Shootout at the Not-So-Okay Corral

This year started not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Reading about no-knock raids got old after a while, but Denver won't have to worry about being oversaturated by newspaper stories much longer -- not after the long-rumored but nevertheless surprising announcement on May 11 that the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post would enter into a joint operating agreement. The end of Denver's bitter, decades-long newspaper war, which still has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, acknowledged what pundits had predicted for years: that this town ain't big enough for the both of 'em. JOA documents revealed that the Rocky has been lying on the ground bleeding from a hole in its belly for the last few years, while the Denver Post stood relatively unscathed. Morale at the Rocky -- already hurting after the Post won a Pulitzer a month earlier for its Columbine coverage while the News only managed a prize for its Columbine photography -- plummeted after the announcement; staffers there had been under the impression that they were winning the war.

The Rocky may be bleeding, but the biggest casualty of the year could be United Airlines, which was attacked by an angry posse of airline customers eager to hang the company from the nearest tree.

United, which controls about two-thirds of the air traffic in and out of Denver International Airport, started canceling and delaying record numbers of flights last May, in the process garnering an incredible amount of negative publicity (including Westword's own "What United Did to My Summer Vacation" contest). The problems had resulted from turbulent contract negotiations between the airline and its pilots' union; although things began to improve in the fall, United had already lost business to Frontier, its main competitor in Denver, and severely angered many of its customers. The airline apologized, offering perks to its Premier members and promising to try harder. But contract negotiations with mechanics and flight attendants in the fall led to more delays and cancellations -- just as the holiday travel season was warming up, too.

Kenny Be

Wisely, United's PR people eventually quit trying to fight the publicity fires.

Not giving up, though, were actual firefighters, who spent the summer putting out fires of another kind -- real ones like the Mesa Verde fire, the Hi Meadow fire in Jefferson County and the Bobcat fire in Larimer County, which together burned hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed dozens of homes in all parts of the state. The fires, coupled with a record-setting number of 90-degree-plus days, made for one long, hot summer.

Things didn't cool off any as Columbus Day -- or is that Italian-American Pride Day? -- rolled around, and a real shootout, cowboy-and-Indian style, was barely averted. For the first time since 1991, the Italian community scheduled a parade for downtown Denver -- which inspired vows to stop the parade, possibly with violence, from local activists and representatives of the American Indian Movement, which has been trying to abolish Columbus Day on the grounds that Christopher Columbus was a slave trader responsible for the near-genocide of their ancestors. Meddling city and federal officials and clergy members of various denominations only made things worse in the weeks leading up to the parade by trying to broker a treaty. Although an initial agreement was reached in which the Italians said they'd rename the parade the March for Italian Pride and the Indians said they'd call off the protest, the Italians quickly reneged, saying they'd been coerced by an implied -- and illegal -- threat from the city that their parade permit would be pulled if they didn't agree to a truce. This infuriated the Indians, who called everyone liars and redoubled their protest planning for the October 7 event. Nearly 500 cops helped keep things in check that day; although protesters held up the parade for about an hour, chanting slogans, waving signs and trading insults with Italians, no one was hurt. Police issued 147 citations, but they were all for the relatively minor infractions of loitering and failing to obey officers. After the parade, organizer C.M. Mangiaracina called protest leader Russell Means a " knucklehead" and vowed to have another parade next year. Means promised to be back in 2001 as well, possibly with a new and more violent strategy. "I'm sorry, but the day of Gandhiism and Martin Luther King tactics is over," he told the crowd. Since then, the activists have refused to meet with religious leaders and have also asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to handle most of the 147 arrest cases. That request was granted in mid-December.

The election season came along just in time to give Colorado a cooling-off period. Although emotions did heat up over a few ballot initiatives and races, most of the local elections were dull, dull, dull. Democrat Ken Toltz tried to drag out the gun issue in his effort to unseat 6th Congressional District Republican representative Tom Tancredo. Although Toltz had raised a lot of money, he must have armed himself with blanks, because Tancredo easily won re-election. About the most exciting part of the season was when a posse of third-party candidates, including Libertarians, Greens and Natural Law folks, mounted up and went after the Rocky Mountain News to protest the fact that the paper's election guide had ignored them completely.

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