Peña: ‘I do not wish to be considered’ for U.S. Senate appointment

Former Denver mayor and Clinton-era Cabinet official Federico Peña on Saturday narrowed the field of possible candidates to replace Sen. Ken Salazar when the Denver Democrat issued a statement withdrawing his name from consideration. Peña hadn’t actively sought the appointment, but his name was among those discussed as a potential candidate to fill the vacancy created by Salazar’s nomination as secretary of the interior on Wednesday.

Politics West printed this statement, issued by Peña’s office Saturday morning:

“Many names, including mine, have been mentioned as possible candidates to fill the United States Senate seat being vacated by my friend Ken Salazar. I am enormously proud that Ken has been appointed to serve as our nation’s next Interior Secretary, a position I am certain he will carry out with distinction. I have, however, advised Governor Ritter that I do not wish to be considered as a candidate for the critical Colorado United States Senate position. It is my desire to remain in Colorado and to continue to advise and assist President-Elect Obama in any way I can from my home in Denver. I wish to thank the many friends and supporters who have expressed their support for my candidacy.”

Peña’s withdrawal could increase pressure on Gov. Bill Ritter to name Salazar’s older brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, to the Senate vacancy, as Salazar’s exit leaves only two Latinos in the U.S. Senate — Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Democrat Robert Mendez of New Jersey. Martinez has said he doesn’t intend to seek re-election in 2010, the same year Salazar’s replacement will have to face voters to bid for a full term. On Saturday, the Rocky Mountain News reported Henry Solano, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, has told Ritter he’s interested in the appointment.

Ritter’s office has said the governor plans to name Salazar’s replacement “quickly” — as early as next week — although a Salazar spokesman said the Democrat doesn’t intend to step down until he’s been confirmed to the Cabinet post.

State politicians actively seeking the Senate appointment include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette, outgoing House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, health care executive and two-time Senate candidate Tom Strickland, former Senate Majority Leader Joan Fitz-Gerald, and former Senate candidate Mike Miles, who lost a 2004 primary to Ken Salazar. Other names floated as possible nominees include outgoing House Majority Leader Alice Madden, Senate Majority Leader Peter Groff, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet and State Treasurer Cary Kennedy. Ritter, who has the option to appoint himself, has said that’s not going to happen.

An early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama, Peña, 61, is a managing director at the Denver offices of New York-based investment firm Vestar Capital Partners. A key advisor on the Obama/Biden transition team, Peña served as Clinton’s secretary of energy and then transportation from 1993 to 1998. Elected to two terms as Denver’s mayor, Peña was among Colorado’s most prominent Hispanic elected officials in the 1980s.