Hickenlooper’s Office Bucks Tradition, Says Obama Portrait Will Remain Ahead of George Washington’s in State Capitol Gallery

February 23, 2012

DENVER, CO – Barack Obama may rank his presidency as the fourth-best in history, but John Hickenlooper is putting Obama first.

President Obama’s portrait was placed before that of George Washington when the paintings were moved in January to the first floor of the state capitol in anticipation of the dome renovation project. Oil paintings of each president have hung since 1982 in the Gallery of Presidents in the third-floor capitol rotunda.

On Wednesday, the capitol property manager told The Colorado Observer that the placement was a mistake and that the Obama portrait would soon be moved to the end of the row. The next day, however, Kevin Patterson, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said the Obama portrait would remain ahead of Washington’s.

“The intent was to have the current president and the first president together,” Patterson told The Colorado Observer.

The decision to hang the Obama portrait first represents a shift in policy for the gallery. Prior to the move, every president’s portrait was hung in chronological order, including that of Obama, whose portrait was unveiled in May 2011.

The original, chronologically correct placement of the Obama portrait in May 2011, before it was moved to precede the portrait of George Washington (Grand Junction Sentinel, RealPolitik image)

At the time it was hung in the rotunda, Obama’s portrait appeared last in the sequence, near those of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as shown in a May 2, 2011, photo on the Grand Junction Sentinel site.

Not everyone is thrilled with the decision to put Number 44 ahead of Number One. Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy said he was “shocked and outraged.”

“Unbelievable,” said Brophy. “I just can’t get over it. They just rewrite the rules to suit their own agenda and put their interests above tradition. I can’t help but feel that if the president was one George W. Bush, they wouldn’t be considering this.”

There is enough space for Obama at the end of the row. A portrait-sized gap sits next to the portrait of George W. Bush, and appears to have been reserved for the Obama painting.

In fact, said Patterson, that’s not the case. The private company that hung the portraits accidentally counted Grover Cleveland twice and made space for 44 presidents, instead of 43, he said.

The current placement of the Obama portrait, ahead of George Washington and America’s other presidents

Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, making him both the 22rd and the 24th president, but the Gallery of Presidents includes just one Cleveland painting.

“When they did the math, they realized that Grover Cleveland had one portrait. So that’s why the space is at the end,” said Patterson.

Obama made headlines in December when he said in an interview with Steve Kroft of CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” that his administration’s achievements surpassed those of all but three American presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. No mention was made of Washington.

“The issue here is not going to be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president–with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R. and Lincoln–just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Obama.

The interview generated an outcry from conservative bloggers because the statement was edited from the program’s Dec. 11 on-air broadcast, although it was included in the full interview posted on the network’s website.

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