Kelly Brough is running for Denver mayor in 2023

Denver’s first open mayoral race in 12 years is underway and on Monday the most recognizable candidate to date officially jumped into the expanding pool of would-be top executives in the city.

Kelly Brough, the former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and former chief of staff to then-Denver-mayor, now U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, filed her candidate paperwork on Monday.

Brough did not immediately return a call seeking comment on her decision to run.

When she spoke to The Denver Post about the prospect of seeking the city’s top office this spring, she said she was in the process of having conversations with residents around the city to see what their priorities were and to get feedback on ideas of her own. She did not definitively say she was running.

That was a change from June 2021. At that time, as Brough was stepping away from her role as the first woman leader of the Denver Metro Chamber in its history, she denied she was considering a mayoral run.

Now she enters the race as not only the best-known candidate so far but the one with access to the biggest well of high-dollar donors. So far, the city’s campaign finance portal does not show that Brough has signed up to participate in the city’s newly launched fair elections fund. Candidates who participate in that fund agree to accept smaller contributions from donors in exchange for access to matching public dollars from the city on those donations. For mayoral candidates, the maximum public match is $750,000.

Brough is viewed as a formidable candidate but there have been rumblings that the Denver Metro Chamber under her tenure was too conservative on some issues including opposing the paid family leave measure that voters approved in 2020. In municipal races that typically skew left in deep blue Denver, those types of policy positions matter to voters.

Brough told the Denver Post earlier this year that the opposition to paid family leave hinged in part on how much money workers who took leave would be paid.

“A lot of times the reason for something is maybe even more important than the position,” Brough said. “We had lots of conversations about paid leave and a huge concern about the paid leave proposals is some of the lowest wage workers wouldn’t get their full salaries. It’s hard to live on that.”

The chamber’s 2020 ballot guide did not mention the lack of full salaries for people taking leave.

Its arguments against the propositions included that “This initiative is costly for both employees and employers at a time when many are struggling to keep teams employed, are working to rebuild or even just trying to stay afloat in this economy.”

Brough emphasized that the chamber under her watch fought for equality for all people living and working in Colorado including by filing an amicus brief supporting the state in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. In that case, baker Jack Phillips sued the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for ruling that he discriminated against a gay couple when he refused to make them a custom wedding cake. Phillips argued that the request went against his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor.

Brough becomes the ninth confirmed candidate that will be vying for mayoral votes in the upcoming April municipal election.

She joins Anna Burrell, Alex Cowans, Marcus Giavanni, Jesse Lashawn Parris, Terrance Roberts, Andy Rougeot,  Ken Simpson and Ean Thomas Tafoya in the race.

Some recognizable names are waiting in the wings including activist and organizer Lisa Calderón, state Sen. Chris Hansen, statehouse Rep. Leslie Herod and former state legislator and Denver mayoral candidate Penfield Tate III.

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