State rep. Leslie Herod endorses Mike Johnston in Denver mayor’s race

The state representative’s endorsement suggests Mike Johnston is making inroads with progressives.
4 min. read
Leslie Herod. Aug. 31, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

At Civic Center Park, State Rep. Leslie Herod, the fifth-place candidate in the general election, endorsed former State Sen. Mike Johnston.

Herod is the first major progressive mayoral candidate to make a runoff endorsement.

Speaking to a group of Johnston supporters, Herod said she sat down with both Johnston and his runoff opponent Kelly Brough, the former CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Herod described herself as "most aligned" with Johnston.

"The ship has sailed on me, so here we are," Herod said. "It's all about values to me."

Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston addresses a crowd of supporters along with state rep. Leslie Herod at Civic Center Park on April 24, 2023.
Kyle Harris/Denverite

Johnston said Herod "ran a visionary campaign focused on ensuring this city is a city for all of us."

He plans to work with her to build a broad-based coalition.

In the general election, Herod came in fifth place, behind third-place candidate Democratic Socialist-supported criminal justice advocate Lisa Calderón and self-funded Republican small business owner Andy Rougeot. 

While Herod's name recognition and early fundraising were strong, she kept her job in the Statehouse, losing time she needed to raise money and campaign aggressively.

As the legislative session ramped up, her fundraising momentum fell. She struggled to keep up the pace, and ultimately fell behind four other candidates, including Calderón, the head of Emerge Colorado, a group working to get Democratic women elected.

Herod, herself, had a national presence in the nationwide Emerge organization, but she didn't have the local group's backing.

Calderón came in third place with 18.2% of the vote and 31,493 votes. She said she is meeting with community members to decide whether to endorse a candidate.

Ultimately, Herod secured 18,506 votes with her slogan "Denver is ready" -- a declaration that it's time for the city to elect its first woman mayor. Yet ultimately, she endorsed a man.

Herod supporter, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, argued that a woman should be Denver's next mayor, and in the runoff, he's kept that line. 

Last week, he endorsed Johnston's opponent Brough. In the general election, Webb described both runoff competitors as "big-business candidates."

"You may not like the Lakers and the Celtics, but if they're the only two teams playing, you got to pick one," he said at the time. "And I'm picking Kelly, because she reflects more of the values that I believe the city needs. I think this city needs to say to the world, we have the capacity to elect a woman mayor and be proud of it and get our swagger back."

Webb's skeptical of Johnston's big-money backers from out of state, and trusts Brough's hardscrabble background.

"Kelly will represent the interests of Denver residents, not the outsiders who eat everything at the table then waddle home," Webb wrote in an op-ed on Monday. "Kelly works to build a city that works for everyone!

Johnston and Brough are closer to the center than Herod and other progressive competitors.

Both runoff candidates are hoping to lure the city's mighty progressive vote, which could put either over the top. In the City Council race, one socialist candidate, Sarah Parady, and another progressive, State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, won mightily, suggesting the base's voice matters

Securing Herod's support is a serious coup for Johnston. It's still unclear whether other left-leaning candidates will be making a pick in the runoff.

This article has been updated with comments from Herod and Johnston about the endorsement and to clarify that Calderón has still not decided whether she will endorse. 

Recent Stories