Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

John Hickenlooper does the math, stays at City Hall until January

Even as John Hickenlooper was heading to the Capitol the day after the election to discuss his plans for the state, city employees were reading this e-mail from the governor-elect: "Many of you have already asked what happens now. As excited as I am for my new role, we want to honor to the best of my abilities our commitment to you and all Denver residents by staying on as Mayor until the Inauguration at the Capitol on January 11."

In the Denver Post yesterday, former city councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt chided Hickenlooper for not leaving his Denver office sooner -- but she got the math wrong, which threw off her argument.

In fact, Hickenlooper did the city a favor by not resigning last January in order to run for governor, and he's doing the city a favor by staying at the mayor's office until next January. As he noted when he first decided to run, it's almost as though the people who wrote Denver's city charter anticipated Denver's mayor moving across the street and up the hill to the governor's office.

Under city charter, if the Denver mayor resigns more than 120 days from the next regular election -- which is May 3, 2011 -- the city must hold a special election to fill the empty office. And not only is a special election costly (estimates run about a half-million), but it has very different rules from a regular election, when a mayoral candidate must win by a majority of the vote or go to a run-off between the top two vote-getters (the usual situation).

By contrast, the special election is a winner-take-all format, which means whoever gets the most votes (and judging from all the people once again looking at the race, there could be a dozen candidates) is elected. Hickenlooper saved the city this circus when he didn't resign to run for mayor, and he's saving the city the same scenario now.

Bill Vidal, head of the Denver Department of Public Works and the deputy mayor, kept the city running while Hickenlooper was off campaigning, he'll keep the city running while Hickenlooper is taking time off to deal with state business before January 11, and he'll keep the city running during the 120 days between the Inauguration and the May election -- in which Vidal has already said he won't be a candidate.

The only losers in this scenario? The mayoral candidate who might have won the office by earning just 15 or 20 percent of the vote, and the media outlets, spoiled by a quarter stuffed with campaign ad revenues, that will have to wait a few more months for all those campaign ads.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Tom Tancredo's run for Colorado governor proves that shirt happens."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun