Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper will run for Colorado governor

11:03 PM, Jan 12, 2010   |    comments
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During an afternoon news conference on the steps of the State Capitol he said, "Some people out there still don't know who I am. My name is John Hickenlooper and I want to be the next governor of Colorado."

"Sometimes fate has a way of delivering an opportunity right when the hill is at its steepest. It seems often the way, 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 Great Depression. But I love Colorado every bit as much as I love Denver," Hickenlooper said. "We're getting into this race because it is a privilege to live in Colorado."

9NEWS first confirmed Hickenlooper would run before 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

"This is not a decision to be made lightly," he said.

The mayor's decision came after pleas from President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other prominent Colorado Democrats to take the spot vacated when Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) announced last week he would not run for re-election this fall.

Hickenlooper first announced his decision to run for governor on his Facebook page just before 4 p.m.

The former geologist-turned brewpub owner had never run for office before being elected mayor of Denver in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. He has advocated for economic development, sustainability, increased transit, and the arts since taking over at City Hall.

Last week, Ritter took Colorado's Democrats by surprise when he said he would not be a candidate and that he needed to focus more on his family. Immediately, focus turned to Salazar, Hickenlooper and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado). Just a day after Ritter's announcement, Salazar said he would not run and endorsed Hickenlooper. Perlmutter later did the same thing, saying he would not run.

The Republican candidates for the office are former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes.

"It won't change whether it's Hickenlooper or Ritter, we're going to focus on our own message," Maes told 9NEWS in response to Hickenlooper's announcement. "I saw the state was heading in the same direction Washington was heading, which is a disaster for the state of Colorado and the people of Colorado. And I said, 'Someone's got to do something about it.'"

McInnis appeared on Four O'clock at 9NEWS just after Hickenlooper's news conference. He says Colorado would get much of the same under Hickenlooper as it did under Ritter.

"He [Hickenlooper] is going to run as a Democrat and the platform the Democrats have has taken this state, frankly, in the wrong direction," McInnis said. "I want to fix it. I think we need to take a different direction."

During his speech, Hickenlooper made the economic problems facing Colorado his focus.

"With so many people in this state out of work or facing economic hardship, I can guarantee as governor I can bring my experience in business and the public service to the job of creating jobs. That's going to be my mission as Colorado's next governor," he said.

McInnis also focused on the economic problems facing Colorado.

"The real focus here needs to be on the people today that are going home that have lost their jobs in this state," he said. "When you talk about the hope that we all have for this state, you know it centers back on a job."

"Business first in this state in regards to our future," McInnis said.

"We've got to get our state economy back up on its feet," Maes agreed. "Our state is heading into the most difficult fiscal situation its probably faced in decades and it's going to take someone who's done this before. I've gone into failing operations in two locations around the country, turned them around."

Hickenlooper also touted his success as Denver's mayor, saying he "broke through" the "name calling that has become such a common part of politics."

"We've managed to create, I think, a more effective and efficient government with fewer resources. We've outlined choices for the public and went to the voters every single time so the people could decide what kind of city they wanted to live in," he said.

Denver's mayor finished by referencing Colorado's Western roots.

"What is ultimately the opposite of woe? Well it's gitty-up. And right now it's truly gitty-up time in Colorado," he said.

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams says there is little distinction between Hickenlooper and Ritter, calling Hickenlooper a "quirky version" of Ritter.

"I think he's going to find it is a much different situation to run statewide as opposed to the city and county of Denver," Wadhams told 9NEWS on Tuesday. "There is no discernable difference between Mayor Hickenlooper and Governor Bill Ritter. This is nothing more than Hicken-Ritter running for governor."

"The focus on this campaign will be on the Ritter record. John Hickenlooper cannot run from his support of the very pathetic Ritter agenda," Wadhams said.

"I think he is a person who very much has a vision about how this state should move forward. That he's been able to have that vision enacted in a variety of things that he's done in this city and county and now has the opportunity to have a candidacy in a statewide basis where he'll, I believe, do that very thing," Ritter said Tuesday when asked about Hickenlooper's decision.

Hickenlooper began his news conference by thanking Ritter for his service to Colorado.

"I don't have the words to thank Bill Ritter for all the work he's done on behalf of Colorado for the last three years and for his courage to recognize when a difficult choice is in front of you, to make the right choice for the right reasons," Hickenlooper said.

"While he has a different haircut and a different personality than most politicians, his policies are all too conventional. [He] taxes too much, borrows too much, spends too much, and that's exactly what we don't need," State Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) said in his reaction to Hickenlooper's decision.

9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli also weighed in on Hickenlooper's decision.

"This was not a surprise. The mayor is the logical choice frankly. The Democratic bench got a bit thinner after him. The Democrats needed Hickenlooper to run. You know he gave it very serious thought four years ago. I think the time is right for him now. He's done his time in Denver. He was ready to go," Ciruli said. "He walks into this race with the advantage of being seen as a non-partisan and he is extremely well liked throughout the Denver metro area, including in the Republican suburbs."

"By and large Denver mayors are not popular in the suburbs, but he is," Ciruli said.

Ciruli says now that Hickenlooper has thrown his hat into the ring, the race to be Colorado's next governor will heat up very quickly.

"I think that now that he has to become the partisan nominee of the Democratic Party it will be a little different. It's going to be much more aggressive, much tougher. However, if he can maintain some independence from the party and with voters, I think that will be a tremendous asset, but it won't be easy," Ciruli said.

Ciruli says Hickenlooper's decision also adds a lot of money to the race.

"I think his getting into the race has probably added several million to the cost on both sides because he is a very good fundraiser," Ciruli said.

Hickenlooper says he is not resigning as mayor. He is not obligated to do so. If he had done so, the city charter states that he would immediately be replaced by the Deputy Mayor Bill Vidal, who is currently serving as the Director of Public Works. If the deputy mayor passes on the opportunity, City Council President Jeanne Robb would assume the position.

By law, the City Council would have to accept the resignation, declare the position vacant and then, call for a citywide election not less than 120 days and not more than 130 days from the declaration unless there is another city election already scheduled within 160 days of the declaration. Simply put, if he steps down by April, then the August primary election previously slated would also include a contest for Mayor.

Denver Elections spokesman Alton Dillard says the cost of a special election is between $750,000 and $1 million. The gap is because the type of election (i.e. all mail, precinct voting) would have to be determined.

Hickenlooper says one of the reasons he is not resigning is because of the extra cost to the city.

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