The morning after he was elected Denver’s next mayor, Councilman Michael Hancock tapped an experienced hand to lead his transition team.
Hancock named entrepreneur and economic development expert John Huggins — who ran similar transition efforts for John Hickenlooper when he was elected mayor in 2003 and again when he took over as governor late last year — as the CEO and chairman of DenverForward, the new administration’s name for its transition committee. Huggins, an early and key supporter of Hancock’s mayoral bid, served as director of Denver’s Office of Economic Development during the first Hickenlooper administration.
“We are very fortunate to have someone like John Huggins leading this transition,” said Hancock at a press conference on Wednesday in Civic Center Park. “John is one of the most well-respected business leaders in Denver, and he has unmatched experience running successful transitions. John is the best person we could hope for to help move Denver forward and position us to launch our 100-Day Plan.”
Hancock has 40 days to put together a team before he is inaugurated on July 18. There are roughly 60 positions up for grabs, including managers of departments, deputy managers and staff positions. (As many as 64 positions can be filled by the mayor, according to Denver’s charter, but fewer are authorized under current budgeting.)
“We’ll do the best we can to get positions filled by then,” said Huggins.
Hancock announced the launch of a website, www.DenverForward.com, which will feature information about the transition. There will be an opportunity to apply for jobs in the new administration and to volunteer on transition committees, which could eventually count several hundred participants. Huggins said he expects to start naming transition committee leaders and staff later this week.
“This will be a thorough look throughout the community, and beyond, for the ideas and leaders that will help Mayor-elect Hancock move Denver forward,” Huggins said. “We encourage everyone to sign up on the DenverForward website and get involved.”
The site lists 20 different subcommittees devoted to executive positions, city departments and particular subjects, such as economic development and children’s affairs.
As is customary, Hancock plans to ask all mayoral appointees to submit resignations and apply for their jobs if they want to continue working under the new mayor. Other than saying he plans to replace Police Chief Gerald Whitman, Hancock hasn’t revealed whether to expect sweeping changes at the top.
But transition teams led by Huggins can yield unconventional results: Mayor Hickenooper plucked a young investment banker named Michael Bennet — the Democrat first appointed and then elected last year to a full term in the U.S. Senate — as his first chief of staff. Gov. Hickenlooper’s appointments included Republicans and others usually considered off the radar for top government jobs.
“Inclusiveness will be the core value,” Hancock said. “Today, we are inviting the entire community to be involved. Everyone who wants to be considered will be considered on a level playing field.”
Huggins underscored the point: “This is all about reaching out to all parts of the community,” he said. “Not just the people who supported us yesterday in the vote — but also those who supported Chris Romer and other candidates in the first round of the election.”
Hancock defeated Romer, a former state senator and fellow Democrat, by a wide margin in Tuesday’s runoff election after a divisive and sometimes rancorous campaign.
At Hancock’s request, the Denver Board of Ethics set a special meeting for Friday afternoon to consider issuing an advisory opinion about the transition committee’s ability to raise funds for its own operations. Michael Henry, the board’s staff director, said it was the first time anyone has asked how transition activities fall under the city’s code of ethics, and called it a “very good opportunity” to decide how things should work. (When Huggins headed Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial transition last fall, that committee made a similar request for guidance to the state’s Independent Ethics Commission, which ruled it was fine to solicit private donations so long as they didn’t come from lobbyists or those with business before the state.)
The new mayor’s first priority will be to pick a chief of staff, Hancock said. Describing the position as the mayor’s “right hand” and closest advisor, he said he is “talking to some folks now,” including key political allies and longtime associates. “I’ve got to know that’s the person that’s going to run the administration while I’m being mayor,” he said. He added that hiring someone adept at scheduling will also be among his first moves.
Before announcing his transition operation, Hancock said he met for a “robust conversation” with Mayor Bill Vidal, the former deputy mayor promoted to fill out Hickenlooper’s term after he was inaugurated as governor.
Vidal’s advice? “Don’t let this job kill you,” Hancock said with a grin. He said the mayor reminded him to make sure he doesn’t let the job overwhelm family and personal time but also assured him he could “grab hold of the schedule” and keep his sanity. Hancock said he plans to meet weekly with Vidal as the transition gets under way.