Wake-Up Call: Whoa for all those would-be mayoral candidates after John Hickenlooper's job

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It may be "giddyup" time for John Hickenlooper, but his announcement that he does not plan to resign as Denver mayor in order to run for Colorado governor put a major "whoa" on all the dark horses already preparing for a run at the top slot at City Hall.

And that's a good thing. Here's why:

Under city charter, if Hickenlooper gave up his office, Denver would have to hold a special election for his seat within 120 days of his resignation, and that could cost Denver a half-million bucks. Even if he waited to resign until within 120 days of the August primary, or the November election, there would be additional costs involved.

But the real cost would be this: a fair election.

Under these arcane city rules (verified Tuesday with the Denver Elections Commission), unless a Denver mayoral election is held on its regularly scheduled day in May, it's considered a special election, and falls under special rules. In the regular election, a mayoral candidate must get the majority of the vote in order to win -- and if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters go to a run-off, as happened in 2003, year of Hickenlooper's first race. It happened in 1983, too, when an upstart named Federico Peña emerged from a very crowded field; inncumbent Bill McNichols was knocked out in the first round, and Peña and Denver District Attorney Dale Tooley moved on to the run-off.

But in a special election, the top vote-getter automatically gets the job: There's no run-off. Which means that if a dozen people are on the ballot -- and right now, at least that many are looking at a mayoral race, from Chris Romer to James Mejia to Walter Isenberg to Penfield Tate (part of the pack from which Hickenlooper emerged in 2003) to a significant portion of Denver City Council -- it would be possible for someone to be elected mayor with a fraction of the votes cast. Perhaps less than 20 percent.

And that would make the Denver mayor far from the people's choice.

If he's elected governor in November 2010, Hickenlooper wouldn't have to resign until January 2011 -- and at that point, the deputy mayor could run the city until the regularly scheduled May 2011 election. Then, Denver voters would get to choose from the no-doubt crowded field of candidates, and vote again when one fails to get the majority. And if Hickenlooper doesn't win the governor's seat? He can stay Denver mayor and will still be eligible to run for one last term.

The only downside to Hickenlooper keeping his desk at the Denver City & Council Building? All those would-be mayoral candidates will have to hold their horses, postponing all that political-campaign job growth for a few months.

Whoa.


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