From Huddles to Mile High Mayor
In 2003, Michael B. Hancock was elected to the Denver City Council. His experience as the president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, as well as jobs at the Denver Housing Authority and the National Civic League piqued his interest in helping others. His 8-year stint on the city council was impactful. Selected by his peers, he served two terms as its president from 2006 to 2008. He gained in popularity as he oversaw the successful implementation of several key programs, including the Denver preschool initiative, and the largest infrastructure-improvement effort Denver had ever seen.
It was his achievement and some good fortune and luck that opened up the opportunity for Hancock to run for mayor in 2010. In that year, dominos began falling when Colorado’s then-governor decided not to seek re-election – and that created a cascade effect. First, the rumored front-runner for the position, Ken Salazar, the Obama-era Secretary of the Interior, decided he would not enter the race. Secondly, Salazar endorsed John Hickenlooper, then-mayor of Denver, for governor. Five days later, Hickenlooper announced a bid for the governorship – and therefore an open race for mayor was underway.
Hancock emerged from a crowded field to finish among the top two candidates to force a runoff. He won by capturing 58% of the vote – to become the city’s second Black mayor – and was inaugurated as the 45th mayor of Denver on July 18, 2011. He rose to the challenge, and after a successful first term, he was re-elected in 2015, winning a landslide victory with over 80% of the vote. He subsequently won re-election to a third term in 2019. “Since the age of 13, this was the job I wanted,” he recalls. “I was introduced to the mayor of Denver at that time, and I said, ‘I want to do this job one day.’”
As one of ten kids, raised by a single mother in public housing, Hancock has an innate desire to solve problems for the betterment of all. His background has helped him stay grounded and focus on the task at hand, and his faith has supported him every step of the way. “Faith is paramount, I could not do this job if I did not acknowledge a higher being. It’s never about me. In my mind and in my heart, I believe my steps are ordered,” he affirms.
He has found 2020 to be the most challenging of his career and does not mince words when explaining the impact COVID-19 has had on him and the city of Denver. “This has been a very difficult year for me as a mayor and for the city. We have seen, for the last ten months, our lives, our plans absolutely torpedoed due to this virus. Nothing trumps the responsibility we have, to save the city, to address the health and safety, and threats to the people of Denver,” Hancock states.
While his citywide popularity has soared, Hancock is currently in his last term as mayor. His “awareness of and maintaining a pulse on the city and the electorate have been important” for him to achieve sustained success. “I come to serve, and I must understand what the people need and want,” he adds. “I have a sense of what the people of my city desire. It’s important to never forget that I’m a citizen and resident of the city. Sometimes, as elected officials, we tend to remove ourselves from the equation, but it has helped me to sustain my focus on a better tomorrow.”
Over the years, Hancock has served in national leadership positions, too – he led the National Conference of Democratic Mayors as the president, and when passing the torch to Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles in early 2020, he was elected as its vice president. Admired by his fellow mayors, he has worked closely with many of them this past year to share information and discuss how others have been dealing with the pandemic. “I have a willingness to never stop learning, I stay in a space of constant education. The chance to seek out and receive advice from other leaders across the country has been a huge asset. Collaboration and information-sharing help inform us,” he says.
When asked to reflect on his time in office, including his most meaningful achievement and legacy, Hancock pauses for a moment and says, “Snatching Denver from the economic recession of 2008 and now managing through the economic recession and pandemic of 2020 are things that have made a difference. Taking Denver to the global stage, marketing Denver all over the world, and establishing 13 direct flights to international destinations have opened up Denver’s markets, which was critical to our economic recovery.”
Moreover, Denver has championed the core principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We didn’t wait for protests and marches to begin addressing these issues, we’ve been addressing them for years. As mayor, we’ve been trying to create equity and opportunity for all people, particularly underserved communities and people of color and women – I’m proud of that,” Hancock asserts.
When Hancock was a rising high-school senior, Charlie Lee, who was a director of public relations and player and community relations for the Denver Broncos, invited him to the team’s training camp to watch them prepare for the upcoming 1986 season. “As I was leaving the facility, Charlie was chasing me down and asked me, ‘How would you like to be Huddles?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘Who is Huddles?’ He said, ‘Huddles, our mascot. The guy quit on us, and we need a mascot. Would you be willing to wear the uniform and dance in games?’ Then he said the magic words, ‘It pays $100 a game, and you get to be hired out at special events.’ It was easy, I said, ‘I’m in,’” he describes. The Broncos made it to 1987’s Super Bowl XXI, and Hancock was on the field in Pasadena, California. “My favorite memory from that year was dancing for the Broncos on the Rose Bowl field during the Super Bowl,” says Hancock, who’s looking ahead at what the future may hold.
Writer: Matt Anthes
Photographer & Videographer: Jay Koepke
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to City and County of Denver (@therealcityofdenver - www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en.html) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)