Divide the Ride

Pushing a $6 billion transit plan, RTD has met the enemy-- the RTD board.

Transit '97's DuBay says the group is trying to steer clear of Klein's attacks and board politics in general. "It's our job to run a public campaign," he says. "We are being purposely passive because we're here to talk about traffic. We're not here to fix the board."

Ben Klein may prove to be the opposition's most potent secret weapon in the Guide the Ride campaign, but he's not the only one. Gloria Holliday, another supporter of the plan, also voted for the cap on fundraising and has criticized the RTD staff's financial calculations on the project as "stupid nonsense." Holliday's reservations, though, seem minor compared to the flanking maneuver conducted by ostensible GTR supporter Jack McCroskey.

Five years ago, McCroskey, then chairman of the RTD board, led the bruising political battle to build Denver's "demonstration" light-rail line from South Broadway to Five Points. After losing to light-rail booster Phil Anderson in the 1992 election, McCroskey was re-elected to the board last fall. A cornerstone of his campaign was an attack on RTD's plans to extend the light-rail line down Santa Fe Drive to Littleton; the self-proclaimed "father of light rail" insisted that linking the present line to congested South Colorado Boulevard would be a smarter move ("Unfinished Business," October 31, 1996).

Although McCroskey voted for Guide the Ride, which includes rail lines in both the southwest and southeast corridors, he's continued to push his alternative proposal, arguing that RTD could build a $400 million line all the way to the Denver Tech Center without a tax hike simply by making more efficient use of existing revenues. He's written letters to members of Congress about his plan, courted editorial boards at newspapers, and pitched the idea at debates. The result has been columns in both Denver dailies questioning whether the tax hike is needed--and another crack in the unified front Guide the Ride's supporters have tried to present.

McCroskey now says he voted for the ballot issue "with some misgivings, and I have to say they've grown over time. The plan is very seriously flawed. I'm also concerned about the staff's ability and the board's ability to keep it under control. This is a hell of a chunk of money."

Light rail's papa argues that light rail down the southeast corridor makes sense: "That's where the problem is. If any line has a chance to be productive, that's the line." But he questions the viability of the plan's proposed commuter line to Golden ("I don't think that will carry anybody") and believes a diesel train to DIA is "silly." If voters okay the project, he vows, he'll do his "dead-level best" to kill the Golden line and see that the DIA route becomes a light-rail line that could be linked to the existing system without forcing passengers to transfer.

Tonsing says McCroskey is seeking to create distractions ("That's Jack's style") and that his proposal isn't "a good-faith alternative."

"I never took his support too seriously anyway," Tonsing says. "Some of this is just pure tactics; there hasn't been what I would call a solid supporter [of Guide the Ride] on the board that's moved one inch."

But if McCroskey's defection didn't exactly surprise the Guide the Ride camp, it has coincided with other, more startling developments, including his evident rapprochement with RTD's chairman. Two years ago McCroskey called Ben Klein "the most hypocritical man I know." The pair have a history of clashes dating back to a 1992 letter Klein reportedly wrote to Romer insinuating that McCroskey had lost the Jewish vote in his district by purchasing light-rail cars from a German manufacturer. (Klein's board subsequently purchased cars from the same company.)

Yet these days Klein and McCroskey speak warmly of each other as old friends. "Klein is like taxes and death--he'll be there," McCroskey explains. "Ben's done some things that I approve of. He's been willing to listen to some of the arguments I've made, and I think I've been able to have some influence on his statements. Right now I get along with him, and we agree on many things."

One area of agreement between the two men has been their mutual antipathy for Cal Marsella and RTD's executive staff. McCroskey has long taken issue with what he considers to be the arrogance and spendthrift ways of the agency's staff, and at public meetings, both he and Klein have berated the general manager with barely disguised contempt. (To his credit, Marsella hasn't responded in kind, even though the snarling over the Guide the Ride financial projections has reached new depths of invective.) Whatever else these tirades have accomplished, they've done little to further public confidence in the ability of RTD's staff and board to work together on a massive transit project.

"I don't see us working together," McCroskey declares. "I see a staff that's way oversized and overpaid. If we get ourselves somewhere between six and eighteen billion more [dollars], that will really worry me. Mr. Marsella doesn't have the same interests I have. His staff doesn't think they work for me at all."

Caldara's opposition campaign has seized on such statements and run with them. One CCC press release even quoted Klein and McCroskey expressing their "doubts that the 'Guide the Ride' transit system will ever be built."

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