Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver mayoral races are not easy to predict

John Hickenlooper had not yet resigned the office of Denver mayor before a trio of candidates angling for that spot held open houses at their campaign headquarters this past week. Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock was the first; his campaign occupies the lucky space at 1100 Bannock Street that housed the successful Ken Salazar Senate campaign in 2004, the successful Bill Ritter gubernatorial campaign in 2006, the successful Mark Udall Senate campaign in 2008 and, this fall, a Colorado Democratic Party office that pushed Michael Bennet's Senate campaign. And Bennet, too, was successful.

But if history teaches us anything, it's that Denver mayoral races are not easy to predict. In 1983, Federico Peña was a dark-horse candidate who raced ahead of a crowded pack that included frontrunner Dale Tooley and incumbent Bill McNichols. In 1991, District Attorney Norm Early looked like he had a lock on the office that Wellington Webb soon occupied. And in 2003? Well, at this time eight years ago, political pundits weren't giving the John Hickenlooper candidacy a chance. At a briefing offered by one powerful political firm, the prognosticators said that Hickenlooper — who was polling at about 6 percent when he made his official announcement in January 2003 — might be a spoiler for one of the two frontrunners, then-Denver auditor Don Mares and former Denver police chief Ari Zavaras. Four months later, he blew right past them.

In the beginning, though, the Hickenlooper office was "a very lonely, quiet place," recalls Lindy Eichenbaum Lent. "No one took us seriously." In fact, people told her that in taking the job as Hickenlooper's communications director, she was committing "career suicide."

Hardly. After Hickenlooper won, he appointed her the mayoral communications director, then a senior advisor. Today she heads the Civic Center Conservancy, which gave her a unique perspective when her former boss took his walk from City Hall to the State Capitol on Tuesday. "It was the right time for the right message from the right personality," she says of Hickenlooper's 2003 run.

And in 2011, who has all the right stuff? When handicapping the mayor's race, only one thing is certain: All bets are off.

Oh, and this: You can now safely disregard the Re-elect Hickenlooper for Mayor 2011 message at the bottom of the still-live He's moved on...and up.