Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Denver mayor has a Springs-style mandate, but with less turnout

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Michael Hancock
  • Michael Hancock

Ours is not the only Colorado city to elect a new mayor this spring.

Yesterday, Denver voters overwhelmingly chose Michael Hancock over Chris Romer as John Hickenlooper’s successor .

Hancock, 41, who served eight years on the Denver City Council, was twice chosen by his peers as council president. An African-American, he was born and raised in Denver. His story is inspiring.

As the Denver Post reported this morning:

“Political consultant Mark Putnam, whose firm created John Hickenlooper's widely praised "Shower" ad from the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, helped tell Hancock's story in an ad that debuted in March.
The spot opened with Hancock driving through east Park Hill, where he grew up, and with footage of his family.

"My father left when I was 6. We were 10 kids in public housing, then homeless in a motel room," Hancock said in the ad, "I've had a brother die of AIDS and a sister murdered, but I never gave up."

Hancock’s opponent, a state senator and the son of former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, raised more than $2.6 million in a losing effort, compared to $1.5 million raised by the victor.

Yet Denver voters weren’t paying attention. Turnout was a measly 41 percent, compared to a sparkling 64 percent in Colorado Springs three weeks earlier.

Why?

It may be that Denver voters are more comfortable with the direction of local government than are their counterparts in Colorado Springs.

A (very cursory!) analysis of recent elections in Colorado Springs seems to show that voters stay home in good economic times.

In 1997 a supercharged local economy helped propel Council veteran Mary Lou Makepeace to an easy victory. Turnout: 28.7 percent.

Two years later, Makepeace won a full term, holding off vigorous challenges from Will Perkins and Sallie Clark. Turnout edged up slightly to 30 percent.

In 2003, a weak local economy coupled with 9/11 and wars in the Middle East, as well as a spirited race among four Council incumbents saw turnout nearly double to 57 percent. Lionel Rivera triumphed with a modest plurality, winning 34 percent of votes cast.

Four years later, Rivera won easily over several less qualified opponents as turnout dropped to 41.5 percent. As most of us remember, the national economy was still robust in the spring of 2007.

And this year? Take a new form of government, a compelling race between two very different candidates, a miserable local economy, and a visibly angry electorate, and what do you get?

Sixty-four percent! That’s the democratic process at its finest, and certainly gives Mayor Bach bragging rights over Mayor Hancock … or does it?

Bach prevailed by a 57-43 count, while Hancock’s margin of victory was slightly better at 58-42. Call it even - and call both Denver and Colorado Springs winners.

In politics, 60-40 means that no one owns you, that no group can effectively pressure you, and that the voters have your back. Bach and Hancock have each been dealt winning hands — and now all they have to do is play their cards effectively.

As they might say at the Indianapolis 500: “Mayors, start your cities!”

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