Denver Mayor-Elect was shaped by his years growing up in Vail

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, 42, grew up in Vail before representing Northeast Denver's House District 33 for three terms until this past January. He is viewed by many as an authority on public education reform.
Kevin Fixler / |

This story was originally published April 16, by the Vail Daily.

Vail’s mayor knows who she wants to see as Denver’s next mayor: Mike Johnston. On June 6, Johnston defeated Kelly Brough Denver’s first new mayor in 12 years.

Johnston grew up in Vail, the son of the owners of the Christiania Lodge in Vail Village.

Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid said she knew the Johnstons growing up, and saw how involved in the community they were. Johnston’s dad, Paul, served on the Vail Town Council including a stint as mayor, and the family played a part in creating Vail Mountain School and other civic projects.

The Johnston family was an “instrumental” part of the community in its early days, Langmaid said.

Johnston attended Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through his senior year, graduating in 1993. He then attended Yale University, graduating in 1997.

After college, Johnston taught at a rural high school in Greenville, Mississippi. Returning to Colorado in 2003, he’s spent the past 20 years as a school teacher and administrator. He’s also served two terms as a state senator from the Denver area.

Vail Town Council member Travis Coggin said Johnston had left VMS before he started high school there. But Johnston’s reputation lingered.

“He looks out for the greater good,” Coggin said. “He’s obviously committed to public service.”

Jonathan Staufer, another Vail Town Council member and Mountain School graduate was a couple of years ahead of Johnston. But, Staufer added, all the VMS kids grew up together when Vail Village was abuzz with the children of local business owners. Those days, and his family, shaped Staufer’s life in community service. Johnston is cut from the same cloth, Staufer said, and that VMS played a role, too. Staufer recalled going to Denver with a VMS group to serve a meal at a Denver soup kitchen.

Johnston “does what he does out of a spirit of serving his community,” Staufer said.

Former classmate Tom Boyd is one of Johnston’s biggest fans, and closest friends.

Johnston is “a guy you can believe in” Boyd said. And those who know and watch Johnston believe he’s a person who can “get difficult things done,” he added.

Boyd noted that Denver “has huge problems right now,” and is confident his old friend is the right person to tackle those problems.

Johnston’s reputation as problem-solver dates back to his VMS days, Boyd said.

“Growing up on Vail Mountain and skiing alone … taking care of one another, developed a strong sense of leadership among all of us,” Boyd said.

While Vail was a small town in the 1980s and 1990s, the local grads noted that Vail was a small town with a difference even then.

Langmaid noted that Vail “had a lot of global connections,” thanks to the Vail Symposium, Vail Valley Foundation and other sources.

“We were constantly exposed to larger issues,” Langmaid said.

Boyd may be biased, but said he’s optimistic Johnston can become Denver’s next mayor.

“There’s an intangible talent he has,” Boyd said, adding that Denver’s next leader should be able to inspire others. Johnston can do that, his old friend said.

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