While the Metro area digs out from last week’s blizzard, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is still buried under a mound of criticism for how the city handled a storm that closed the airport for an extended period of time and has left many streets still unplowed. Hickenlooper’s move to bring a little fun to the situation was a wise decision but probably nothing more than a stopgap measure, because the criticism – fair or not – has only increased in recent days.

Both The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post have major stories today about Hickenlooper’s handling of the storm, and the Post is particularly unforgiving:

For three years, Mayor John Hickenlooper’s charisma and fresh approach to governing proved a potent combination as he attracted new businesses to the city and repeatedly persuaded voters to tax themselves.

But after two notable city struggles – with snow plowing and a botched election process – some in government now wonder whether Hickenlooper’s silver-lining attitude has hindered him from making hard decisions to fix problems.

“He looks at snow and disaster and sees cocoa and sledding. He looks at election problems and sees the voters willing to stand in line for three hours and not the ones who left without voting,” said City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez. “In a leader, you want someone who can see both.”

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Hickenlooper was being wooed to run for governor by Democrats who were concerned that Bill Ritter couldn’t carry the ticket in 2006. Hickenlooper hemmed and hawed until February, when he ultimately decided not to run despite the fact that polls showed him to be a heavy favorite. Had Hick run for governor in 2006, he almost certainly would have won. Now he’s facing heavy criticism, and although he’s a lock to win re-election in May, his once super-bright political star has faded considerably.

It is often said in politics that timing is everything. This time last year, the timing was right for Hickenlooper to move up in the political world. Now he’s an embattled mayor without a higher office to look forward to in the near future. The 2008 Senate race is spoken for, by Rep. Mark Udall, and Hick obviously can’t run against Sen. Ken Salazar in 2010. If he’s looking at higher office, Hick’s next best opportunity will be eight years from now, when Ritter is either term-limited out or a Republican has finished his first term after beating Ritter in 2010. Unfortunately for Hickenlooper, his political fortunes may be in the tank by then.