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CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF

part 2 of 2
MEDIA
Denver's reporters did their best to find all the angles in breaking-news events like DIA. Post columnist Dick Kreck reported developing a mild case of frostbite during an experimental trek to the airport via light rail and RTD's SkyRide bus that wound up being a 142-minute excursion through the snow. Over at the Rocky Mountain News, however, editor Jay Ambrose (since departed) took his usual cheery approach to life's little distractions: "Forget the investigations. Forget the delays. Forget, even, the malfunctioning baggage system," he advised readers in his daily editor's note. "Denver International Airport opens today, and that's a major historical event for this city and state."

Indeed, the event was majorly bitchin' for local television crews, whose DIA reports were exceeded in sheer enthusiasm only by their marathon coverage of the "Big Switch" in network TV affiliations. The stations' airport coverage was epitomized by an adrenaline-drenched report from Channel 4 reporter Suzanne McCarroll. After riding the initial flight from Colorado Springs, McCarroll announced that it was "just like being on the cheerleading bus in high school." All the Denver stations provided live coverage of various DIA "firsts," interrupting their regularly scheduled programming to announce that after a total expenditure of more than $5 billion, large numbers of modern airplanes were actually managing to take off and land at the new airfield. Unfortunately, Channel 7 was left in the lurch on live coverage of the landing of the first flight--the station was airing a report by anchor Bertha Lynn on the airport's bathrooms at the time.

No such snafus were to be found on the editorial pages of the Post, which continued to be a verdant source of punditry. Columnist Gil Spencer, musing about Colorado for Family Values and its ongoing crusade against homosexuals, proposed that CFV bigwigs in need of information on sexual preferences should consult hamsters. The rodents, he noted, "are particularly eloquent on the gay issue." On July 4 the paper swelled with patriotic pride when it headlined a story about grateful immigrants living in Colorado, "Foreign People to Wave the Flag."

The Post waxed philosophical about the horseback-riding accident that left Hollywood actor Christopher Reeves, known for his role as Superman, paralyzed. Observed a Post editorial, "In real life, we are all just plain human beings who don't need to be anywhere near Kryptonite to be mortal, and who never know what fate holds for us." That was certainly the case for the Post's vice-president of marketing, Ken Calhoun, who resigned after a Miami television station alleged he had used a computer "chat room" to set up a potential sexual encounter with an underage boy. The boy turned out to be a TV producer conducting a sting operation. The on-line handle for Calhoun, who denied any wrongdoing: Ken 4 Boys.

Post political columnist Fred Brown provided his own lurid entertainment in November when he unveiled a titillating acronym he had devised to help keep track of the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. Brown noted that he had coined the term "Sperm Wienie Lech" by combining letters from the names of candidates Ted Strickland, Phil Perington, Ramona Martinez, Paul Weissmann, Gene Nichol, Steve Leatherman, Sam Cassidy and Gary Hart. "Something to memorize over breakfast," quipped the normally conservative Brown, who presumably enjoys a nice hot sausage in the morning.

Issues of sexuality also seemed to find their way into the News, which set new standards for public-service reporting with a helpful column advising women on how to spot potential rapists. According to the article, men who "mix sex and violence," are "physically violent" and exhibit signs of "bossiness" could be rapists.

Women might also have been cautioned to be on the lookout for News reporter Curtis Eichelberger, the sex machine behind that paper's "A Man's Point of View" column. Pearls cast by Eichelberger included a mathematically complex rumination about how many men a woman has to sleep with before other men find her too "disgusting" to fall in love with. Eichelberger was unable to come up with an exact figure, but concluded that 22--the number of companions named by one of his recent dates--was definitely too many.

POLITICS
The Denver area lost a legend when Arvada City Councilwoman Joanne Conte went down in flames in her latest council race. True to her outspoken nature, the region's leading transsexual politician blamed her November defeat on sex-change jokes made by constituents and critics during the campaign. "This whole experience was like being a Jew in Nazi Germany," complained the aggrieved Conte. Shortly afterward, she began an abbreviated career as a talk-show host on KOA radio, which ran promotional ads that asked, "Is it a man? Is it a woman?"

Before leaving office, Conte asked a few questions of her own in an attempt to put Arvada's books in order. The councilwoman wondered, for instance, why the city didn't consider getting rid of "non-essential" services in a time of budget woes and flat sales-tax collections. Her comments came less than a year after she had filed a workers' compensation claim arguing that treatment of a staph infection in her right elbow should be covered because it may have been caused by excessive leaning on her desk during council meetings.

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."

All in all, observers probably preferred the more direct brand of politics practiced in the Western Slope town of DeBeque. When the board of trustees there voted to fire Mayor Fred Froelich, the dispatched chief executive continued to preside over the meeting until it was adjourned. "Thank you folks for coming," he said as his former constituents filed out. "I hope you all had fun."

EDUCATION
In a March poll of University of Colorado faculty members, CU president Judith Albino got a "D" for performance--up from last year's grade of a D-minus. Quipped Albino, "I guess I'll just have to stick with it until my grade improves." That plan didn't sit well with the Board of Regents, though, which was so eager to get Albino out of the picture that it swaddled her in a golden parachute that offered her more than $300,000 for getting the hell out of Boulder. Ever the educator, however, Albino agreed to step down as president but apparently will continue to mold young minds by teaching the all-important subject of "psychiatry of dentistry" at the medical school.

Also making a soft landing was former Denver Public Schools superintendent Evie Dennis, who, it was revealed, had been given a "lifetime" retirement bonus of $400 per month when she left the district in 1993. Current boardmembers promised to rethink the arrangement. They also had their hands full dealing with the financial habits of Dennis's daughter, former East High School principal Pia Smith. The emerging young educator pleaded guilty to embezzlement and official misconduct after being accused of diverting money from checks written to the school district. She was ordered to pay $3,760 in restitution but received plaudits from the school's Collaborative Decision Making Committee. The committee members penned a letter of support lauding Smith as "a role model for students at East."

Things got more personal on the Jefferson County School Board, where factional bickering erupted into all-out war when the board president filed a complaint with the sheriff's department alleging that the husband of another boardmember had threatened him. Witnesses said the angry spouse had threatened to "cut off the balls" of the board president. The accused later defended himself by noting he had promised only to "grab" his foe "by the balls."

Parents of Highlands Ranch High School students cringed when they received letters on school stationery noting that "goodie bags" handed out at this year's junior-senior prom would contain condoms--since, according to the letters, an "astonishing" 71 percent of the students had been found to be sexually active. The prank letter, signed "Shirley Joshing," drew thirty to forty calls from outraged parents.

The kids weren't in a joking mood in tony Greenwood Village, where twenty eighth-grade students were suspended after staging two solid days of protests over an assortment of injustices perpetrated by school administrators. Reported West Middle School principal Steve Rogers, "They were mad about everything." Cherry Creek High School encountered its own brand of hooliganism when school yearbook editors allowed one girl's picture to be printed next to a caption with letters subtly shaded to spell out the word "bitch." The girl later sued over the incident.

Officials at the local schools could have taken a few pointers in discipline from a Grand Junction school-bus driver. When confronted with unruly passengers, the driver slammed on the brakes until the riders snapped to attention. But despite such innovation, the state as a whole had a long way to go before achieving the kind of educational excellence seen just across the border in Utah. There an eleven-year-old student won $500 in a national contest by belching his way through the alphabet. He concluded that the hardest letter was "Q."

RECREATION
Colorado prisoners being held in a Texas prison staged a riot this winter, breaking out lights and brandishing mop handles. Authorities speculated they were upset by the Denver Broncos' last-minute loss to the Seattle Seahawks the day before. And back in Denver, Broncos wide receiver Mike Pritchard made a pitch to join the inmates when he ran his Porsche onto a Boulder sidewalk, seriously injuring two female college students. Pritchard, one of three finalists for the team's "Man of the Year" award at the time, was taken into custody. Oddly enough, however, this year's police blotter contained as many Broncos impersonators as it did honest-to-God Broncos.

First on the ersatz roster was Alex Sanchez, a 31-year-old Westminster man who was arrested after leading police on a high-speed chase out of the Broncos' training camp in Greeley. Sanchez showed up at the camp claiming to be a quarterback prospect from Abilene Christian University, but he was unable to gain entrance to the players' dorm despite his claim that he had received a letter from coach Mike Shanahan. When police confronted the would-be play-caller, he hopped in his Honda Prelude and peeled out of the parking lot. Police caught up to him on I-25.

Sanchez was outdistanced in the faux-Broncos sweepstakes, however, by Johnny Harlan, a convicted murderer who even convinced sales managers at a John Elway dealership that he was a teammate of the boss. Harlan was arrested after allegedly scamming a trail of victims into believing that he was Naudeus Harlan, a running back with a just-signed $1.2 million Broncos contract--and then letting him drive away in brand-new cars. The 26-year-old, who shot a man to death when he was 16, is the first cousin of convicted murderer Robert Harlan, now on death row for killing a cocktail waitress.

Taxpayers may have felt duped themselves after spending millions to build state-of-the-art Coors Field and then seeing the ballpark opened by replacement players due to the baseball strike. But at least the real Rockies returned to earn a play-off berth in the fall. That put the Rockies a step ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who, despite a valiant effort, struggled to overcome a spell of mediocrity cast when their mascot, Rocky, careened out of control during an attempted tomahawk dunk at McNichols Arena and wound up in the hospital with a back injury. It was enough to make local fans turn to the Colorado Avalanche for entertainment--ice hockey, after all, being preferable to the much-maligned "Ultimate Fighting Championships," since, unlike that timid undertaking, biting and gouging are not only allowed but encouraged.

Of course, winning games wasn't always as important to Nuggets and Avalanche ownership as was cutting a deal with the city for a new two-sport Pepsi Center arena, a stately pleasure dome slated to rise in the Central Platte Valley not far from the new taxpayer-subsidized football stadium Broncos czar Pat Bowlen is calling for. The city appeared gung-ho on both ideas, despite studies showing that luring thousands of fans into the valley on cold winter nights will cause the city to violate federal health standards for carbon monoxide levels.

Behind every brown cloud there's a silver lining, however, and the Webb administration was eager to get the Nuggets and Avalanche into the valley to provide some company for Elitch Gardens, the taxpayer-subsidized amusement park that opened for business last spring amid complaints of high prices, a ban on homemade picnic lunches and hour-long ride lines. Investors did a slow burn when attendance plunged 200,000 below initial projections, but they were glad the new park wasn't as hot as the old Elitch's in North Denver, which slowly succumbed to the efforts of enthusiastic arsonists.

For some thrill-seeking teenagers, a trip to Elitch's couldn't compare to another popular pastime: breaking into abandoned Titan I missile silos on the plains east of Denver. Empty since the mid-Sixties, the huge underground sites, dotted with mazes of tunnels and passageways, have become the "in" place to scrawl messages such as "death to whom closed the gates of hell." Said one Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy of the junior silophiles, "To me, they would be better off going in a cave."

So, apparently, would area children looking for modern role models amid the rubble. At least there they wouldn't have seen the regrettable December incident in which Santa Claus himself was bent up against a patrol car, frisked, handcuffed and taken to jail after allegedly engaging in a fight with his wife atop a Denver viaduct. Claus, who claimed to police that he was a street vendor selling copies of the Rocky Mountain News, was arrested after passing motorists phoned 911 to report that they had seen Santa Claus fighting with a woman at the intersection. Among the charges: disturbing the peace.

end of part 2

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