Aug 1, 2023 - Politics

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston slow to fill key roles

Mayor Mike Johnston sits in the Denver City and County Building on July 18. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston is off to a slow start.

What's happening: Since being sworn into office two weeks ago, he has not named a single person to fill one of his 14 Cabinet positions.

Why it matters: The delay in appointments leaves his administration in limbo, along with his lofty agenda and campaign promises.

State of play: Without handpicked leaders for departments such as housing stability, public safety and human services, Johnston's vision could be jeopardized. Meanwhile, hundreds of city workers are uncertain who their boss will be.

  • Of the 64 appointees Johnston can fill to help turn his ambitious plans into action, 15 are complete, his spokesperson Jordan Fuja tells us.
  • His office did not provide details about which roles or the people selected.

Context: The day former Mayor Michael Hancock was inaugurated in 2011, he had already named his chief of staff, chief financial officer and director of human rights and community relations.

The backstory: Days after winning the June 6 run-off election, Johnston created a 28-committee transition team loaded with heavy hitters, including former Mayor Federico Peña and state Rep. Leslie Herod.

  • The goal was to speed up the transition process by vetting and naming new leaders quickly and soliciting feedback on the city's current services through public forums.

What to watch: Job listings for 30 positions were posted on the city's website Monday. The roles include chief financial officer, city attorney, public health director and head of public safety.

  • In a statement, Johnston said he's building "a diverse team of thoughtful, dedicated, and transformative individuals."

The intrigue: For now, Johnston is asking that existing staff and Cabinet members from Hancock's administration stick around through Aug. 31 to "ensure the city runs smoothly throughout the transition process," Fuja says.

Of note: One high-profile hire Johnston has announced is chief of staff Jenn Ridder, a veteran political strategist.

  • The Denver native's professional background includes managing Gov. Jared Polis' first campaign and holding a senior role in President Biden's 2020 campaign.
  • Her appointment earned praise from political and community leaders, who lauded her for her leadership, insight and ability to tackle tough challenges.
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