Big dreams and big promises — but can Mike Johnston deliver for Denver?

Gun Rights

The clock was approaching midnight at Lynette Brooks’ home in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood when a bullet shattered a window and broke the silence of a placid weeknight.

“It came within eight inches of his head,” Brooks’ said of her husband, choking up over the frightening moment as they watched TV together in their living room earlier this month. “I want to know what’s going on with the gun situation.”

Recounted in front of dozens of Denverites gathered for a campaign stop in the backyard of a home near Sloan’s Lake, Brooks’ story was aimed squarely at Denver mayoral candidate Mike Johnston less than a month ahead of a runoff election that will deliver the city its first new mayor in 12 years.

Johnston, a 48-year-old former state senator and school principal, has fielded hundreds of tough questions and pent-up frustrations from voters in the last few weeks on issues ranging from homelessness to skyrocketing home prices to escalating crime as he crisscrosses Colorado’s largest city in hopes of getting the support needed to defeat opponent Kelly Brough.

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At a retirement home in southeast Denver, Johnston didn’t shrink when a collection of seniors peppered him with pressing questions.

“A very heated crowd — I love it,” he said with a broad smile on his face, seemingly energized by the mild chaos unfolding in front of him.

Johnston tends to think big, employing a visionary sweep when talking about the challenges facing Denver. Too big at times, according to detractors. In recent weeks, Johnston has been fielding charges that he tends to take more credit for things than he deserves.

He speaks of “hard truths” regarding the city but also about how Denver is “a jewel with a little tarnish.” But does his pledge to end homelessness in the city amount to more than just an applause-inducing talking point on the stump?

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña is a fan of Johnston, endorsing him in April. Johnston, he said, is “intelligent, thoughtful, caring and he gets things done,” but may appear overbearing at times.

“He is very quick to give you a half-hour answer on an issue,” Peña said. “He may come off as a bit intellectual.”

Johnston’s arms-around-the-issues approach traces back to his childhood in Vail, where his father was known for thinking big too. And it comes from a school that didn’t just hammer the fundamentals but taught a course in ethics to Johnston and his fellow students at a young age.

“All of us kind of grew up with the idea that you would learn as much as you could and deploy that as best you could,” said Johnston’s best friend, Tom Boyd.

For Johnston, that has meant an embrace of teaching and the mechanics of education policy, especially where it intersects with the needs of students of color. It has also meant a stint in the state Senate and at the helm of a large Colorado philanthropy.

Back at the home on Perry Street where Brooks posed her tearful query, Johnston painted a vision of a safer Denver — a city where a family can go for dinner on the 16th Street Mall, confident they won’t be harassed while eating and drinking on a restaurant patio. He gets there through stepped-up patrols and by assigning officers to concentrated areas of the city to get to know the people who live there with an intimacy that matters. He wants 200 more first responders on the street.

“We can be a great city, and a good city at the same time,” he told her.

Brooks said she’s warming up to Johnston for the June 6 runoff election.

“He came across very genuine,” Brooks said. “He came across as having had to think about this already.”

Mayoral runoff candidate Mike Johnston speaks with an artist at an urban art show Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Your Mom's House in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)
Mayoral runoff candidate Mike Johnston speaks with an artist at an urban art show Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Your Mom’s House in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)

An indefatigable campaigner, Johnston is personable and engaging, often employing tactile emphasis with his audience by lightly gripping a shoulder here and patting a back there to make a point. He rattles off facts and figures with ease and speaks in rapid cadence, as if the thoughts in his head can’t pass his lips fast enough.

“He’s just thinking ahead,” said John Everly, the long-time manager of the Johnston family-owned Christiania Lodge in Vail who has known the candidate since he was 11. “He’s always thinking ahead.”

Terrance Roberts, a former Bloods gang member turned anti-gang activist and a one-time candidate for Denver mayor, knows Johnston well. The two men shared office space in the Holly Square Shopping Center, known colloquially as The Holly, in Northeast Park Hill for seven years.

Johnston, a fresh-faced politician representing a part of Denver that had long been in a Senate district held by Black leaders, opened a community office in the Holly. That impressed Roberts.

“We never had a state senator have a community office like that,” Roberts said. “One thing I do know is that Mike will listen.”

But Johnston’s intense and detailed engagement with the issues hasn’t shielded him from criticism, whether it’s teachers denouncing him for pushing an education reform bill that they say still leaves a mark on them more than a decade later.

As far as the accusations go that he overstates his role in certain initiatives, a former state official called Johnston a “distraction” when it came to rolling out a statewide testing program for COVID-19 while he was CEO at Gary Community Ventures, a philanthropy with a $400 million endowment. He has also faced questions as to whether he took undue credit for advancing certain bills in the Capitol when he was a senator.

But for many who hear him speak and shake his hand, there’s a sense that Johnston is the real deal and that his critics are carping in the way critics do.

“After coming to this event, there is no doubt in my mind I am voting Mike Johnston,” 46-year-old Denverite Salil Parikh said after hearing the candidate speak in the backyard of a Park Hill home on a recent Saturday. “I wanted to get a sense of who he was as a person and he seems like a really genuine and caring guy who is empathetic.”

Vail roots, Ivy pedigree

Like several recent Denver mayors, including Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper, Johnston is not a native of the Mile High City. He grew up in Vail, the youngest of four siblings.

His father, Paul Johnston, was a jack of all trades, described by his son after his 2015 death as “a soldier and peace activist, a painter and an author, an art dealer and a Realtor, a small town hotel and Laundromat and movie theater owner, a cowboy and a bartender, a pilot and a motocross rider, a mayor and a hospice volunteer and an ecumenical minister.”

He also served as mayor of Vail in the mid-1980s.

“He was a crusader. He was an activist. He was like the nuns that would strap themselves to nuclear reactors,” Johnston said of his father. “He boycotted mass for a year because he was mad the pope wasn’t objecting to the Iraq war. He was very much an activist for social justice.”

Paul Johnston bought the Christiania Lodge with his second wife and Mike’s mother, Sally, in the early 1970s and the younger Johnston remembers the family living for a while in Room 300 of the Bavarian-style hotel in Vail Village.

According to those who knew Johnston in his formative years, he was whip-smart and athletic, becoming an accomplished ski racer and soccer player. Jeanne Macsata, who taught Johnston in the fifth and sixth grades at Vail Mountain School, said her former student embodied the private school’s motto of “Develop Character, Seek Knowledge, Build Community.”

He graduated from Vail Mountain School in 1993, one in a class of just 14 students.

“He did everything here — he was in sports, he was in theater, he could sing and dance,” Macsata said. “He was the kind of kid that would come to the defense of another kid.”

Right behind the Christiania, and across a footbridge over Mill Creek, Gondola One whisks skiers up the mountain. Next to the lift is Pirate Ship Park, where a young Johnston spent countless hours with friends.

“He was one of those guys who was incredibly good at whatever he did,” said Boyd, who works for the Vail Valley Foundation. “Mike was that higher level of smart.”

Pressed for hijinks that his best friend might have perpetrated as a teenager, Boyd said he couldn’t think of any beyond the occasional powdered doughnut fight. Johnston, he said, did receive ribbing from friends for his anodyne music tastes — case in point, his embrace of Canadian rocker Bryan Adams’ 1991 album “Waking up the Neighbours.”

“He would hang out at the party for the first couple of hours and then go home,” Boyd said. “There wasn’t a lot of trouble to get into pre-internet in Vail.”

Early on, Boyd detected a fierce dedication to public service and social justice in Johnston, who held up Martin Luther King Jr. as a childhood hero.

“What can we do to make a better village, what can we do to make a better city, what can we do to make a better nation?” Boyd said of his friend’s mindset. “With him, it’s authentic — it’s real.”

Johnston told The Denver Post he just finished reading two Pulitzer-prize-winning books by black novelist Colson Whitehead, while also plowing through The York Times’ 1619 Project, a controversial reassessment of U.S. history that has become mandatory reading for liberals and a lightning rod for conservatives who claim it distorts facts about the nation’s origins.

At Yale University, Johnston did more than just roam the leafy campus and attend class. He ventured into low-income areas of the Connecticut city that is home to the Ivy League school, mentoring teenage boys in an afternoon program.

“I spent four years while I was in New Haven working in these public housing projects that were across the street from our dorms called Church Street South,” Johnston said.

He launched an effort that paired college athletes with those kids and ran sports leagues for youth in the city. It wasn’t long before Johnston saw education as his future track.

“And so when I was graduating and figuring out what to do I thought, well, the people who had a huge impact on my life were my teachers,” he said. “If there’s one concrete skill I have to give back, it’d be teaching.”

Johnston did a turn with Teach for America in Greenville, Mississippi, a largely African-American city surrounded by historic cotton plantations. The experience affected him deeply, prompting him to write the book “In the Deep Heart’s Core,” which chronicled his experiences in the Mississippi Delta.

“When I arrived in the Delta I knew that I might not stay forever, but hoped that my experiences there would teach me lessons I could carry on to other communities in other states,” Johnston wrote in his book.

After earning a master’s degree in education policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a law degree from Yale Law School, Johnston moved to Denver in 2003. A year later, he married fellow Teach for America educator Courtney Huffman, who had worked at another Mississippi school 90 miles away.

Johnston’s wife is a prosecutor in the Denver District Attorney’s Office, working in the juvenile unit. The couple has three children and the family lives in Central Park.

Upon moving back to Colorado, Johnston immersed himself in educational policy and school administration for several years. He became a principal both at Joan Farley Academy in Denver and at the Marvin Foote Detention Center in Centennial, which houses incarcerated students.

Mike Johnston, right, then director of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts and Eldon Wire of Skyview High School are pictured outside the combined campus on June 20, 2007. (Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post)
Mike Johnston, right, then director of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts and Eldon Wire of Skyview High School are pictured outside the combined campus on June 20, 2007, in Thornton. (Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post)

Next, Johnston helped found the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton. It was during his time at MESA that Johnston became an education adviser to presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who rewarded him with a 2008 appearance at the school during his run for the White House.

It was also while heading the Thornton school that Johnston felt his first impulse to pursue elected office, he says. Some of the school’s graduating seniors were undocumented immigrants who were locked out of pursuing their college dreams due to their immigration status.

“I realized our kids were stuck. They were prepared. They were ready. They were admitted,” said Johnston, a Democrat. “They were stuck without that policy getting fixed.”

Johnston threw his name in the ring to replace state Sen. Peter Groff when Groff was tapped in 2009 by the newly elected Obama administration to serve in the U.S. Department of Education. Johnston won the seat, which covers an area of northeast Denver centered on Park Hill, in an election in 2010 and was re-elected two years later.

In 2013, Johnston realized his long-sought goal of providing in-state tuition rates to Colorado college students in the U.S. illegally when the ASSET bill was signed into law. Johnston, a primary sponsor of the bill in the state Senate, took a picture of the audience at the signing ceremony.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to take that photo,” he said.

But in a cruel twist of irony, it would be a different education bill spearheaded by Johnston that would garner him years of criticism from many in his own party — and from none other than the teachers on whose behalf he had so vigorously fought.

Colorado Senator, Mike Johnston, (D-SD 33), waits his turn to debate SB11-078 on the Senate floor on the last day of the Colorado State Legislature's 68th General Assembly at the Colorado Capitol on May 11, 2011. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Colorado Senator, Mike Johnston, (D-SD 33), waits his turn to debate SB11-078 on the Senate floor on the last day of the Colorado State Legislature’s 68th General Assembly at the Colorado Capitol on May 11, 2011. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“A very divisive bill”

“In my opinion, it was the most damaging bill for education in my 16 years in the legislature, and the ramifications from it continue to linger,” said Nancy Todd, a former state lawmaker and fellow Democrat who served with Johnston in the Senate.

Todd, a 25-year public school teacher from Aurora, said Senate Bill 191, a 2010 Johnston-led measure that tied teacher evaluations to student academic growth and changed how teachers obtain and keep tenure, was “a very divisive bill.”

“I felt it was very slanted,” she told the Post. “Instead of looking at the overall performance of teachers and the behavior of students, it was a heavy, heavy weight on how students do on their assessments to how well a teacher does.”

Rob Gould, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said he still hears from educators “that they remember” the measure 13 years later — and not fondly. Johnston’s bill, he said, established annual teacher evaluations that are “burdensome and time-consuming,” and counterproductive in an era of teacher and staff shortages.

Johnston defends the measure, saying it followed a simple premise: “Let’s expect students to know more when they leave school in May than when they started school in September, right?”

Opponents of the teacher performance bill, he said, were essentially arguing against the belief that students of color or from low-income backgrounds could be expected to show advancement like their peers.

“As a philosophy, I don’t back down from that,” Johnston said. “I don’t believe that we should have lower expectations for kids based on their background, and I’m happy to talk about how we implemented it or if we designed it the right way, but there are certain principles I’m not going to back down on and that’s one of them.”

Gould said it’s time for DPS to look for “a partner in the mayor’s office” — a partner to stanch declining enrollment in DPS schools and find a way to make it viable for teachers to live in the city in which they teach.

“Why do we have declining enrollment? Because no one can afford to live here,” Gould said. “How do we bring more affordable housing here?”

Johnston says he has a solution for those with a roof over their head but who are feeling the squeeze of ever-rising home prices in Denver, including providing units with deed restrictions that prohibit rents from exceeding 30% of an eligible renter’s income.

For those in deeper trouble, Johnston points to nearly 50 units at the Colorado Village Collaborative at East 40th Avenue and Monroe Street on a recent Saturday, as his wife and two of his children cleaned the windows and swept the floors in a collection of 96-square-foot tiny homes gleaming under an early May sun.

“This is the template,” he said of his hammer blow strategy to homelessness.

Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks with voters at an a neighborhood bbq Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Denver's Harness Heights neighborhood. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)
Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks with voters at a neighborhood bbq Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Denver’s Harness Heights neighborhood. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)

Johnston envisions establishing 10 to 20 micro-communities like this throughout Denver, with 40 to 60 tiny homes in each. They would be mostly located on parcels of city-owned land, according to his plan. He talks of picking up entire encampments and moving the inhabitants to the same tiny village.

Along with converting hotel rooms to permanent affordable living spaces, his plan will provide 1,400 units of housing for those without one now. Cathy Alderman, the public policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said ending homelessness by 2027 is an admirable goal but sketching it on paper isn’t the same as working it out on the streets.

“We would need to see significant investments in ways we have not seen investment before and I am not sure that I fully understand where the funding would come from,” she said. “I guess a lot of things would have to be coordinated and come together to make these sites work. That’s not to say they can’t. I think it’s much more complicated than saying, ‘We’re going to have 10 to 20 micro-communities.’”

Two years ago, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the business-oriented think tank Common Sense Institute claimed that Denver spends between $42,000 and $104,000 a person experiencing homelessness per year. That total includes city government spending and spending on homelessness by charitable groups and Denver Health.

In Houston, a city Johnston cites during campaign speeches for its work on the issue, 25,000 homeless people were moved into apartments and houses — amounting to a 63% reduction in homelessness — over the past decade, according to a 2022 New York Times report. The overwhelming majority of them remained housed after two years.

Houston announced last year a $100 million plan, using a mix of federal, state, county and city funds, to slash the homeless count in half again by 2025, the Times reported.

Johnston says his numbers for the Mile High City pencil out.

At $25,000 per tiny home, the total bill would amount to $35 million — much of it coming from one-time federal stimulus funding. Services like mental health counseling, addiction treatment and workforce training would amount to $20 million, which will come from Denver’s Homelessness Resolution Fund and from Proposition 123, a 2022 voter-approved measure that redirects 0.1% of state income tax to subsidize affordable housing.

“It’s very reasonable you could do it in four years,” Johnston said of ending homelessness here.

Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks with pastor Vernon Jones Jr. at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)
Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks with pastor Vernon Jones Jr. at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)

“He’s been in these communities”

At campaign stops, Johnston often touts the Gary-created Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth, which provides up to $40,000 in down-payment assistance to first-time Black homebuyers. It’s that focus on marginalized populations that caught the attention of Leslie Herod, a Black state lawmaker who ran against Johnston in April.

She’s known him since he was appointed to his Senate seat, representing her neighborhood in that chamber. When Johnston says he will represent the interests of communities of color, it’s not lip service, Herod said.

“I appreciate that he didn’t just campaign in communities of color and then leave us behind,” she said. “He integrated the Black community into his work and constantly sought input from that community.”

Even if he sticks out as a white face in a diverse crowd, “he embraces that uncomfortable feeling to be able to do the work,” Herod said.

On Tuesday, Johnston gained the support of Lisa Calderón, whose progressive campaign for Denver mayor just missed the runoff election by approximately 3,000 votes. While her endorsement of Johnston could best be described as lukewarm, she said he was the best choice to keep the interests of minority voters at the forefront.

John Ronquillo, a professor with the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, said Johnston “has built a lot of solid relationships with folks from all backgrounds across the city, and he knows the value of incorporating that diversity into City Hall.”

He noted a Johnston campaign “misstep” in March when it distributed flyers targeting different racial groups by neighborhood. Johnston denied approving the flyers, and asked that they stop being circulated.

Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston, left, and Kelly Brough at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)
Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston, left, and Kelly Brough at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)

“Despite this, he has notched some very strong support from a number of Black and Latino civic and community leaders, including former mayoral candidate Leslie Herod and former Mayor Federico Peña,” Ronquillo said.

Peña, who was Denver’s mayor for two terms starting in 1983, said he met with eight of the candidates running for mayor and Johnston was the “more dynamic” contender. The candidate’s experience teaching in Mississippi and representing a largely Black part of Denver at the state Capitol gives him credibility, Peña said.

Johnston is also fluent in Spanish in a city with a nearly 30% Latino population.

“We need a mayor who understands diversity and has worked with diverse communities,” Peña said. “He’s lived it — he’s been in these communities.”

When Peña ran for the same office 40 years ago, some things were different — homelessness and home prices weren’t as acute. But other things feel mighty similar, the former mayor said, like high inflation and rising crime. Peña, who lives downtown, said he’s disenchanted by what he sees.

“We’ve got a downtown that is distressed,” he said. “It’s embarrassing — we’re losing conventions.”

Cops Peña speaks to tell him they feel little support these days. Johnston is not a backer of defunding the police, he said.

“He’s not going to go the Seattle way,” said Peña, referring to attempts a couple of years ago to slash that city’s police department budget. “Mike understands we need to have safety in our city.”

And a big part of that is getting a handle on gun violence that continues to plague big cities all over the country. Mike regularly boasts about taking on the National Rifle Association, most notably in 2013, when Democrats in the statehouse passed a package of gun control bills that were so controversial they resulted in the first recalls of state lawmakers ever.

That, Johnston claims, has resulted in the passage of “gun control legislation like magazine bans that no one ever thought was possible.”

Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. Johnston and Kelly Brough are headed to a runoff election to decide the next mayor of Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)
Mayoral candidate Mike Johnston speaks at a Black Community Run-off Candidates Forum Saturday, May 13, 2023, at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to The Denver Post)

Self-promotion or nothing to see here?

Brough’s campaign in a press release issued this month pointed out that Johnston was not the prime sponsor of any gun safety bills while he served in the Senate, “though he added his name to a few of them as a co-sponsor after the bills already passed.”

“Johnston served eight years in the state Senate and never introduced one bill on gun safety,” the release said.

Critics point to what they see as a pattern of self-promotion and embellishment by Johnston. Sarah Tuneberg, a former senior COVID-19 adviser to Colorado’s public health department and head of the agency’s containment and testing team, said Johnston routinely inflated the importance of COVIDCheck Colorado, an initiative first stood up by Gary Community Ventures at the height of the pandemic.

“They regularly attempted to take credit for the work of public employees at (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), the governor’s office and the department of safety, saying their involvement in COVID response was so much larger than it was,” she told the Post. “To see Mike say I am ready to be mayor of Denver in part because he did this work is wild to me.”

And this from a former supporter of Johnston — Tuneberg even voted for him in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“I will say I was heartbroken to learn he was a really dishonest braggart and unqualified,” she said.

Tuneberg had multiple issues with the way COVIDCheck operated, including concerns about its billing practices and how it was choosing locations for state-sponsored testing sites.

According to a press release issued by Gary Community Ventures last November, COVIDCheck provided 1.9 million tests. But Tuneberg pointed out that’s less than 10% of the more than 20 million tests the state has tracked on its COVID-19 data dashboard throughout the pandemic.

Johnston called Tuneberg’s characterization of his organization’s role in COVID-19 testing “inaccurate.”

From acquiring generators to power testing sites to hiring staff to developing the technology platform to rapidly share test results, the organization did critical work before ever linking up with the state health department, he said. COVIDCheck Colorado, he said, had processed 100,000 tests before even contracting with the state in November of 2020.

“They provided the funding that was critically important. And every public release we sent out, we mentioned and thanked and gave credit to the state for their funding of that effort,” Johnston said. “But it’s incredibly clear that we built the operation and the infrastructure to do this.”

Chyrise Harris watched COVIDCheck evolve up close. Johnston hired her as Gary’s vice president of communications and external affairs in June 2020, just as the program was growing.

“Mike was involved in COVIDCheck on a daily basis,” she said, noting that he was on task as early as 7 a.m. daily speaking with various testing teams.

Ronquillo isn’t surprised Johnston’s record is getting greater scrutiny now that the race is down to just two candidates.

“I’m more inclined to say it’s just politics, but in a strong mayor system (of government) where people are looking for a leader who will have to make some serious moral decisions, character matters,” he said.

But Ronquillo doubts any self-puffery among two “very capable individuals with impressive records as a whole” will do much damage in the eyes of voters. That’s how Dan Pabon, a former Democratic lawmaker who served eight years in the House, sees it too.

He finds claims of Johnston taking too much credit for certain bills that moved through the legislature a bit rich.

“That’s every member of the legislature,” he said of the tendency to inflate one’s role under the gold dome.

Republican Jerry Sonnenberg, who served two terms each in the state House and Senate, had high praise for Johnston.

“He was one of my favorite Democrats to work with because he was always thoughtful,” he said.

In fact, he was a better person to have across the table than most of his Republican colleagues, Sonnenberg said with a chuckle.

One unspoken challenge for Johnston that lies ahead as the election draws near is the unwelcome prospect of meeting the same fate as one-time Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. After serving two terms as a state legislator, Romanoff lost two bids for the U.S. Senate and a 2014 run for a seat in the 6th Congressional District.

Thus far, Johnston lost a bid for Colorado governor in 2018 and then withdrew from the U.S. Senate race two years later, after Hickenlooper threw his hat in the ring.

“I’ve thought: Is he the new Romanoff?” Pabon said of Johnston.

But he quickly realized that Johnston, with impressive oratory skills and powers of persuasion that shine particularly brightly in the retail politics environment of a mayor’s race, is probably better cut out for the city contest.

“The race finally came to him — it’s the race for mayor,” Pabon said. “I think he finally found the runway he was looking for.”

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