Hickenlooper's a go, but field still uncertain

By Scot Kersgaard
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday that he intends to be the next governor of Colorado.

He also said he hopes there will be no primary, but as of press time, it is anybody’s guess whether former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff intends to switch from the U.S. Senate race to the governor’s race.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper embraces his wife, Helen Thorpe, outside the state Capitol after announcing his candidacy for governor.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper said he has had several meetings with Romanoff, but he wouldn’t discuss the particulars.

And the normally accessible Romanoff has not returned calls or emails.

Rumors had circulated that an Andrew Romanoff-Cary Kennedy ticket was in the works, but on Wednesday Colorado Treasurer Kennedy quashed such speculation when she publicly endorsed Hickenlooper.

She said that when Gov. Ritter announced he was not seeking re-election, her first concern was how “we could replace his leadership, experience and passion.

“Yesterday, that answer came in the form of John Hickenlooper,” she wrote.

Colorado Democrats have been nearly unanimous in praising Hickenlooper and announcing their endorsements, while Republicans, including presumptive gubernatorial nominee Scott McInnis, have said it makes no difference who the Democrats nominate.

“Our prospects are no different now than when Ritter was the candidate,” said Rep. Amy Stephens, of Monument, the Republican Caucus chair.

Colorado Democratic Chair Pat Waak said she did not know what Romanoff was going to decide or when he might decide it. Earlier in the day, she had privately speculated that there could still be a primary.

Gov. Bill Ritter, who announnced recently that he won’t run for reelection, and Secretary of State Bernie Buescher have both endorsed Hickenlooper for governor.
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

“I do think we have a fine candidate for governor, but anyone can run,” she said. “I think John is McInnis’s worst nightmare. He is sharp, savvy and innovative. He has done tremendous things in Denver and he will be tremendous for Colorado. This is driving them (Republicans) crazy,” Waak said.

Hickenlooper’s announcement at 4:15 Tuesday afternoon was punctuated with sirens, barking dogs, folksy charm, appeals to rural voters, and frequent embraces with his wife, Helen Thorpe.

After thanking everyone for asking him to run, and for waiting patiently for his decision … and after discussing the role his family played in the decision, the somewhat shy politician was finally ready to give his first gubernatorial campaign stump speech.

“Well, you’ve waited long enough, so let’s get to it. My name is John Hickenlooper and I want to be the next governor of Colorado,” he said to the rousing applause of a couple hundred friends, supporters, politicos and members of the media.

“You know, sometimes fate has a way of delivering opportunity right when the hill is at its steepest,” Hickenlooper said on the West Steps of the Capitol. “Some might argue this is the worst time to run for governor, given the challenges that are facing our state. We are, after all, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Depression,” he said.

Hickenlooper recounted his early days traveling the state, working as a geologist in the oil business.

“I love Colorado every bit as much as I love Denver,” he said. He recalled the first time he saw the old Denver Post building, which had the words “Tis a privilege to live in Colorado” etched above the front door.

“We’re getting into this race because it is a privilege to live in Colorado,” he said, smiling at his wife.

“You know, I’m not somebody who is comfortable talking about myself, but with so many people in this state out of work or facing financial hardship, I believe that, as governor, I can bring my experience in business and in public service to the job of creating jobs. That is going to be my mission as Colorado’s next governor,” he said.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and his wife, Helen Thorpe, bask in the moment.
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

“I don’t just think about creating jobs,” he said. “I have created jobs.”

Kennedy agreed that a Hickenlooper governorship would be good for the economy. “John not only brings considerable business experience to this race, he has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to attract new businesses and bring innovative companies and high-paying jobs to our state,” she said.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer also said he supports Hickenlooper, and especially appreciates the way he has improved the quality of life in Denver. “He will create jobs for the state,” he said, adding that “Hickenlooper is our strongest candidate.”

“I don’t think we will have a aprimary,” said Democratic consultant and recent Ritter campaign manager David Kenney. It had been expected by many that Kenney would move over to manage the Hickenlooper campaign, but Hickenlooper said Kenney would not be part of his official team.

Kenney said that although no election is easy, he thinks Hickenlooper has some nearly unique qualifications that enable him to connect with voters in ways most politicians can’t.

“John is unique in that he did not come up through a partisan system. He really does work well with everyone and gets along with everyone. I don’t just mean that he hasn’t had to define himself against Republicans, but also that he hasn’t come up through the Democratic system, with all of that infighting about who is liberal and who is moderate. John is a Democrat, but he has come to this place without that really making much difference. And people like that. They respond to that,” Kenney said.

Indeed, mayor of Denver is the only office Hickenlooper ever has held, and it’s a nonpartisan post. Until he was elected mayor, Hickenlooper was best known as the owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., a large brewpub in LoDo, which he founded in 1988 after getting laid off from his job as a geologist.

The normally chipper Dick Wadhams, Colorado’s Republican state chairman, attended the Hickenlooper announcement on Tuesday, but isn’t smiling for some reason...
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

When the Wynkoop opened and then thrived, it led the way for an entire part of the city to be redeveloped. That success led to Hickenlooper’s appointment to various boards and commissions and paved the way for his mayoral bid.

Hickenlooper no longer has an ownership interest in the Wynkoop or the six other bars now in the group.

One of the other people most influential in the redevelopment of LoDo, businesswoman, developer and chairman of Urban Neighborhoods Dana Crawford said she wholeheartedly supports Hickenlooper’s candidacy.

“I am very enthusiastic about John being governor,” she said. “He is terrific as mayor. He is a fantastic salesman, and I think he will win.”

Hickenlooper took a few minutes Tuesday to look back on his start in the restaurant business.

“In the 1980s, when the oil industry went bust, we all had to adapt, and I became a businessman. I remember the day I got laid off, and that guy came in and told each of us one after the other that we were out of work. My partners and I didn’t have too many choices.

“There were no jobs for geologists or geophysicists, so my partners and I decided we would open the first brewpub in the Rocky Mountains. We ended up opening other restaurants in Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Denver. Through hard work and a fair amount of luck, we helped create literally thousands of jobs, and, in the process, helped kick-start the transformation of a run-down warehouse district in lower downtown into a neighborhood full of business and residential development.

“I like to tell people that when we first signed the lease for the Wynkoop back in 1987, the rent was $1 per square foot per year. I challenge you to find anything down there today for remotely close to that.”

Hickenlooper said that shortly after he opened the Wynkoop, he began putting ads on the walls for other restaurants in the area.

“People thought I was crazy. Why would I do that?” he asked. “I knew the other restaurants weren’t my competition. My competition was the television, people staying home. I wanted them to get off their couches and come downtown to have some fun. I knew the more restaurants they went to, the more often they would go out. There were about 35 restaurants downtown then. Now there are more than 300,” he said.

State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, House Speaker Terrance Carroll and state Sen. Gail Schwartz stand together at the announcement, nixing rumors of a rival Romanoff-Kennedy ticket.
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

Speaking to The Colorado Statesman a few days before Hickenlooper made his announcement, Kenney said that he had thought the Democrats would beat McInnis with Ritter as their nominee, and “I think we will beat him with John.”

“We have positive ideas for how to run the state. All they (Republicans) have is they keep saying how bad the Democrats have done. Their tone is bad. It is negative. All they do is point their fingers at everyone else. They don’t have any positive ideas. That turns off unaffiliated voters. It turns off moderates of both parties. They need to learn how to deliver a message without calling people names,” Kenney opined.

Hickenlooper said it was some of those same concerns that caused him to run for mayor in 2003. He said he heard from countless restaurant customers and business owners coming in and complaining about politicians and government.

“They didn’t like the bureaucracy,” he said. “They couldn’t stand the red tape. They didn’t like the political name-calling and endless attacks. We broke through all that.”

Most Republicans express the view that Hickenlooper is essentially the same as Ritter. However, in an interview with The Statesman last year, former GOP Congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez said he was shocked that Ritter had selected Michael Bennet over Hickenlooper to replace Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate.

“I’m guessing John Hickenlooper has name ID that rivals the governor’s — maybe exceeds the governor’s. I’m guessing that John Hickenlooper has 4:1 favorable/unfavorables statewide. There isn’t enough money in the world to peel that down to 1:1 – to where you could maybe beat him,” Beauprez said at the time.

“John Hickenlooper could claim — he won’t do it because he’s got enough humility to not do it — but he could claim that the (Democratic National Convention) was successful in large part because of his efforts to raise the money. His appointment would have taken that seat almost completely off the table,” Beauprez said then.

Statehouse Democrats also respect Hickenlooper’s fundraising abilities.

“This should clear the field,” said Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. “He should have a pretty decent time raising money with his history.”

Pace predicted there would be no primary.

“He’ll be able to beat McInnis,” agreed Rep. Edward Vigil, D-Fort Garland. “I think Hickenlooper has refreshed and recharged the party, and it’s a good thing for Colorado. He’s a businessman. He has created jobs. He’s not so much a partisan person as he is a problem solver.”

Ritter endorsed Hickenlooper on Tuesday, referring to him as one of the best mayors in America.

“John Hickenlooper is a great mayor, and he’s going to be a great governor,” Ritter said in a prepared statement.

“His strong leadership skills, collaborative problem-solving approach and his innovative ideas will set him apart. As someone who comes out of the private sector, Mayor Hickenlooper’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and job creation will keep moving Colorado toward a strong, stable and sustainable recovery.”

In his endorsement of Hickenlooper, Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll said the mayor “brings some tremendous gifts to the state.”

“Mayor Hickenlooper is someone who has shown he’s not tied to petty partisanship. He’s beyond that,” Carroll said.

“He brings his strong experiences as a businessperson that this state so desperately needs. That’s a clear distinction between him and the person that he quite possibly could be running against,” Carroll said. “He’s someone who’s had to make tough decisions, live with those decisions and move forward with those decisions.”

Scot@coloradostatesman.com

Additional reporting by Jimy Valenti and Anthony Bowe.