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Denver's two mayoral candidates Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston go head-to-head in debate

Why crime and homelessness will play huge role in Denver's municipal election
Why crime and homelessness will play huge role in Denver's municipal election 03:48

One week after the Denver Municipal Election, the two mayoral candidates who made the runoff are off to the races.

Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston participated in their first formal one-on-one debate. It was hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Denver Partnership, VISIT DENVER, and CBS News Colorado.

Watch first Denver mayoral candidate forum between finalists Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston 01:27:22

 The business groups are worried about the future of downtown Denver. Hundreds of businesses have fled the city due to crime and homelessness, two issues that dominated the debate and will likely decide the election.

Both Brough and Johnston admit being mayor of Denver will be no walk in the park. But, they promise to turn the city around.

On homelessness, Brough wants a regional approach: "I'd convene with the mayors in the metro area and we'd develop exactly a plan of 'How do we do this?' and 'Do we need a funding source outside of what we're doing?' and I'm going to guess other cities may feel like they may need that."

Johnston wants Denver to focus on Denver first: "The 16th Street Mall is not Mike Coffman's problem and Union Station is not Wheat Ridge's problem. That is Denver's problem to be able to say 'We're going to make sure we can do the work to be aggressive and creative about this to find solutions, to deliver them.'"

Johnston's solutions include building what he calls "micro communities" -- "Where you take half acre lots around the city and we put tiny homes on those sites, you can put 40 to 50 of them, we can then move people to those sites and actually give them all the wraparound services they need."

He says he would enforce the camping ban without committing or arresting anyone, saying 72 hour mental health holds don't help, "If we have much more safe and stable and dignified options and what we have seen overwhelmingly is if when we offer those options people choose them."

Brough says, in cases where people continue to camp or openly use drugs, mental health holds or arrests may be necessary, "I think everyone agrees we want voluntary commitment for people to go to locations that are safer to get services and support, but when someone won't do it, I think we as a city have to be prepared to say we're not going to leave you to fend for yourself anymore."

The candidates will not only inherit big problems but big projects - including Denver International Airport, the National Western Stock Show and Colfax Bus Rapid Transit on Colfax Avenue.

Johnston says the 16th Street Mall redevelopment is top priority, "I think if we don't restore and finish and complete that project in a way that makes downtown really attractive again, the rest of our efforts around recovery are going to be very, very hard to be successful at."

Brough had a harder time picking one priority, "I'll say Denver International Airport and 16th Street Mall. But I've also got to tell you -- 12-15 years to get BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) on Colfax, come on, team. We're going to have to do more than one thing at a time."

Both candidates oppose safe injection sites and support turning Park Hill Golf course into a park - although they voted to develop it. Both also say the police chief will be among their most important hires. The makeup of city council is important to their success too. Brough and Johnston are mainstream Democrats and council may be much further to the left. The candidates said they know how to find common ground.   

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