Mike Johnston was sworn in as the new mayor in Denver on Monday morning. The Mile High City's 46th mayor struck an optimistic tone and spoke about what he says is his dream of Denver.
The Ellie Caulkins Opera House downtown was packed for the municipal inauguration, and the crowd included a who's who of dignitaries in local politics. That included former mayors Federico Peña, Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper. The crowd gave Johnston a standing ovation before Johnston spoke, causing Johnston to joke that he hadn't even done anything yet.
But he plans to do a lot. And he expects a lot of help from those who call Denver home. For the city to succeed, he says, every Denverite has to take an oath to dream, serve and deliver.
He says his dream is a city where everyone who works can afford to live, where every neighborhood is safe and where the bonds of democracy are strong.
"The essense of democracy is that it calls on our ability to do something that feels unnatural. To love those who are different from us. To believe in them, to work with them, to sacrifice for them, to deliver for them. That is our dream of Denver. That is our promise to our people, that is our pledge to each other. That is how we put our arms around those stuck in a cycle of hurt and it is how we pull this city back into a cycle of hope. It is how we dream, serve and deliver Denver as America's best city.
"Now let's get to work."
The inaugural festivities will continue Monday night with a Denver Vibes festival at Union Station that will include local bands, artists and food trucks.
Johnstonfacing the Mile High City, everything from a migrant crisis to a drug crisis. Denver's homeless population also continues to grow and numbers at approximately 5,000 people.
Johnston says he wants to identify lots around the city where tiny home villages can be set up and people can receive special services that help them acquire enough finances for affordable housing.
The current administration's attempts have met resistance from neighbors. Johnston says everyone needs to step up. He flipped the script and asked Denverites to take an oath of their own: "For us to succeed every Denverite must take their own oath, an oath to dream to serve and to deliver."
Delivering steady small successes, he says, is key, but he promised to end homelessness in four years during the campaign, so he's under pressure to deliver big. The growing migrant population will make his goal harder still. The city has spent $20 million on services for migrants since December, according to a city spokesperson.
They aren't the only ones struggling to find shelter. Johnston says many people who work here can't afford to live here: "Our dream of Denver is that the things we build support the people that built them."
He wants to build 25,000 permanently-affordable housing units in eight years, but to secure funding, he will need to overhaul the permitting office which lacks the staff and technology to meet demand.
Johnston also faces the challenge of staffing the Denver Police Department. He has said he wants to hire 200 more first responders and make Denver the safest city in the country. In order to meet his hiring goal, he will need to double the budget for recruitment classes. The city also needs millions in additional funding for community corrections after the city council canceled a contract with a private company.
More crime has meant less business downtown.
"Our dream of Denver is refusing to abandon the city center but promising to reimagine it," Johnston said in his speech. He has identified the 16th Street Mall remodel as his top-priority infrastructure project. Phase one is six months behind schedule.
Johnston urged Denver residents to have faith: "With each small success our bonds grow tighter our progress grows steadier our belief grows stronger and our dreams grow larger."
The mayor plans to hold a press conference Tuesday that he says will include specific plans of action.
His to-do list also includes making some 60 appointments. His transition team has been vetting applicants and will narrow the pool and make recommendations to Johnston. For the first time, the city council will have to confirm the mayor's top cabinet picks.
While he may keep some of former Mayor Michael Hancock's appointees, a new mayor typically means a new team.
Hancock led the city for 12 years before term limits forced him to step aside. Hancock and Johnston exchanged a handshake and hug onstage as Monday's transition of power took place.
New members of the Denver City Council and other city leadership positions were also sworn into office as part of the 2023 Denver Municipal Inauguration.
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