Transition team accepting applications for Mayor Hancock's administration

And a few names are already leaking out
The Colorado Statesman

Three short weeks ago political pundits were still pondering the fate of the two remaining Denver mayoral candidates, Chris Romer and Michael Hancock, and trying to predict how large the blow-out would be.

Now the game has refocused and city hall watchers are trying to figure out who will go to work in the Hancock administration.

Although the transition team, under the general committee called DenverForward, is still accepting applications for the roughly 60 department heads and staff positions Hancock will have to fill in his new position as mayor of Denver, names are already beginning to leak out as to top contenders for the posts.

Not surprisingly, co-chairs and the 350 members of the various subcommittees have been mostly tight lipped about possible prospects. Several of the committee chairs contacted this week by The Colorado Statesman gave us polite but uninformative tidbits on the record. But, politics being so ripe with rumors, we were able to obtain and verify a few names under consideration for appointments.

Entrepreneur and economic development expert John Huggins was named CEO and chairman of DenverForward the day after Hancock won election on June 7. The veteran transition chief, who guided John Hickenlooper’s transition when he was first elected mayor in 2003 and again when he became governor last fall, has said that one of their early key appointments will likely be chief of staff. There is no formal committee interviewing applicants for this important post — the decision, we’ve been told, will be primarily that of the mayor-elect, who will oversee the vetting of his potential first hire.

April Washington, communications director for DenverForward, confirmed that although there is not a set time as to when the selection of the chief of staff will be made, the position will likely be filled early.
“It’s an on-going process,” she said Thursday night about the important position.

Washington said no final decision has been made as yet, and pointed out that they are still in the “interviewing and vetting” phases. She reiterated what Hancock said at an earlier press conference after his election: mainly that the chief of staff position will probably be one of the first that is filled.

Washington stressed that this key appointee will work closely with the Mayor to run and operate the city. And it will need to be someone, Washington said, in whom Hancock has “immense trust.”

Although early speculation for chief of staff reportedly centered around former House Speaker Terrance Carroll, who has been a key advisor on the Hancock campaign, and Evan Dreyer, the former press secretary to former Gov. Bill Ritter and Hancock’s adroit campaign manager, apparently neither is currently being considered for the spot. That’s because Carroll, we’ve been told, is a longshot for City Attorney, although the odds of that occuring would come as a surprise to his associates at the Greenberg Taurig law firm in Denver where he works. He hasn’t officially applied for the post. And Dreyer, we’ve learned, has removed himself from consideration for chief of staff because of the possible interest of his wife in a different administration position, which we’ll touch on later.

For the record, the typically untalkative Dreyer would tell us only that he “is going to politely decline comment” on the personnel situation, and “let the process play out.”

One name being bandied about for chief of staff, though, is apparently making an impression in early interviews. But Tamra Ward, the senior vice president for governmental affairs and communications at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, stated a similar and non-committal “no comment” at this time and added that she would, like Dreyer, “let the process play out.”

Ward joined the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce as director of public affairs in December 2000. In 2003 she was promoted to vice president. She is responsible for the development and execution of a local, state and federal public policy/government relations plan that meets the needs of the organization’s 3,000 member businesses. Ward has served as the business community lead in efforts that resulted in Colorado’s Economic Recovery Plan, the legislative language that became Referenda C&D.

A 1990 graduate of Baylor University with a degree in journalism and Slavic studies, Ward’s career began on Capitol Hill, where she served as assistant press secretary for U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, press secretary for Representative Craig Thomas, and deputy chief of staff following Thomas’ election to the Senate in 1994.

Although her boosters say she is a highly qualified for the chief of staff position, Ward declined to speculate for the record.

Another possible candidate for the same job, we’ve been told, is Theresa Peña, elected to the Denver Public School Board as an at-large representative in 2003, and reelected in 2007 for a second four-year term, which expires this November. Peña is also one of the transition committee’s co-chairs.

She told The Statesman Thursday that she is aware her name is floating out there in the rumor mill, but like Ward, would only provide us with “no comment” on the subject of her possible interest in a position with the Hancock administration. She pointed out, however, that she is committed to her DPS job until November and has a very ambitious schedule of projects to complete during her tenure there.

Peña, a Denver native, has an MBA from Cornell University with a concentration in finance and marketing. She worked at IBM as a financial analyst and then began a long career at US West in the marketing, human resources, operations and finance departments. She is a board member of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the Denver Public Schools Retirement System and is on the executive committee for the Council of Great City Schools, a national coalition of the country’s largest urban public school systems.

As to that other position we alluded to earlier involving Melody Harris, the wife of Evan Dreyer, we’ve been told that she might be interested in serving as City Attorney.

Although Harris hadn’t officially submitted an application to the transition committee as of press time, sources within the office confirm that she has talked about the possibility with Huggins himself.

Harris became vice president and general counsel of MyTeleHealth Solutions last year after serving as senior counsel at the Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen. She also was an advisor to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, helping author his “New Energy Economy” during his 2006 gubernatorial election.

Harris received her law degree from Harvard Law School. She has done criminal defense work, intellectual property litigation and served as general counsel for a software firm.

She also serves as a Metro State trustee.

Harris didn’t return calls to The Statesman, and spouse Dreyer deflected attention with his “I’m going to politely decline comment” retort.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com