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A Sunday night stroll - and he's out of the race

Published February 7, 2006 at midnight

For John Hickenlooper, the months of wrenching deliberations over whether to run for governor all came down to a Sunday night stroll with his wife.

They were returning from dinner with friends who had enthusiastically urged the mayor to run.

But after leaning toward a run all weekend, Hickenlooper said he and his wife, Helen Thorpe, decided during the talk that continued an hour after they reached their LoDo loft that he must complete his commitment as mayor.

"It felt too fast" to leave the mayor's job he's held for 2 1/2 years, Hickenlooper said Monday afternoon during an interview in his office. "I feel a commitment not just to the people who elected us, but also to the whole metro area that has been willing to come together on these efforts."

He was referring to regional collaborations ranging from the FasTracks transit project to economic development and sharing water.

"I woke up twice in the middle of the night," Hickenlooper said. "Each time I examined it, it was almost like taking your moral pulse. And each time it felt right."

When he and his wife woke up in the morning, Thorpe said Monday evening, they sat in bed talking as her husband confirmed their decision from the previous night.

"He said, 'What do you think?' " Thorpe said. "I said, 'I think it's not the right time. I think we're not ready to do this.' And he said, 'I think so, too.' "

Thorpe said she is "completely impressed" with her husband.

"I think he set aside a personal opportunity - a huge personal opportunity - to do what was best for the city of Denver," she said. "He knows that this opportunity may not come along again in this way, shape and form. This might have been it, this might have been his one real shot at this office."

The couple discounted speculation that they wanted to spare Thorpe or their 3 1/2-year-old son, Teddy, from a potentially ugly race. He stressed that Thorpe, his closest confidant, "more often than not was pushing us forward to make a decision to run."

"I said to him earlier on . . . 'If running for governor is what you really want to do, I think it's better for Teddy when he's 3 and not when he's a teenager,' " Thorpe said.

She added: "I said, John, I totally support you either way.

"I feel like there are a lot of people who think, 'Oh, the spouse of a person must want them not to do it.' And I was totally open to it. Because I felt like my life was going to be largely similar and his life would be really different, I felt like the only thing I could do in that situation was try to be as supportive as possible, listen as much as he wanted to talk about it and try and help him sort through what his feelings were.

"That was my role."

Thorpe, a veteran magazine journalist, said even she was tantalized by the prospects of a race.

"There's the political junkie side of me that was very curious about what a campaign in 2006 would be like," she said. "I'm used to being on the other side of the podium and being part of a press corps asking those questions. You know that every journalist was thinking, 'God, what a great story if John gets in.'

"Of course I reacted that way."

Ultimately, Hickenlooper said, he couldn't leave the job he loves half-finished.

He also feared that if he ran at this time, opponents might attack him by savaging the crucial partnerships he's forged between Denver and suburban neighbors and the bridges he hopes to build between urban Colorado and rural communities long wary of the big city.

"There were a lot of risks if I went out and ran that some of the extreme elements of the opposition would try and tear down the city and . . . try to portray the city as the adversary of the suburbs," he said.

Like the former geologist he is, Hickenlooper said he began scientifically examining the pros and cons of being governor after bipartisan groups of supporters encouraged him to consider a run two months ago.

He said he sought an "interesting array of perspectives," including the insights of former Colorado governors Dick Lamm and Roy Romer, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

"When Michael Dukakis was governor, he rarely missed a dinner with his family," Hickenlooper said. "That was when we were trying to figure out, can you maintain the self-discipline and still respect your family life and at the same time be an effective leader?

"A lot of those discussions broke down the possible reasons not to run."

In the end, when Hickenlooper broke the news to his staff Monday morning, he knew he had made the right call.

"When John called his mayor's staff and mayoral appointees together to tell them the news - right before the press conference - he gave a moving speech about what a great team it was and how inspiring it was to work with them, and that he wasn't running because he wanted to continue to work on the projects they had begun," Thorpe said. "You could have heard a pin drop when he was done.

"Then they erupted into the loudest and longest standing ovation I think I've ever heard. Everybody at the city is so excited - and relieved - at the decision. You should have felt the energy in the room - it was amazing. I think that's when John got his first confirmation that it was the right decision."

Unfinished business

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said Monday there are many things he still wants to accomplish at City Hall, including:

Creation of a 311 system that would allow residents to access city services with one easy phone call.

Continued reform of the civil service system.

Raising college scholarship funds for low-income Denver high school students.

Building a museum to house the works of artist Clyfford Still.

Completing Denver's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

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