Exit Interview: John Hickenlooper

Fresh off reelection as mayor of Denver, the Narberth native, 55, talks politics, the price of love, and posing naked.

Exit Interview: How did growing up in Narberth prepare you to become the mayor of Denver?

John Hickenlooper: Narberth is the all-American city. They had their small-town fireworks display in the baseball field right in the center of Narberth. When I was in high school, I played on that field. It was like a rite of passage.

Was the Hickenlooper name a cross to bear on the playground? [laughs] Oh, sure. Chickencooper. Poop-’n’-scooper. It was very difficult. In third grade, we moved to Wynnewood. That was a very long year. [laughs] I was trying to make people like me, trying to be funny, and I was very, very obnoxious.

Before politics, you were a popular restaurateur — it’s like electing Stephen Starr mayor here. Do you have better food in City Hall now? Drink specials after council sessions? There are no alcoholic beverages in any city building, which is quite the irony. One thing you learn in the restaurant business is there is no margin in having enemies. Say the waitress dropped the soup in your lap. It was very hot. I hear you. Just having people be heard is incredibly powerful.

So the secret to running a big city is to treat everyone like you just dropped a hot bowl of soup in their lap. [laughs] That might be going a little too far. But there’s something to be said about regional collaboration. The Saturday before I took office, I had all 32 local mayors in my downtown loft for a big reception. The point was that the days of Denver trying to put you down and gain some advantage at your expense — those days are over. It made a huge difference, and the public appreciates it.

You were reelected in a landslide. … Eighty-seven percent!

Did the brewpub open early on Election Day? [laughs] I said that to get more people to vote, everyone should offer a free beverage to anyone with an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day. But the fact I come from that industry made it politically incorrect.

Do you know John Street or Ed Rendell? I’ve met them but don’t know them well. When I was deciding whether to run for mayor, anytime I was going anywhere, I’d find a way to get in front of the mayor. I came to Philadelphia and asked David Cohen: Can you make a difference as mayor? He was so inspiring. [Aramark exec] Lee Driscoll said, “You will look back on it as one of the great adventures in your life.” That Philadelphia trip really had a huge amount to do with my decision to run.

So who gave you the idea to post a $5,000 reward to anyone who could find you a bride? It was a late Friday night in the restaurant, and a bunch of journalists were teasing me that I didn’t have a girlfriend. I said, if you introduce me to a woman and I marry that woman, I’ll write you a check for $5,000. They all laughed. The next day, one of them called me back and said, “Are you serious? My cousin is flying through Denver airport.” Next thing I know, I have 40 blind dates in the next 12 months.

Was your wife one of those dates? No. An old friend of mine, Tracy, said she had this person she wanted me to meet. Three months after we married, I got a letter from Tracy: “Remember that $5,000? Our children go to this wonderful school, and they’re trying to build a new building.” So I did pay a bounty of sorts.

A well-placed Denver source tells me that you once sent a Christmas card with a photo of yourself naked on a bar stool, with just a Santa Claus hat covering your Hickenlooper. [laughs] No, it was a birthday invitation. A friend of mine turned 30, I turned 40. We both had hard hats, rock picks and boots. We were just having fun.

Hard hats and work boots? Was this a Village People theme party? We’re both geologists. The theme was “Black Gold.”

Of course. Everyone knows that geologists work in the nude. Geologists are a remarkably wild group. Everyone thinks they’re staid and conservative. Not true.

Is that a tradition you’ve continued as mayor? No, now it’s husband, wife, son — it’s a nice card every year.

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