By Alan Prendergast
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Seven years ago, when Glendale mayor Steve Ward was a law student at the University of Denver, he learned of a midterm vacancy on the city council of the small municipality on Denver's southeast side. He was then 27 years old and three years out of the Marines, where he had served as a first lieutenant. But the Marines hadn't prepared him for his first encounter with a Glendale politician.
Introducing himself to a councilman, Ward remembers, he asked to be considered when the council voted to fill the vacant seat. "He said, `I don't know,'" Ward recalls. "`I'll have to figure out what your motivation is.'" The mayor bristles at the recollection. "That's one thing I make certain not to do when candidates for council introduce themselves to me--ask them what their motives are."
Ward has a certain sensitivity on the subject. After four years of city council duty and two years as mayor, people are still questioning the motives of the Holme, Roberts and Owen attorney as he attempts to remake Glendale's hodgepodge of office buildings, apartments, topless clubs and drinking establishments into a landscaped "urban campus" where residents can walk to work, shopping and entertainment.
Those content with Glendale's present tend to be those who thrived in its past: old-guard politicians and people with liquor licenses. They see Steve Ward and his supporters on the newly elected city council as crusaders out to make a city known for its hopping bar scene into a yuppified residential community--at the expense of businesses that have filled city coffers with fees and sales-tax revenues since the three-quarter-square-mile parcel incorporated in 1952.
"Steve Ward's making himself out to be the guy who's cleaning up Glendale," says Tom Foster, a seventy-year-old construction engineer and former city councilman who was trounced by Ward in the 1992 mayor's race and has since become his most vocal critic. "Stevie Wonder is after the bars."
In Glendale, liquor licenses traditionally came easily, unimpeded by red tape. In council chambers ruled by an easy alliance of farmers turned landlords, there was no reason to get in the way of good business. The city had no zoning plan until 1986, and businessmen took advantage of the city fathers' hands-off policy toward development.
Ford Wheatley, Ward's 41-year-old predecessor as mayor, remembers the heyday of George Garson, who served as mayor from 1959 to 1984, usually ran unopposed and dominated local politics into his eighties. "I heard when George needed to fill a vacancy on the council, he just walked over to his trailer court at Leetsdale and Cherry and knocked on doors until he found somebody willing," says Wheatley, now a Glendale municipal judge.
But political changes that began as a trickle in the mid-Eighties have reached watershed size in the past year. The city's old-timers have grown farther apart from a young population of apartment and condo dwellers, and a crop of politicians in their twenties and thirties have taken over the city council, eager to put down roots and file down the city's rough edges. "Most of the older councilmembers saw the writing on the wall and retired or moved away," says 59-year-old Bill Junor, who has been on the council since 1990. "Tom Foster was the only one who fought to stay."
"This is not an ego trip for me," says Foster of his anti-Ward campaign. "I feel it's my civic duty. I'm interested in making Glendale a better place for people. It's my home."
Foster defends establishments such as Shotgun Willie's and the Mile High Saloon as "great places for guys to go after a Broncos game or a Rockies game," have a drink and "do some male bonding." But as development along busy Colorado Boulevard has exploded, the city has grown less dependent on revenue from liquor sales.
Now one of the hottest strips of retail real estate in the country, the east side of Colorado between Alameda and I-25 rests largely in Glendale, which has given its preliminary site approval to such sales-tax generators as Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and Builders Square (slated to replace the now-closed Celebrity Fun Center). The addition of a Mervyn's outlet to a shopping complex already anchored by a Target store has helped boost the city's sales-tax take by 23 percent in the past year. A Cub Foods store under construction just off Leetsdale Drive should add appreciably to that when it opens in the coming months.
Ward has plenty of plans for what to do with that money. In his remaining two years as mayor, he says, he wants to create more parks and encourage condo and townhouse development that will convince Glendale's apartment dwellers to become permanent residents. If his vision gels, the city's aging apartment buildings and hulks of failed nightclubs and restaurants will be replaced by a plaza park in the bed of Cherry Creek and new commercial buildings along Leetsdale Drive. Glendale, he adds, "could become a very pleasant little community."
But according to Foster, the 34-year-old Ward and his political allies are well on their way to bankrupting the city with a deal to hook into the Denver water system, a move he predicts will lead to annexation by the giant neighbor. No one among the city's 2,400 residents can stop Ward, says Foster, because the mayor has used his clout to create a city council in his own image: young, moralistic and on the political make.