Off Limits

GOP of the heap

Whoever wins the city's top spot in the June 3 runoff won't have to worry about stepping into deep dog-park doodoo until at least next January. Earlier this month, Parks and Recreation manager James Mejia recommended to the department's advisory board that the debut of the dog parks, originally slated to start this Memorial Day weekend, be stalled until early 2004; the board agreed. Mejia also suggested removing Cheesman and Veteran's parks from the list of nine possible sites, since neighbors had yipped so loudly about being included in the one-year pilot program.

By the time they stop their yapping, Mejia will be long gone. A Wellington Webb appointee (which means he'll be out once the new mayor comes in), he's a finalist for a White House fellowship. And if he doesn't get that, Mejia plans to go to graduate school back East. Either way, he won't be here to see Denver go to the dogs.

Let's play house: Little more than a decade ago, it was illegal for unmarried people to live together in certain Denver neighborhoods. And now a long-buried controversy over changing that ordinance has been dug up in the increasingly dirty fight for Denver City Council District 10.

Loop de Loop: John Hickenlooper and the Borofsky 
sculpture purchased by Wellington Webb's 
administration, now accessorized for the next mayor.
Photo of John Hickenlooper by Brett Amole
Loop de Loop: John Hickenlooper and the Borofsky sculpture purchased by Wellington Webb's administration, now accessorized for the next mayor.

Back in 1984, an anonymous complaint from a neighbor prompted the city to investigate the marital status of a man and a woman sharing the same house, in potential violation of zoning codes. When Denver issued a cease-and-desist order against the couple, they sued Denver, claiming the zoning rules were discriminatory. The disputed ordinance covered areas with R-1 and R-0 zoning, which just happen to cover some of the most affluent areas in the city, including the Country Club neighborhood.

In 1989, a divided city council finally repealed the ordinance, despite strong opposition from many of the people who lived in those neighborhoods. One of them was Jeanne Robb, at that time president of the Cherry Creek Improvement Association. She spoke before city council twice, testifying that her group wanted to preserve the neighborhood "for the traditional family" and was concerned that those merely "sharing expenses" had a lack of commitment. "While there are unmarried people who I am sure are committed, the marriage license is still the best measure of commitment that we can find," Robb told city council.

Fourteen years later, Robb is campaigning to become the council representative for District 10, which in addition to Country Club includes Cheesman Park and Capitol Hill, neighborhoods with large gay and lesbian populations. Not surprisingly, Denver's gays had fought hard to have the old zoning rules overturned.

Both Robb and her opponent in the runoff, Caroline Schomp, have played up their commitment to the district's gay population. In a flier aimed at the gay community, Robb claims she worked with then-councilwoman Cathy Donohue to "craft a compromise that eliminated some of the opposition to the ordinance."

But Schomp says Robb is distorting her record on the issue: "She's putting out information that she was responsible for this compromise when she testified against the bill. It's misleading."

Robb insists that she did work behind the scenes for a compromise and says she was representing the overwhelming opinion in her neighborhood when she spoke against changing the ordinance, a stance she now regrets. "We weren't aware of the sort of thing some of my gay supporters went through," she adds.

"Have we all changed? I would hope so," Robb says. "I was willing to be out there and work on it and learn. I have strong support in the gay community, and I'm committed to equal rights."

No matter who did what in 1989, that this issue has become central to a race between two straight women shows just how important the gay vote has become in central Denver. See? Some things do change.

Study haul: Last Friday was a long day for Noelle Levitt. At 9 a.m., the student journalist was in Denver District Court, suing Metropolitan State College of Denver for closing a judicial hearing for former Student Government Assembly president Brotha Seku. At 7 p.m. she was still going, accepting the Helen Verba Award from the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists to continue her studies at Metro.

Seku had invited Levitt, the news editor of The Metropolitan, fellow reporter Lindsay Sandham and photographer Danny Holland to cover his February 28 hearing, but they were tossed out by the college's judicial officer, Elyse Yamauchi, who threatened them with arrest by the campus police if they didn't leave (Off Limits, April 10). The three backed off, but not down. They found their own attorneys, Tom Kelley and Eileen Kiernan-Johnson of Faegre & Benson, to represent them pro bono and sued the college and Yamauchi for violations of the state's open-meetings statutes.

Although the school settled out of court with Seku, who'd hired Walter Gerash to represent him (the two have since parted ways), it decided to take the student journalists' case all the way to Judge Herbert Stern III's courtroom, where John Sleeman and Nancy Wahl of the Colorado Attorney General's Office argued that disciplinary hearings for public university students are not public business and should be closed -- even if the students request that they be open.

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