By Joey Bunch / Colorado Politics
Thursday, November 2, 2017

In her office on a Friday afternoon, the person in charge of operating the state of Colorado was fumbling behind furniture to find her past.

“That’s Abe Beame. That’s Koch. That’s Dinkins. That’s Giuliani,” Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne said as she laid out framed commendations the size of college diplomas from the New York City mayors she worked for.

Lynne worked with Beame and Ed Koch as they brought back the Big Apple from bankruptcy in the 1970s and ’80s. She left during David Dinkins’ administration in the early 1990s to work for a healthcare nonprofit, before Rudy Giuliani called.

The then-moderate Republican had big plans to clean up the city, and he didn’t care that Lynne was a Democrat.

“He said, ‘I want you to come back; I know you know the city,’” she recalled, referring to how the city runs.

Giuliani picked Lynne to be his director of operations. In all she spent 20 years in New York City government, at the right hand of four mayors.

“It was a lot of what I do now,” Lynne said.

Indeed, last year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper plucked Lynne from her job as a top executive with the Kaiser Permanente, where she ran hospitals, foundations and company’s massive operations in Colorado, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. She was not only the lieutenant governor but, most importantly, Hickenlooper’s first chief operating officer.

Lynne stowed the commendations from the famous mayors because there wasn’t a place to put them in her office at the Capitol.

Yet a coiled whip hangs on the wall, as a joke from her friend Katherine Gold, a trustee on the Rose Community Foundation, in case Lynne ever needed to crack it. There’s also a cheap trophy on a bookcase for the best chili in the governor’s office cookoff.

As she ate a six-inch Jimmy John’s sandwich and drank water from a cup for lunch at her office conference table, there was nothing to suggest a powerful executive does business here. Her unremarkable desk would fit in just fine at the DMV.

If you define her as a rich corporate executive turned powerful politician, then you’ve never had lunch with Donna Lynne.

Born to service
She always wanted to work in public service.

Both her parents served in World War II, and after her father’s 20-year military career, he continued to work for the Navy as a civilian in Philadelphia. Her mom was among the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, during the war.

“First and foremost, service was part of the family culture,” she said of her upbringing in the Philly suburbs in Stratford, N.J.

On Nov. 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. They announced it on the loud speaker at Lynne’s school.

“We walked home, little kids, 10 years old, absolutely sobbing,” she said. “That had a big impact on me, because of the constant news coverage and the reflection about all the things Kennedy had worked on — getting us to the moon, the great society coming together, civil rights, women’s rights, yes, the war.

“As a young person, you were so aware of the government. I said, ‘I want to work for the government.’”

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