Feb 5, 2024 - News

Mayor Mike Johnston's first veto erodes progressive credibility

Photo illustration of Denver mayor Mike Johnston with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals; Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mayor Mike Johnston's decision last week to veto a measure banning encampment sweeps during freezing temperatures is chipping away at his position as a progressive.

Why it matters: Progressive voters were likely crucial in helping Johnston become mayor last year, but his latest decision shows he's not always willing to align himself with the city council's progressive bloc.

The latest: He appears to have changed his position on ending sweeps during those conditions, something he backed during a mayoral forum last year.

What they're saying: "It was predictable that Mayor Johnston would not keep his campaign promise to stop sweeps during freezing temperatures," Lisa Calderón, who endorsed him after ending her mayoral candidacy, tells us in a statement.

Zoom in: Council President Jamie Torres and members Shontel Lewis, Sarah Parady and Paul Kashmann co-sponsored the ban.

Between the lines: In his veto statement, Johnston vowed not to carry out sweeps when temperatures fall below freezing without housing or sheltering options, with limited exceptions.

Yes, but: Parady tells us the mayor's letter doesn't address whether the city will still enforce the camping ban on small encampments — or even single tents — during freezing temperatures that don't necessarily fall under the "large encumbrance removals'' that typically mean multiple tents.

The other side: Council Member Darrell Watson, a moderate Democrat who unseated a progressive candidate during last year's election, fiercely opposed the measure on the dais, calling on Johnston to veto it.

Of note: The council needs nine votes to override the veto.

What's next: The bill will reappear before the city council during its Feb. 12 meeting.

  • Members can decide whether to override it, refer it to a committee for further discussion, or postpone for another meeting, according to a statement from council spokesperson Robert Austin.
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