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March 14, 2024 11:54 AM UTC

Throwback Thursday: Blizzards Break But Also Make Colorado Politicos

  • 2 Comments
  • by: Colorado Pols

With a major snowstorm bringing public business to a halt along the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains today, we recall some moments in time when Colorado’s infamously fickle winter weather had political effects that endured long after the snow and ice had melted away. Longtime residents will recall the great Christmas Blizzard of 1982, which totally overwhelmed Denver’s sunshine-dependent snow removal plans and led to the downfall of Mayor Bill McNichols in the following spring’s mayoral election to Federico Peña–who went on to become U.S. Transportation Secretary who now has the boulevard to the airport named after him while McNichols Arena is long gone.

Although weather events are better known for exposing incompetence–here’s looking at you, Michael “Brownie” Brown–in at least one recent case a Colorado blizzard may have helped elect a mayor of Denver, launching a career in politics that has helped define an era of our state’s political history. In his memoir The Opposite of Woe, now-Sen. John Hickenlooper wrote about the epic March 2003 blizzard, which coincided with the launch of Hickenlooper’s memorable ads in that race to a snowbound captive audience:

The first of our 30-second ads aired on March 18, 2003. Just as the ad hit the air, a snowstorm hit Denver. Over three days, almost three feet of snow brought the city to a standstill. Denver International Airport canceled all flights. Schools were closed. A lot of people were snowed in. A lot of people watched a lot of television. In other words, a lot of people saw our first ad.

Did I mention that the ads themselves were rather unusual?

We called the first one “Suit.”

The opening shot is of me in a clothing store in a western shirt trying on a cowboy hat; then I enter and exit a dressing room a number of times, trying on different clothes, different suits. All the while a voiceover. My voice. “Everybody says I need better clothes. They want me to look more mayoral. The fact is, I’m not a professional politician.” I continue to narrate, pointing out that I was a laid-off geologist and after that I spent 15 years “making beer, building restaurants, and creating jobs in Denver. For me, economic development isn’t a campaign slogan. It’s what I do.”

As long as you had power under the nearly three feet of snow that fell in the March 2003 blizzard in the Denver area, there’s a good chance you saw Hickenlooper’s off-beat but relentlessly positive campaign style, which has remained a hallmark through Hickenlooper’s rise to Governor and then U.S. Senator–and yes, with a brief unsuccessful foray into presidential politics that was forgiven by Colorado voters who gladly bestowed him with Cory Gardner’s Senate seat. Hickenlooper had a few snowstorms of his own to contend with as mayor of Denver, but they were nothing his sunny disposition couldn’t manage.

Anyway, it’s a more positive story to tell on a snow day than the story of poor Bill McNichols.

Comments

2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Blizzards Break But Also Make Colorado Politicos

  1. McNichols got what was coming to him. Sending plows to the airport when all the flights were grounded, and packing the snow down with trash trucks? At what point did he think either of those were good ideas? The last of that icy, packed snow didn't melt until May.

     

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