Lindy Eichenbaum Lent once dreamed of being a political journalist, but she found 'liberation' by getting involved in issues she feels strongly about as spokeswoman for Denver's mayor
When Lindy Eichenbaum Lent met John Hickenlooper in 2002 at a Denver coffee shop to talk about becoming his communications director, his mayoral bid was not being taken seriously. What pundit would lay odds that a geologist-turned-businessman with no political experience would beat a lineup of political veterans eager to claim the seat that had been occupied by Wellington Webb for more than a decade? Nonetheless, the people of Denver elected Hickenlooper by a 2-1 margin, and Lent was one of the first to bet on him.
"I found his story intriguing," says Lent. "People said, 'You'll have a great time, but there's no way you'll win.' Other people went so far as to say I was committing career suicide. I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. I saw this genuine, unique, quirky personality that is rare in politics. He was there for the right reason, not as part of a grand scheme he'd been plotting for years. He really wanted to serve, and he had unique skills and perspective. I was new to town and still young. He was taking a chance on me, and I was taking a chance on him. I don't know if either of us would have predicted the outcome."
Hickenlooper is wildly popular. Time named him one of the top five big-city mayors in its April issue. Lent is his spokeswoman and speechwriter. She also manages internal communications for the city's 13,000-member workforce and handles the media's voracious appetite for Hickenlooper.
"The skills a candidate needs are different from the skills an elected official needs to govern," says Hickenlooper. "It's also true in communications - [managing] a campaign [is different than] communicating about government operations. It's always confrontational during a campaign - it's adversarial based on an imagined future. In city hall, it's all about today, or maybe tomorrow. Lindy gets that. She cares about the issues and really learns about them. She wants to see the entire landscape, and she wants to be in control."
Hickenlooper says Lent has worked until nearly midnight to confirm that a fair headline would appear in the morning paper. Her tenacity, thoroughness, loyalty, and intelligence are invaluable.
"[She's often] the smartest person in the room," says David Kenney, president of communications and political consulting firm The Kenney Group, who worked on Hickenlooper's election and ballot-initiative campaigns. "She combines strategic instincts with fierce tenacity. [She knows] not just how [something] should be said, but what should be said."
Growing up in rural Montgomery, TX, Lent "fixated" on becoming a political journalist when she was 12. Every subsequent decision focused on that goal. She lobbied for additional courses at her high school so she would be better prepared to attend Stanford University, a place with which most people in Montgomery were not familiar.
"Journalists were my link to the outside world," she says. "Informed citizenry is the cornerstone of democracy, and I wanted to play a role in that."
Lent earned a bachelor's degree in political science at Stanford and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, but she became disenchanted while looking for jobs at TV stations in small Midwestern towns.
News directors told her that they did not do "issues" or journalism with a capital "J." They were concerned about the length of her name, her hair, and her voice. Realizing that her "passion was at the nexus of journalism and politics," she looked to Washington and found an ad for a communications job with Austin, TX, congressman Lloyd Doggett.
"I'm from [Texas], and I knew him to be a person of great character," Lent says. "It seemed like the perfect storm."
Doggett was reluctant, but she wrangled the job. "She had a big notebook of stuff she'd researched on me," Doggett recalls. "Attention to detail and thoroughness was characteristic of every aspect of her work. She was an immense help. She mastered it with no media contacts. I hated losing her to Denver."
Lent left Doggett's office when her husband's job at Microsoft took him to the Mile High City. Congressional races were heating up, and she signed on with Mike Feeley, former state Senate minority leader and attorney at Baker & Hostetler. He lost by 121 votes, but Lent "fell in love" with the challenge, pace, and camaraderie of campaign life.
"She was a godsend," Feeley says. "It was a scrappy campaign, and she professionalized our press operation. We were very fortunate Lindy showed up."
The mayoral race was next. Lent says municipal politics takes center stage in Denver, and Hickenlooper's campaign made its way into the spotlight.
"We seized on his personality," she says. "We capitalized on what some people viewed as his weaknesses - his rumpled, odd clothing; odd hair; lack of experience. You couldn't do it with just any candidate. It had to be genuine. We also backed that up with incredibly detailed, substantive plans and proposals."
Her biggest professional challenge now is balancing demands - the volume of issues, media requests, events. As she turns 30 in July, she's also working on the work/life balance, something she admits she has not mastered.
It was also challenging for Lent to let go of journalism, but she realized that PR offers a breadth of opportunities that no single media outlet can offer.
"My hand is in 10 different stories for 10 different topics for 10 different media organizations," she says. "Leaving journalism for politics was liberating in the sense that I could publicly have an opinion on issues I cared about, [and] get actively engaged in them. It's feeding my intellectual appetite and giving me a chance to really make a difference."
Denver has always been a frontier town. Its people are willing to embrace the new. Lent considers living there a gift. "I've had an amazing career opportunity as a total newcomer," she says. "You can't replicate that in other cities."
Lindy Eichenbaum Lent
Communications director, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D)
December 2002-June 2003
Communications director, Hickenlooper for Mayor campaign
September 2002-November 2002
Deputy communications director, Mike Feeley for Congress campaign (Colorado)
December 1999-June 2002
Communications director, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Austin, TX, and DC)
Producer, writer, and on-camera talent, Quanah Productions (Houston)
Print and broadcast public affairs reporter, Medill News Service (Chicago and DC)
Internships in WBBM-TV News 2 Chicago's investigative unit; CNN's DC bureau; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee