December 27, 2006

Teflon John Hickenlooper: Cracks In The Facade

John Hickenlooper has seen better days.

The political honeymoon of Denver's mayor John Hickenlooper may have ended following November's election debacle and December's blizzard, and is almost entirely self-created:
For three years, Mayor John Hickenlooper's charisma and fresh approach to governing proved a potent combination as he attracted new businesses to the city and repeatedly persuaded voters to tax themselves.

But after two notable city struggles - with snow plowing and a botched election process - some in government now wonder whether Hickenlooper's silver-lining attitude has hindered him from making hard decisions to fix problems.

"He looks at snow and disaster and sees cocoa and sledding. He looks at election problems and sees the voters willing to stand in line for three hours and not the ones who left without voting," said City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez. "In a leader, you want someone who can see both."
Hickenlooper checks packed snow at the corner of Utica Street and West Seventh Avenue in Denver on Tuesday. Some believe cracks are showing in his popularity. (Post / Hyoung Chang)

Hickenlooper said he has not been viewing the city's problems through rose-colored glasses. He reiterated that the Election Commission problems were a "disgrace" and noted that he has repeatedly told city residents that the snow-packed roads were not satisfactory.

"The city has never responded better in a storm than it did now," he said Tuesday. "But in spite of the work, there are still problems."

Hickenlooper doesn't now face serious opposition in his bid for re-election in May. And the same qualities that made him one of the state's most popular politicians remain intact.

But cracks are showing, leading Rodriquez and others Tuesday to wonder whether he may have a bumpier re-election ride than anticipated.

"My biggest concern about his political situation is that he made seemingly crazy statements like all residential streets had been been plowed, and they clearly weren't," said Diane Wolta, a representative of the Virginia Village/Ellis Community Association. "Yeah, I'd be worried if I were him. It doesn't show a good grasp of what's going on in the city."
No, Hickenlooper does not control the weather. But he is in charge of the city's snow removal, and pathetic responses in the wake of two earlier blizzards, in 1982 and 1997, also had political ramifications for Bill McNichols and Wellington Webb. This blizzard's aftermath came right on the heels of a slow response to a much smaller late November storm, when plows failed to be activated quickly enough. This is a logistical and service problem, and the city of Denver failed--on Hickenlooper's watch.

The political ramifications won't be as easy to fix as reducing parking fees, or paying a few parking tickets.

Adding more plows is a costly solution, especially for an event that has only happened three times in the last decade. Perhaps a better contingency plan for reaching the side streets once the main arterials have been cleared. Once the blizzard moved out Thursday afternoon, the weekend saw much sun and the snow began to melt quickly. Most residents expected the city to clear the street within 24-48 hours, and not make one pass. In addition, the previous blizzard of March 2003 was different in that the heavy, wet snow--once cleared--did not refreeze and create the deep rutted roads that are at best a nuisance and at worst nearly impassible. Facing another storm that could potentially bury these already-in-bad-shape neighborhood streets with up to a foot or more of additional snow will only exacerbate drivers' commute and Hickenlooper's political capital will take yet another hit.


Blogger Hyunchback said...

Can you say "One Term John"?

He's ripe for a parody written to the tune of "Big Bad John".

Wed Dec 27, 07:18:00 PM  

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