Hickenlooper kickoff

The crowd at the John Hickenlooper event at Denver's Civic Center Park, March 7, 2019.

At John Hickenlooper's presidential campaign kickoff event Thursday night in Denver, Jeremiah and Toni DiGennaro watched from near the center of Civic Center Park as the sun crept west and the daylight dwindled.

With one folding chair between them, the two whiled away the hours before the former governor took the stage in the Greek Amphitheater.

An eclectic mix of electronic, rock, pop and folk played over loudspeakers as the crowd gained steam. Soon thousands would surround the DiGennaros, who acknowledged that the ever-growing field of Democratic candidates is “steep” but said Hickenlooper could beat President Donald Trump in a general election.

“I support the local guy,” Jeremiah DiGennaro said. “He’s flexible, he’s pragmatic.”

Toni DiGennaro said Hickenlooper’s honesty and straightforwardness set him aside from the other Democratic candidates.

“He’s true to himself and he’s true to his people. I think that’ll come across. He’s got this Opie-type quality,” she said, referring to the lovable redheaded son played by Ron Howard on TV's popular 1960s "Andy Griffith Show."

“He’s folksie,” Jeremiah DiGennaro chimed in.

“Folksie, that’s better,” Toni DiGennaro corrected herself.

Indeed, many found Hickenlooper’s address appealing and relatable, though several said he doesn’t have the pizazz that other presidential candidates and politicians possess.

“I found him a little lacking,” said Dibjot Singh, who otherwise said he was receptive to several of Hickenlooper’s talking points.

Hickenlooper’s approach towards the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state appealed to Toni DiGennaro, she said. At first he was opposed, but eventually he left the issue to the voters. However, she doesn’t believe that will be a strong selling point during the election.

For Jeremiah DiGennaro, the former governor’s work regulating the oil and gas industry was a benefit to the state and would appeal to much of the rest of the country, he said.

But others disagreed. So strongly, in fact, that they protested the rally with signs, a bullhorn and perhaps half a dozen loosely-coordinated chants that the few dozen used to try and throw speakers off their stride.

Among them was Jessee Parris, an at-large candidate for Denver’s City Council, who used the rally to collect signatures for his campaign.

Parris was one of a few working the bullhorn for the protestors and continued his shouting well after Hickenlooper left the stage. The former governor’s left swathes of the state up for grabs to the highest bidder, he said.

“He’s allowed fracking to happen all over the state,” Parris said. “He’s not fit. He’s bought and sold by corporations.”

But upstate New York native Jillian Way said she appreciates Hickenlooper’s approach on the environment.

“As ready as I am for a woman president, I think what’s more important right now is whoever has the most progressive climate change policies,” Way said.

Although she’s heard precious little from Hickenlooper about his specific stances, Way said she knows the issue’s on his radar.

“He cares for it and would give it a good college try,” she said.

For Richard Ean Patton, a Philadelphia native like Hickenlooper, and a budding entrepreneur in the marijuana industry, a big issue is encouraging new businesses to flourish, he said.

“If his platform is going to be pro socially-productive businesses then I think it’s in my best interest to support him,” he said.

The field is crowded indeed, Patton said, but it’s worth showing up for Hickenlooper at this point.

“Maybe he’ll do well in Iowa, maybe he won’t,” he said, referring to the early caucus state. “I just hope people give him a chance.”

People in surrounding states, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, know how well Hickenlooper performed as governor, said Lawrence Jackson, who was working as a handyman at the rally.

Just look how often they’re moving to the state, he said. That must reflect on Hickenlooper at least a little.

“He made the laws where they can be accepted,” Jackson said. “He opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people.”

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