Politics & Policy

Hickenlooper’s Supposed ‘Business Acumen’ Raises Some Eyebrows

John Hickenlooper has touted his business skills since 2003, when he first won election to be mayor of Denver. His point was to prove he was “not a politician”:

But that “business acumen” was challenged in the late 1990s, when a series of investments and expansion efforts had failed or were not as successful as planned, prompting some of his investors to challenge his leadership:

But that acumen was called into question 12 years ago by investors who sought to have him removed from “direct involvement in primary operations” of his company, according to board minutes.

“John is a creative guy, but the investors felt they needed a different skill set. They wanted some financial-control management and discipline,” said Philip Snook, investor and former managing director of the United Kingdom’s Magic Pub chain, referring to significant losses sustained by Wynkoop Brewing Co. when it tried to launch a national expansion in the late 1990s. [emphasis added]

The concerns extend beyond his private-business career, however. Hickenlooper’s tenure as Denver’s mayor has seen a long list of bloated taxpayer-funded schemes, all pitched as “quality of life” issues for the city. This started with 2004′s FasTracks–now facing at least a $2.4 billion shortfall.

Next came Referendums C and D (C passed), with Hickenlooper taking a dive to push the ballot measure that called for the state of Colorado to set aside limits installed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR):

Hickenlooper followed his 2005 statewide Referendum C efforts with a slate of Denver ballot initiatives estimated at $500 million in increased property taxes (Denver voters approved approximately $300 million worth of the measures):

Hickenlooper’s attempt to promote a pro-business message and increased government spending has forced him to hedge his record. He said:

“We need more money in every part of government, and yet, trust me, all around the state no one wants higher taxes. So the only real solution is to get our business, our economy, going on fire. And we can do that, and still protect our environment, right? Still make sure that we take care of those folks that are in the safety net. The focus has to be, though, that we change our attitude and say, all right: Businesses aren’t bad, right? Businesses are good. We’ve just got to make sure we keep…hold them to the same high standards we hold ourselves.” [emphasis added]

The mayor’s attempt to have it both ways–more money for the “fundamental nonsense of government” at the same Hickenlooper’s newest TV ad calls for the need to “cut government spending”–has earned him the ire of prominent bloggers/radio personalities on the left:

Hickenlooper was tagged by his investors as something of a dreamer, and this affected his approach to business:

Roger Looker, also an advisory board member and investor who was at the meeting, said he and others liked Hickenlooper’s straightforwardness and called him a “one-off,” or one-of-a-kind. But at times, Looker said, his feet weren’t on the ground.

“John is an ideas man. That’s his strength,” said Looker, one of the founders of the Slug and Lettuce pub chain. “But he wasn’t great about details, no doubt about it. And running brewpub restaurants is a very substantial operation.”

The fact is, Hickenlooper’s ambivalence about spending may not even matter. The fracturing on the GOP side of the ticket between Dan Maes and former Republican Tom Tancredo has kept Hickenlooper’s head above water in the polls, though not above 50 percent. He’s now riding a plurality at 43 percent, according to Rasmussen.

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