Two-term Denver Mayor Hickenlooper enters governor’s race
DENVER — Popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday that is running for governor.
Hickenlooper, who’s nearing the end of his second term as mayor, said he decided to enter the race because his accomplishments in Denver can be transferred to the rest of the state.
“I saw an awful lot of the state not as a tourist, but as somebody working,” he said less than 24 hours before the Colorado Legislature kicks off its 2010 session today. “I know what it’s like to work 70 hours a week and build a business. I know what it’s like to take that business and work with other businesses … and create a thriving economy.”
After Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter surprised the state last week when he dropped his re-election bid, Hickenlooper was considered among Democratic Party insiders as the second-most popular choice behind U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
But Salazar, a former Colorado attorney general and U.S. senator, said almost immediately that he wasn’t interested in the job, and instead endorsed Hickenlooper to be the party’s nominee.
If no other Democrat enters the race, Hickenlooper would face either former Grand Junction congressman Scott McInnis or Evergreen businessman Dan Maes.
Leading Democrats such as Ritter, House Speaker Terrance Carroll and Senate President Brandon Shaffer immediately praised Hickenlooper, saying he understands how to bring people together.
“I’ve been with the mayor when he’s come over to Grand Junction a number of times, and it was really telling when he got a standing ovation a year ago from Club 20,” said Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, a former Grand Junction legislator. “His work in the oil fields gives him a basis for understanding western Colorado.”
But Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called him a third-string contender who won’t be able to compete with McInnis, who’s considered the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination.
Penry said Hickenlooper has a long history of taxing city residents and spending beyond Denver’s means.
“An unconventional candidate with all too conventional tax-and-spend priorities,” Penry said. “Three quarters of a billion dollars in taxes, that’s what he’s pushed through during his time as mayor. His name is not Bill Ritter, but in many respects his policies are the same.”
Hickenlooper, 57, is a geologist who became a brewpub owner before he ran for his first political office as Denver mayor in 2003. He was re-elected by a wide margin in 2007.
The mayor was born in Narberth, Pa., and moved to Colorado in 1981 to work in the oil and gas industry in various jobs around the state, including the Western Slope.
After being laid off from his oil and gas job in 1986, Hickenlooper became a restaurateur and opened the Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver’s lower downtown at a time when it was just a collection of rundown warehouses. He later expanded that business to several Denver-area restaurants.
Hickenlooper was elected mayor over a slew of other candidates, primarily over parking issues, and made a name for himself through a series of television commercials showing him putting quarters into parking meters just before a frustrated meter maid could issue tickets.
He earned some statewide notoriety in 2005 while campaigning for Referendum C, the ballot measure that created a five-year timeout of certain provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. He starred in a television commercial arguing for the measure while jumping out of an airplane wearing a business suit.
Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said Hickenlooper’s political and business experience would help him excel as governor.
“He came here understanding more about natural resources and the rural parts of the state,” Schwartz said. “When he got laid off, he was a Colorado success story. Coloradans, when they’re out of work, they want to stay in Colorado, so they become more creative.”
Martelle Daniels, chairwoman of the Mesa County Democratic Party, said that despite Hickenlooper’s Denver ties, he would be welcomed on the Western Slope.
She said his business experience in creating jobs will go a long way in showing he knows how to lead the state during its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
“Colorado is slated to recover in the top three or four states, which says a lot for the leadership of the governor,” she said. “I think Hickenlooper can continue moving us forward. He’s a very progressive person.”
A McInnis campaign statement pointed to a poll last week showing him leading Hickenlooper by 3 percentage points, well within the margin of error of 4 percent.
“The results of this independent poll by a highly respected national pollster show that our positive pro-jobs message, centered on creating economic opportunity, has a strong momentum across the state, regardless of who the Democrats decide to run,” McInnis said in the statement.
Hickenlooper’s wife, Helen Thorpe, is a freelance writer. They have a 7-year-old son named Teddy