s fair elections fund, which provides matching campaign contributions, provided certain restrictions are followed.
She’s also the only candidate to announce so far who has served in a leadership role in a Denver mayoral administration. Brough was known as someone who got things done, like setting up 311 and pay-for-performance initiatives, and she was a tough negotiator with the police and sheriff unions during austere budget years.
“She’s a pistol,” former City Councilwoman Susan Casey told The Denver Post in 2009. Brough ran Casey’s unsuccessful 2003 mayoral campaign. “She’s hard-nosed and no-nonsense.”
Brough started out as a city council legislative analyst from 1990-1997, directed a leadership program at CU Denver. Later, Brough was hired as the director of human resources in the Hickenlooper administration. She rose through the ranks to become Hickenlooper’s chief of staff in December 2006.
She has a compelling personal history marked by tragedy. Born and raised in Montana, her father was fatally stabbed before she turned 1. Later, when her stepfather, a pipeline worker, was injured, the family got by with the help of food stamps. Brough worked at a Dairy Queen to save money to pay for her undergraduate degree from Montana State University. She married and made her way to Denver, getting her MBA from CU Denver.
Brough’s time at the Chamber may help in raising campaign cash in for an expensive race, but it also comes at a price. The positions the Chamber has taken against progressive issues, like paid family leave, are at odds with a city that’s increasingly moved to the left.
Last year, Brough resigned from the Chamber to work at Metropolitan State University as Chief Strategy Officer. The university caters to a diverse population and many first-generation college students.
“Kelly has some very good experience, having directed an important city agency and working directly with Hickenlooper,” said James Mejia, a former candidate for mayor and close observer of city politics. “So she does know how to administer city government. Which is a major advantage.”
“However, that was some time ago,” added Mejia. “She needs to get back in touch with her roots in city government to be successful. She needs to reconnect with neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders. There’s a big desire for neighborhoods to reassert them themselves in city government.”
Updated at 2:55 p.m. with comment from Brough.