is the story of an AAPG member who came to work in a city, and then
he provided food and drink to the city, and now he runs the city.
member John Hickenlooper, who started his career as an exploration
geologist for an energy company in Denver more than 20 years ago.
summer, in a landslide victory, Hickenlooper was elected the 43rd
mayor of Denver. He took office in July.
his geology career and his political one, he established the first
brew pub in Denver and expanded that business to include seven restaurants
and brew pubs.
those doors led to more doors; Hickenlooper, 51, then helped come
up with an affordable housing project that helped save historic
buildings in the city.
on some arts and community boards, Hickenlooper had never even considered
civic leaders asked me if I might consider running for mayor," he
told the EXPLORER. "I had never even run for class office in school."
marked the first mayoral transition in Denver in 12 years. Even
in his mayoral campaign, Hickenlooper brought a fresh, quirky image
to the race.
campaign commercial showed him trying on goofy outfits to look more
"mayoral." These folksy ads appealed to many Denver voters who have
weathered a downturn in the high-tech economy here in the last couple
politicians arrived at promotional events in luxury sedans, Hickenlooper
kept his travels simple during campaign visits by riding in a Kia,
a Honda or even on his Aprilia scooter.
new digs at Denver City Hall -- located directly across a park from
the Colorado State Capitol -- encompass a large oval-shaped room
with an elegant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The stately,
traditional mayor's office is in sharp contrast to the personality
of the innovative new mayor.
trim, Hickenlooper looks much younger than his 51 years. His relaxed
manner is one of a successful entrepreneur rather than a politician,
even as he mused over his beginnings as a geologist and what he
learned from that vocation.
job as mayor and as a business man, Hickenlooper said he has used
geological principles he learned in his first career.
"As a geologist,
I take the longer-term perspective," he said. "I don't expect change
to happen overnight."
he often considers the value of investments for the city over a
50- to 100-year time span.
uses the principle of multiple working hypotheses in his job as
time you have a problem, you devise several experiments to find
several possible best ways to solve it," he said. "I use that all
the time, and tell my staff to use it, too. That's an early principle
better known in Denver as a restaurateur than a geologist, the new
mayor already has stunned some city public works officials with
his well of knowledge.
met with the city's public works professionals on an underground
water problem, I asked them a question on Bernoulli's Equation,
and their jaws just dropped," he laughed.
credits his geology studies for teaching him to write well.
writing leads to clear thinking," he said. "I learned to write in
graduate school. My adviser was such a stickler for clear communications
-- and he was a tireless editor of my thesis."
master's thesis was on "Welded Ash Flow Tuff," or ignimbrites.
of a mechanical engineer, Hickenlooper grew up outside Philadelphia,
Pa., and majored in literature at Weslayan College in Connecticut.
Later, he contracted an interest in geology and decided to go for
a master's degree.
took an undergraduate course in geology," he laughed -- which meant
he spent another three years taking the requisite courses so he
could enter the geology graduate program at Weslayan.
I spent five years getting that master's degree," he said. "It was
only studied classic depositional systems; he discovered that he
really liked it. He spent summers during his graduate program exploring
volcanic rocks northwest of Yellowstone Park in Montana -- and he
knew where he wanted to go after graduation.
wanted to live in Denver, so I came out here for a bunch of interviews,"
Hickenlooper was hired by Buckhorn Petroleum and moved to Denver.
He worked as an exploration geologist for Buckhorn for five years
until oil prices collapsed. Then in 1986 the company was sold and
he was laid off.
a provision called for many employees to receive one to two years
of salary if the company was sold and they lost their jobs.
seen so many people so happy to be losing their jobs," he said.
the midst of the downturn, there were no geology jobs to be found
in Colorado. By then, Hickenlooper was a confirmed Denverite, enjoying
the city's numerous days of sunshine and the healthy lifestyle.
want to leave Colorado," he said, "(and) there were no jobs in geology
when fate intervened. During a visit to California, he spotted a
was nothing in the Rocky Mountains like that at the time," he said.
"I had never even considered opening a restaurant."
to open up his own brew pub in Denver with a partner, a geophysicist
who had also lost his job. In 1988 they opened the Wynkoop Brewery
in what is now Denver's LoDo, or lower downtown district.
year the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists met at Denver's
convention center, so Hickenlooper and his partner went over and
handed out fliers about their brew pub. The attendees were quick
to patronize a brewery that was started by fellow geologists, he
community has always been so supportive," he said.
And then ...
city of Denver decided to build its new baseball stadium Coors Field
just two blocks from our front door," he said, ensuring continued
has expanded his restaurant business to now include seven restaurants,
taverns and brew pubs.
to complete the Hickenlooper's Renaissance-like experience, the
geologist now has tried his hand at film acting, playing the Pottery
Store manager in his cousin George Hickenlooper's film The Man from
movie, he interrupts a discussion between stars Andy Garcia and
Julianna Margulies, and says his two-word line: "Excuse me.")
As a lark,
he recently auditioned for a small part in the upcoming movie Silver
City starring Oscar winner Chris Cooper. The film was shot this
past year in Denver, and the mayor won a role as a reporter. (Unless
he ends up on the cutting room floor, he will have a total of five
lines in that movie.)
he had never considered becoming a restaurateur until he became
one, Hickenlooper had never given any thought to running for mayor.
been active on the city's art museum board and a downtown partnership
and had also taken the helm of an effort to keep the "Mile High"
name in the city's new football stadium. In the end of that campaign,
the group compromised with the name Invesco Field at Mile High.
As he began
to seriously consider running for mayor, he spent free time for
two years visiting 15 other cities to meet with mayors and find
out if it was worth the sacrifice -- and "if one person could really
make a difference," he said.
As a successful
restaurateur, he had no trouble getting in to see mayors from Boston
to Portland, Ore.
more and more excited the more I learned," he said. "I really believed
in the city (of Denver) and its potential."
government calls for a strong mayor/weak council structure, so the
mayor has a great deal of influence. In fact, Hickenlooper had to
hire 60 people to run the various agencies and departments in his
said he misses the reflection that accompanies a geology job.
how much of the day I would imagine what's going on underground
with very limited facts and data," he said. That business of reflection
is missing from the mayor's job where he is called upon to make
in the oil business was one of the greatest careers for a young
person in the West," he said.
the things he misses about being in the oil business, Hickenlooper
said he misses the people most of all. Many of them served as role
models to him because they believed in giving back so much to the
are no better people than the people in the oil business. They are
so generous and sometimes bigger than life," he said. "They were
role models and helped me get involved in the community."