All Together, Now

Denver's living high on the hug.

Which extended all the way to my car, where the meter had expired five minutes before I returned from the hour-long meeting. And there he was, the dreaded meter reader, right in front, drawing his ticket machine like a deadly weapon even as he gave directions to a group of schoolkids. And then he let me off with a smile.

I could have hugged him.

From the Penthouse to the (Prairie) Doghouse

During his campaign for mayor, John Hickenlooper would have gone to the opening of an envelope.

It wasn't all political posturing, though. He truly loves the press of humanity. The press, even.

I met him almost fifteen years ago, the day the Wynkoop Brewing Co. opened across the street from what would become Westword's office for the next decade. A former Westworder was one of the brewpub's original partners; no slouch with the press herself, she was quickly outquipped by Hickenlooper, a laid-off geologist who got a far more gratifying response from people than he ever had from rocks. Like Hickenlooper's inaugural party, the Wynkoop's debut was open, too, and the place was packed (never offer a free lunch to reporters). But while the food ran out, the beer flowed freely -- unlike at the inaugural party.

Over the years, the Wynkoop cooked up many promotions -- and Hickenlooper was usually front and center. To mark its anniversary, there was the Running of the Pigs, a race with, yes, real swine that would drag their human handlers around the block, both squealing every step of the way. But that event was finally taken off the calendar after sensitive types complained that it was cruel to animals -- no matter that you could consume those very animals' cousins in a delicious sandwich just a few feet away. And so the next year, the Wynkoop hosted "Prairie Preservation Day," complete with a life-sized prairie dog hopping around the restaurant.

No good deed goes unpunished.

On Saturday, Hickenlooper will offer the keynote speech -- "Protecting Prairie Dogs and Safeguarding Grasslands" -- at the 2003 Prairie Dog Summit. If the Colorado Home Builders hated Hickenlooper opening his loft for an environmental fundraiser last week -- and the CHB did -- they will really hate this. After all, in 2000, there were 2,200 acres in Denver proper that prairie dogs called home. "They've lost some since then," says David Crawford, acting director of the Prairie Dog Coalition. "We want to get some back."

But first his group will celebrate prairie wildlife with tours and talks, including a presentation by Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, the leading expert on prairie-dog communication, who believes the critters "have one of the most advanced forms of natural language known to science." (That's including Denver City Council.) And, of course, the Hickenlooper keynote.

"It's a bold move on his part," says Crawford. "It's the kind of precedent we want to see from elected officials."

Always pushing the envelope.

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