CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF

Denver's Mayor Webb was sore himself last year, not even cheering up much when he and wife Wilma received an invitation last July to spend a night at the White House with President and Mrs. Clinton. Perhaps his funk was caused by son Allen Webb, who continued to take unscheduled ride-alongs with his father's police force. Young Allen's latest escapade involved an interlude with a woman whom he and two other men allegedly picked up in a Cadillac and asked to perform oral sex on them for a fee. Police said the woman told them the men took her fanny pack and threw her out of the car when she asked for the cash up front. No charges were filed, but Allen later apologized for his conduct during a TV interview.

During the mayoral campaign, Webb and principal challenger Mary DeGroot sniped at each other relentlessly, seeming to take their lead from the Adams County man who threatened to shoot President Clinton with an assault rifle in January. In a May debate on KOA radio, Webb rebuked DeGroot for calling him by his first name. "By the way, I'm Mayor Webb, not Wellington," he said. "My friends call me that." When DeGroot later inquired about a trip the mayor's brother took to Atlanta while serving as his bodyguard, Webb responded, "You're not in the same class as Joe Webb."

DeGroot, meanwhile, drew fire from minority groups when she proposed a "maximum harassment" policy against gang members. The criticism didn't prevent fellow candidate Bob Crider from promising to create a "predator patrol" should he take office. The campaign's other dark horse, John Frew, drew groans from the press when he recommended holding 78 mayoral debates in a 103-day period. When all four candidates were asked who they would endorse if their own name weren't on the ballot, Frew replied, "It wouldn't be Wellington Webb or I wouldn't be running." Frew later endorsed Webb, who beat DeGroot in a runoff.

Over at the state capitol, the legislature continued its quest to address the everyday needs of Coloradans, quickly passing a law making it illegal to "tamper with" or "sabotage" livestock at an exhibition show or sale after the two top steers in the National Western junior livestock show were found to have been tainted with a growth stimulant. An intensive investigation later determined that the animals were doped in an effort to increase their value at auction. Animal welfare also was at issue during a discussion of an anachronistic state law calling for a bounty on wolves and coyotes. Capping the discussion, Republican state senator Ray Powers of Colorado Springs chokingly reminisced about how his pet pig Porky had been unmercifully dispatched to the great slop trough in the sky by just such a wild critter. "I just urge the committee to remember Porky," he said.

Lawmakers also were moved to tears by Envirotest, the well-connected private company hired by the state to conduct automobile emissions tests along the Front Range. The new program came under a cloud after radio talk-show host Peter Boyles conducted a rigged test in which cars with completely disconnected oxygen sensors were passed by Envirotest with flying colors. After the House of Representatives voted to suspend the program last winter, Vi June, a Democrat from Westminster, fumed, "This may be called a suspension, folks, but this really is the end of the emissions program as we know it today." At last word, Envirotest continued to hold its state contract, and the state health department, despite levying numerous fines against Envirotest for long lines and faulty inspections, has declared the new testing system "98 percent" successful.

The legislature also did its best to keep up with the growing demand for handguns by state residents. Down in El Paso County, for instance, new sheriff John Anderson relaxed restrictions that had previously forced people who wanted a concealed-weapons permit to take a safety class and prove a need for such a permit. His office was immediately swamped with requests for applications, which he began issuing en masse, approving at least 400 by February.

State senator Bob Schaffer of Fort Collins worked overtime to ensure expanded access to concealed-weapons permits. But he grew upset when his colleagues settled on a bill that prohibited the carrying of concealed firearms on school grounds and in government buildings. Senator Charlie Duke of Monument also objected to provisions requiring authorities to do background checks on applicants. "That means talking to your neighbors, your friends, your family," he groused.

State officials later released data revealing that more than 65,000 people attempted to buy handguns in Colorado since the federal Brady gun-control law went into effect in 1994. Among those turned down by authorities were 36 people who had formerly been arrested on murder charges.

On the federal level, senator-turned-radio-talk-show-host Gary Hart caused a major buzz by hinting he would stage a comeback run at the seat left open by retiring Senator Hank Brown. After placing a bizarre spate of trial-balloon phone calls to Denver's political columnists, the former first mate of the S.S. Monkey Business self-seriously convened a breakfast meeting of Democratic candidates at which he unexpectedly ate crow, backing out of the race and claiming it was "time for a new generation of Democratic leaders."

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