Off Limits

Hey, barkeep!

While the rest of the city celebrated seventy years of post-Prohibition carousing on Monday -- the Pub at Rockies Brewing sold over a hundred 33-cent pints in honor of that great day in 1933 when alcohol again flowed freely -- the Denver-based Prohibition Party was silent on April 7. Rather than staging a rally on the banality of booze or swinging a hatchet, Carry Nation-like, at a set of saloon doors, the party let the anniversary pass in cold, stone-sober silence.

"We don't consider repeal a thing to observe," explains Earl Dodge, the party's seventy-year-old chairman. "We believe that in the long run, we're going to have a form of Prohibition again." But if we do, it won't be because of the teetotaling party's savvy organizing. Dodge, who has held the group's top spot since 1979, can't provide exact membership numbers for his party, since most states only allow voters to register Democrat, Republican or independent. But there were fewer than forty attendees at the Prohibition Party's 1999 convention, and Dodge, the party's perennial candidate for president, captured just 208 votes in the 2000 election. (The only state ballot on which his name appeared was Colorado's.)

Still, Dodge sees the no-smoking campaigns across Colorado as a harbinger of things to come. "When I was growing up, smoking was accepted," he points out, "and if anyone told me that there would be a day when people didn't smoke and there were laws prohibiting it, I would have laughed. That's the direction the country is going -- against booze."

Maybe the devout Christian has missed the whole John Hickenlooper for Mayor campaign. The owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Co. -- in the heart of Denver's wettest neighborhood -- as well as six other neighborhood taverns has placed a close third in recent polls, right behind Don Mares and Ari Zavaras. And Hickenlooper even used bar coasters -- "Vote, baby, vote" -- to urge people of legal age for both voting and drinking to register by the deadline so that they could cast a ballot in the May 6 mayoral election.

That deadline, not coincidentally, was April 7 -- the anniversary of Prohibition's repeal. And we can only imagine the Prohibition Party's reaction if a purveyor of the devil's brew becomes mayor of Colorado's capitol city. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink.

Fortunately, Denver has plenty of good places to do that -- some dating back to Prohibition's repeal, some dating further back still. (That long, dry spell between 1916 and 1933 killed a thousand of the state's saloons, according to author and historian Tom Noel, himself a liquid asset.) Although the Buckhorn Exchange, at 1000 Osage Street, first opened in 1893, its notorious "Liquor License #1" dates not to the restaurant's founding, but to that post-Prohibition day when owner Henry Zietzdecided to do things right and proper, and cozied up to a friend in the city to make it legal. Jerry Krantz has been at El Chapultepec, the legendary jazz club at 1962 Market Street, since 1958 -- but the bar has been there much longer. Since July 4, 1933, to be exact, when Tony Romano, Krantz's grandfather, opened the saloon to mark the end of Denver's real drought.

Angel eyes: Denver's Department of Traffic Engineering Services needs to lighten up.

Last weekend, alert travelers were shocked and bemused to discover an angel on the pedestrian traffic signal at South University Boulevard and Evans Avenue. So shocked, our roving Off Limits reporter had to drive by the light on the southeast corner three times just to be sure it wasn't a trick of the eye. And it wasn't. When walking was forbidden, the usual red hand glowed -- but when it was time to move, a guardian angel guided pedestrians to and fro.

Thinking that the electric seraph might be in honor of the Iliff School of Theology just down the street, we called Robert Kochevar, director of traffic engineering services for the city, to find out more. He found our query far from heaven sent. "That kind of stuff does not meet standards, and we'll take care of it," he said, in his most officious public-official voice. Ninety minutes later, as spokeswoman Patty Weiss was explaining the situation to us -- "The Manual Uniform Traffic Code says it must be a person symbol. That is what is required, and it was not intentional to make it anything other than that" -- a repair crew was already at the intersection, removing the situation.

According to Tim,your friendly neighborhood traffic-signal repair guy (who supplied only his first name), every traffic-signal box contains a thin piece of plastic sheeting that's painted black except for the hand symbol, which is red, and the person symbol, which is white. Two lightbulbs behind that sheeting take turns shining through, creating the universally understood signals. As frequently happens, Tim said, the paint had begun peeling off the sheeting in this particular traffic light -- but the angel image was not intentional.

Unless you chalk it up to divine intervention.

Hot stuff: The Rocky Mountain News is ready for its close-up. For the second time in four years, the paper has brought home a Pulitzer Prize for breaking-news photography.

This year's accolade, which comes in the wake of a 2000 win for snaps taken after the killings at Columbine High School, rewarded the News and its shutterbugs for their spectacular work during last year's wildfires.

On April 7, as champagne flowed in the newsroom for what one wag believes was the first time since the News obtained the right to run the "Garfield" comic strip formerly seen in the Denver Post, a slide show of evocative shots, complete with audio commentary by director of photography Janet Reeves, appeared on the Rocky's Web site, www.rockymountainnews.com. But locals may be disappointed that the gallery doesn't include the single best-known image from the summer of smoke: the June 24 front-page pic by staffer Barry Gutierrez that found Durango resident Fred Finlay sitting amid his burned belongings, one testicle apparently dangling from his shorts. In the days that followed, Reeves and News editor John Temple argued that the private area in question was actually "an unfortunate convergence of shadows," but Finlay thought otherwise. After Fox radio producer Kathy Lee tracked Finlay down and showed him the photo, he said, "Those would be my balls. My one ball."

For future reference: When it comes to testicles or Pulitzers, two is better than one.School daze:The extracurricular activities at Metro State are getting pretty wild. Six weeks ago, Brotha Seku (né Stephen Evans), the former Student Government Assembly president, was expelled until 2004 for his third student code-of-conduct violation in thirty years and was threatening to sue the school ("Off Limits," March 6). Since then, the fiery fifty-year-old student has hired fiery -- and very successful -- Denver defense attorney Walter Gerash to represent him and reopen his February 28 hearing.

Judicial officer Elyse Yamauchihad stopped those proceedings after Seku invited in reporters from The Metropolitan, a student newspaper. Although journalists Noelle Leavitt and Lindsay Sandhamand photographer Danny Holland had obtained a waiver from Seku giving them access to all of his student records and to the hearing, Yamauchi told them the meeting was closed. Holland snapped some images and the reporters tried to assert their rights under Colorado's open-meetings law, but Yamauchi repeated that the meeting was closed, threatened to bring the student journalists up on code-of-conduct charges if they didn't beat a hasty retreat -- and then called the campus police.

The students left, the hearing ended. And on March 17, Yamauchi filed complaints against them anyway.

Now the student journalists have their own attorney, Eileen Kiernan-Johnson, of Faegre & Benson. The First Amendment specialist is helping them pro bono, not only in fighting their charges -- which none of the students have seen, since Metro's student handbook does not require the judicial officer to prove the accused with copies -- but also in reopening the Seku investigation.

"We took the case to hold the Metro judicial panel accountable," Kiernan-Johnson says. "We disagree that they're governed by internal policy, as Elyse Yamauchi said; the law makes clear that they are bound to state law. And we're troubled by the charges brought against the student journalists. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing."

They are also considering suing the school. Human-services professor Shawn Worthy, who is serving as judicial officer on the case, wrote Leavitt that "Yamauchi is willing to resolve this matter informally, assuming you are willing to take responsibility and work on a positive outcome and resolution to this matter." Leavitt and the other journalists, however, believe they are working on a positive outcome: the public's right to know, as well as their own.

"Everything has been vague," Leavitt says. "Nothing has cited Colorado law, just the handbook. They're giving us an argument based on a student handbook, and we're giving them one based on the law."

Deb Hurley-Brobst, the resident open-meetings/open-records expert at Metro's journalism department, agrees that the Metropolitan's staffers should have been given access to Seku's hearing. "Based on my reading of the law," she says, "because they had Brother Seku's permission to be there, they should have been allowed in." But the department doesn't advise the paper, at least not officially. "They are a student newspaper, and technically, as faculty, we are employed by the administration," Hurley explains. "We don't want to hinder in any way their First Amendment rights."

The Metropolitan can't subsidize its staffers' cause financially, since the paper is partially funded by student fees. But it can support them with ink -- and plenty of that will be spilled after the student journalists' first hearing on the still-unspecified charges, set for this week.

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