Big Boss Man
Above Jim Hannifin's cluttered desk is an award, inked in amateur calligraphy and framed in fake wood.
Hannifin tacked the prize to his wall in February 1995, shortly after he moved his business, Ready Temporary Services, to 1915 East Colfax Avenue. Leaders of the local business group Colfax on the Hill, Inc., stopped by to present Hannifin with the Chairman's Award, a friendly welcome-to-the-neighborhood gesture.
The chairman herself, Margot Crowe, owner and proprietor of the cozy bed-and-breakfast directly across the street from Hannifin, made the presentation. Crowe wasn't just a fixture on East Colfax, she was a legend. Crowe's family had owned the Holiday Chalet since 1912; she liked to tell people that she was conceived on Colfax, born on Colfax, lives on Colfax, plays on Colfax and wants to die on Colfax. And so like warm neighbors often do, when Hannifin moved in, Crowe invited all the local business owners to gather for a continental breakfast at the Ramada Inn to meet the new guy.
While the business owners sipped hot coffee and munched buttered croissants, Crowe spoke highly of Hannifin. She said she was glad he had purchased that shabby old building across the street and turned it into something presentable. She noted that Hannifin's business and its 500 employees would bring a $5 million payroll to the neglected strip of East Colfax. Crowe spoke glowingly of Jim Hannifin's strong reputation for diving into neighborhood issues, for taking charge in the community.
"Outspoken and direct in his views," Crowe said, "he believes COTH should not be an approving or disapproving arbiter of existing businesses; rather, that its primary function should be to encourage all businesses here to succeed and to help bring more business into the district."
But even as Crowe uttered those words of praise, she knew Hannifin was a neighborhood bully. Sure, she'd heard that Hannifin dove into neighborhood issues, but she'd also heard he did it nails first.
The Chairman's Award, it turned out, wasn't just a pat on the back -- it was a deep massage. "It was largely tongue-in-cheek," recalls Buzz Geller, current chairman of Colfax on the Hill and owner of a Paradise Cleaners at Colfax and Adams. "It was along the logic of, 'Here's an award -- now play ball with the rest of us, would you?'"
Other Denver neighborhoods, such as the Golden Triangle, were getting city planners to rezone their commercial strips to block out the seedy businesses that kept them in the gutter and out of the economic high times of the '90s. For their own piece of the world, the Colfax on the Hill business owners wanted to freeze out any new tattoo shops, adult bookstores and, eventually, temporary labor shops like Jim Hannifin's.
Don't worry, they told Hannifin. You'll be grandfathered in, and your competition will be kept away.
Over the course of the next four years, the business owners held meetings with the neighbors, lobbied the city's planning office and dreamt of a new world. But Hannifin, the 6' 5" Irishman with the booming voice and the cut-to-the-quick snarls, wasn't playing ball. He quickly accused his neighbors of trouncing the working poor to achieve their own goals, of going so far as to practice "economic cleansing."
When the dispute turned into a fight and then a brawl, Hannifin unleashed his brand of "urban guerrilla warfare" on his neighbors. He paid his scraggly "Ready Men" employees to picket in front of Geller's business with signs that read, "Paradise Cleaners Is Against the Working Poor." He sued Crowe for slander. He sent out his employees to collect signatures against the rezoning plan and came up with 3,200 of them -- a mother lode of support. And when the rezoning plan was finally scheduled to go before the city's Land Use Committee this past June, Hannifin didn't hesitate to throw his cash around. He hired CRL, the most influential lobbying firm in Denver (see "Big Boss Lady," in this week's issue).
"I make no secrets about hiring CRL," Hannifin says, spreading out his long arms like Christ. "I was facing these neighborhood organizations who have full-time executive directors that go out and lobby for what they want. I didn't have that kind of time. I didn't know how to work the system like they did. And you know what happens if you don't know how to work the system? You can end up stepping on your own dick."
Out on East Colfax, people think Jim Hannifin is either a saint or a sonuvabitch. Mostly, they're thinking sonuvabitch.
Growing up, Jim Hannifin learned people can hate you for the damnedest reasons.
Hannifin was raised in an Irish ghetto in Butte, Montana, a hard mining town loaded with more booze than copper. His father quit school after the eighth grade and provided for the family by running gambling halls. At age eight, Jim earned $1 a week for delivering popcorn and candy to the old ladies who spent their evenings playing bingo. As a young child, Hannifin didn't know being Irish, Catholic and blue-collar wasn't exactly chic. He would find that out later as he traveled with his high school basketball team to the big cities, like Billings.
"We didn't know we were any different until we got there. They called us "micks" or "fish-eaters" -- anything they could think of -- the moment we got off the bus." Hannifin's need to question the powers that be shone earlier rather than later. Schooled by Catholic nuns, he was dusting up trouble early, drinking by age fourteen.
Once Hannifin got into a fistfight in an alley with a black kid named Walt. Hannifin's father came around back as the two boys were scrapping and heard young Jim call Walt a nigger. Hannifin's father pulled his son off the other boy, took him around the corner and put a finger in Jim's face. "I don't want to hear you say that word ever again," Hannifin recalls his father saying, "because fifty years ago, we were the niggers."
Hannifin says the moment shaped him. "My father said, 'Jim, you're big, healthy, strong. You have a lot that other people don't have. You owe it to people who don't have it so good to help them get a leg up.'"
In Butte, as soon as men came of age, they had two choices: Leave or work in the mines.
Hannifin got out of Butte by using his basketball skills, but he couldn't seem to shake the town. First he scored an athletic scholarship to Gonzaga University. But after less than year on campus, he was kicked off the team for drinking and sent home. When he returned, he dug graves for cash and took classes at Montana State during the summer. Once the summer ended, State kicked Hannifin out and told him not to return. Once more, his crime was hell-raising. Finally he tried Montana Tech, but carousing brought him right back home again.
"Drinking is so much a part of the Butte culture, it is in the annals: mostly Irish, long winters, isolation." By now, Hannifin wanted off the party train. He knew -- at least in the back of his mind -- that he was drinking too much. So using the logic of a nineteen-year-old, he left Butte and his buddies to join the Navy. And the Navy turned out to be a college for drinking.
While in port in San Francisco, Hannifin and his pals would run up to the Starlight bar above the Sir Francis Drake hotel off Union Square and guzzle all night for just a few bucks. The bartender, coincidentally, was from Butte and engaged in creative cashiering to keep his boys loose. By 1964, when Hannifin was honorably discharged from the Navy, he had a sporty Mustang for tooling around the city, a nice apartment in the Sunset and a growing drinking problem.
Friday nights were good nights. Hannifin would race home to shower and shave and get into nice clothes. He'd walk up Market Street toward his girlfriend's office, stopping in bars for a few belts along the way. By the time he reached Karen, he'd have his fade on, buzzed with confidence.
Karen worked at Olsten Temporary Corporation, a fast-growing company in the still-new temp-worker industry. If Hannifin arrived at her office a little early, he'd shoot the breeze with Karen's boss. Eventually, the boss offered Hannifin a job as a salesman. Said he liked Hannifin's cool demeanor.
But Hannifin was cringing on the inside. Karen's boss had never seen him sober. He was always rattling on with bravado because he'd been smoothed by the booze. "So I said, 'Sure, I'll do it.' But I was terrified."
Soon Olsten was expanding and Hannifin was chosen to open the San Mateo office. He was growing up with the company. He had his eye on the franchise in Denver: He'd been here a few times, he had just married Karen, and the two had given birth to their first child, Jimmy. At his son's christening, Hannifin got sloshed. He grabbed a telephone at 2 a.m., called his boss and told him he wanted to buy the Denver franchise.
His boss chuckled and said, "You've been drinking, haven't you?" Hannifin remembered the conversation and stuck to his plans. Soon the new family headed to Denver. "We didn't have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of," he says of their arrival at an office in what is now known as lower downtown.
For the first three years, Hannifin's shop struggled but stayed alive. Hobos running the train lines could pop into Denver, find work with Hannifin and scoot back along their way. Hannifin also ran a small white-collar division for secretaries and accountants. But while his life as a businessman was taking off, his life as a drunk needed to end.
On a Friday night in 1968, like so many other Friday nights, Hannifin got paid, then got drunk. He also got robbed in the alley outside the Wayne High Towers. A police cruiser passed by, and a delirious Hannifin waived him down. Hannifin told the cops what had happened and argued with them, telling them they'd best go find the robbers. When they hesitated, Hannifin turned belligerent. He landed himself in jail, left to chew on his soul when he finally sobered up.
He was depressed. Embarrassed. Scared.
Hannifin found help through his doctor, who prescribed the drug Antabuse, which forced his body to hack out its insides if a drop of alcohol tainted his bloodstream. After taking the pills for six months, Hannifin had to kick those as well. He was off the bottle physically, but the two decades of drinking had left him socially and emotionally arrested. He had never gone to a party and had the courage to talk to strangers unless he had knocked back a few. His growth as a person had been stunted for so long that he was unable to see what really made the man.
Finding out took time. The turning point came when Hannifin was invited to a party thrown by a friend from Butte. All the gang would be there. For two hours before he left home, he laid in his bed, sheets pulled tight over his head, wondering if he would have the mettle to resist the bottle. Once he got there, he strangled a cup of coffee all night long. He left the party dry, relieved -- and ecstatic. His life could turn into something else.
As Hannifin's life pulled away from drinking, it turned toward health and fitness. In 1980 he began running and took to the sport so well that he competed in, and finished, a few marathons. When his knees grew sore from running, he found swimming and bike riding. The mental flashes that once screamed, "Aw, hell, just go out and get drunk" don't come around anymore. At least not as often.
Now, 31 years sober, Jim Hannifin sits in his office, cupping both of his large hands over the middle of his chest. "What's in here," he says, before extending his hands outward, "now gets out here."
"I'm sorry, but I know no subtlety. If you're trying to make a point, come to me, right here," he points to his chest. "If you don't, it goes right over my head."
He thinks about it for a second and adds, "I don't use subtlety, either."
In 1971, Hannifin sued the Olsten Corporation for being chintzy with the Denver franchise. Olsten was growing fast in the coastal cities, but he felt it was neglecting its Denver office. The company advertised in national magazines but failed to mention the Denver location. Hannifin and his wife were rarely visited by the regional manager; it seemed as if they'd been left alone on an island but were still expected to pay tribute to Olsten.
The terms of the settlement, reached out of court, forced Hannifin to sell the white-collar division back to Olsten and go into business for himself -- but with only blue-collar workers for the first two years.
That's when he started Ready Man Labor (which would later evolve into Ready Temporary Services). Says Hannifin, "I like the blue-collar man -- what can I say?"
Jim Hannifin says he fights for "his people," not himself. "If I didn't do it," he says of fighting back the business owners who were pushing for the rezoning of East Colfax, "my guys would come to me and say, 'Why'd ya let them do that to us, Jim? Why'd ya let them win?'
"I enjoy the shit-disturbing. I enjoy empowering people that feel powerless when they're going up against a government institution. That's our system. That's when you know democracy is working, when you see people with no power become empowered."
"The guy is a social pioneer," says city councilman Ed Thomas, who has known Hannifin for twenty years. Thomas points out that one of Hannifin's first offices was at 23rd and Ogden: "Here's this white businessman in a predominantly black neighborhood. Not only was he hiring their residents, he became the president of their local neighborhood group. He would stand up and fight like crazy over the issues he was passionate about."
Hannifin doesn't know where he got it from, but he learned early on that his urban guerrilla warfare paid off in political battles. When his first neighborhood group, the Organization for Midtown Neighborhood Involvement, tried to stop the expansion of Kaiser Hospital in the late '80s, Hannifin and his supporters bought a wooden coffin, filled it with bologna sandwiches on Kaiser rolls and called a press conference. The convoluted message of death, bologna and Kaiser lacked polish, but it was effective.
"Kaiser's spokeswoman shows up to the conference, and she doesn't know to think," Hannifin recalls with a good laugh. "She was really green and flustered. Someone overheard her say, 'I don't know what the fuss is all about; all these homes are owned by minorities.' Well, hell. Talk about steppin' in your own shit."
According to Hannifin, he always strives to conclude his disputes with admirable "win-win" solutions.
It's a convenient belief for Jim Hannifin, because in all of these disputes, Jim Hannifin has won.
Kaiser, along with the other hospitals, was prohibited from buying surrounding residential property at will, a practice called "block-busting." As a result, the city planning office created new zones just for hospitals, H-1 and H-2. Now if a hospital wants to expand, it must go through the lengthy process of changing the surrounding zones to be compliant with city law.
That's a win-win?
"Now hospitals know what the community wants," Hannifin says.
In 1994, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, at Colorado Boulevard and Ninth Avenue, tried to expand to provide an eye institute and cancer treatment center. After Hannifin and his Congress Park Neighbors group blew the issue loud and wide, the University backed down. In fact, the university has since purchased land at the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora and is moving out of the neighborhood altogether.
"Okay," Hannifin grins. "That's a win."
In January 1995, the Denver Botanic Gardens was stopped in its attempt to expand into Congress Park, Hannifin's own neighborhood. At the suggestion of Hannifin -- who was chair of the Botanic Gardens Citizens Committee -- Mayor Wellington Webb created six new seats and stacked the plant gallery's board of trustees with residents who were adamantly opposed to expansion. That's a win-win?
"Sure. Now the Gardens can hear the neighborhood's voice before they try to do something."
When voters were asked in 1996 to raise Denver's minimum wage to $6.50 per hour, Hannifin fought the measure hard. His critics said he was being hypocritical: As a champion of poor people, how could he be against raising the minimum wage? Hannifin says temporary labor companies in surrounding cities would have crushed his business. "If the entire state was forced to raise the minimum wage, then of course I would have been for it."
But the measure, called Initiative 100, failed. An obvious win.
In fact, the only time Jim Hannifin lost a scrap was in June 1997, when he sued Margot Crowe for slander. He says Crowe was verbally bashing his workers at neighborhood meetings, telling people his guys were a menace to the Hill. He sued her to stop the attacks but ended up getting laughed out of court by a judge who pointed out that Crowe's words were considered political speech in its purest form: opinions stated at neighborhood meetings. Hannifin now regrets the lawsuit, says he paid for "$10,000 worth of bad legal advice" after he was forced to cover Crowe's legal costs as well.
"He did it to instill fear on the street," Crowe believes. "I was just the person across the street. It was put out as a warning."
What really burned Hannifin was that people were saying he was responsible for all the crap in the gutter. By fall of 1997, the neighbors didn't like it that the homeless had a meeting place. Hannifin's $5 million payroll didn't seem so significant anymore. That he was picking up vans full of able bodies at homeless shelters and bringing them into his hall -- into their neighborhood -- seemed, well, grotesque to his neighbors. Beneath it all, he believed, his stuffy neighbors were blaming the poor for their own problems.
And it just wasn't true, Hannifin argued.
Critics of the homeless and the poor typically challenge them to take any menial job to get the ball of self-reliance rolling. Here was Jim Hannifin, providing that link between the jobless and the tasks most people wouldn't do: cleaning stadiums, setting up tents for street fairs, stacking sheets of metal, pulling security duty in parking lots, digging holes. In the big picture, at least he was providing the underprivileged with a day's work.
What were these chardonnay-sipping Cherry Creek wannabes on Capitol Hill doing to help out?
It wasn't long before what was in here came out there.
"They wanted to be so self-righteous that they wanted to build a wall around their homes and keep the poor people away," Hannifin says of his opposition, who at that point numbered more than 200 local business and property owners. "Well, unfortunately, there's always going to be poor people."
Maybe so, but when those poor people got off work and left Hannifin's shop, they looked for a place to cash their daily checks. They wanted to go somewhere close, like one of the instant check-cashing stores lining East Colfax. Often, they wanted to hit the bars with their newfound fortunes. Like most working people, they were looking for a watering hole close to their office. That, too, they found on East Colfax, in at least a dozen smoke-filled dives where a draw of Budweiser still went for a buck fifty. And when they left the bars, bleary-eyed and foul-breathed, they belched and stumbled by the rows of newly planted flowers outside Crowe's Holiday Chalet -- usually, almost comically, when guests were arriving. They slurred and wobbled on, maybe found a doorway in the alley to piss on, a porch to puke on. The neighbors complained loudly that they were soiling the neighborhood and keeping Capitol Hill from shaking its own hangover.
"If you're going to bring them in," Geller says, "have the common decency to take them back. And he won't do that. He's left them out on the street and told them to find their way home. Some of them, after a bottle of booze, can't find their way home."
Hannifin insists no employer can regulate what his employees do after work.
Councilman Thomas, who remained silent during the rezoning debate so as to appear neutral to his brawling constituents, says Hannifin's business, like it or not, has provided a lifeline for the poor. "Jim Hannifin has changed many lives. Some would argue for the worse. I would not."
The morning is still black and cold when the folding chairs inside Hannifin's shop begins to fill up with bodies. Tired men and women bring along their duffel bags, filled with their only possessions. There's a locker room where they can stow the bags during their shifts.
Five a.m. goes by without a name being called. There is no scent of booze, no sight of drug use as Hannifin's critics like to believe -- drunks and druggies can't get work. There is a stench of cigarettes on wet denim, of body odor.
It isn't until just after 6 a.m. that the man behind the window calls six people and tells them they'll be building tents for the Oktoberfest celebrations in Larimer Square. Four of the six take bagged lunches sold by Hannifin's company.
As the van pulls out of the parking lot, the men tear into the brown paper bags carrying lunch: two sandwiches with a thin, square piece of roast beef in the middle, a six-pack of Ritz crackers with peanut butter in the middle, a side of mayonnaise and an apple. When the sandwich is opened, the two pieces of white bread separate like cotton being pulled apart. The roast beef is tough, like plywood, though no one seems to care. The men who took the lunches finish them off before the van gets to Broadway.
When they arrive in Larimer Square, the wiry foreman barks out the mission of the day for Hannifin's men: Get all tents, stages and beer halls raised by 10 a.m. He and his crew show the Ready Men how to build a tent, connecting the aluminum tubes, lacing up the tarp and taping the lead weight to the legs. Then the foreman disappears.
The Ready Men go to work, albeit uninspired and lacking anything that resembles diligence. They move slowly, chat about how crappy the work is, how long the day will be. After thirty minutes of struggling with the first tent, the foreman reappears, insulted by the crew's slow pace. He watches one Ready Man struggle with a bolt that is too large for the hole he is trying to plug it into. The foreman tells him to throw away the bolt and find a smaller one, one that fits.
"Use your head, man," the foreman shouts at the offender. "Think about what you're doing." After the foreman trudges off, the unembarrassed Ready Man sniffs loudly, "I'm a Ready Man, goddammit. They don't pay me to think."
"Even if they did pay you to think, they wouldn't lose any money," offers Kent, a drifter from Alabama. There's an awkward silence around the wobbly tent for a few seconds, but then everyone begins to laugh.
By noon, the tents are still being raised and it looks like the contractor either hired too few Ready Men or the wrong ones. The foreman is losing his patience at one Ready Man who, at age nineteen, tires easily and continually finds a tree to lean on or a curb to sit on.
"Whaddya leaning on that tree for?" the foreman barks. "It ain't gonna fall down."
"You got nothing for me to do."
"I got something for you to do. Unload that truck, help your buddy tape those legs, get over here and help me out. There's always something to do."
The other Ready Men look at their scolded cohort and say nothing. They, too, think he's lazy. They gripe openly that they're all getting paid the same wage but they're not all working the same amount.
"You come to work?" says one. "Or you come to bitch?"
The scolded Ready Man ignores the slight and walks slowly to a truck and begins to unload the tubes that will support the tents.
Ready Men like working for Hannifin because his job offers a two-way ride. Other temp agencies may pay more per hour than Hannifin, but they either charge for the two-way rides or don't provide a ride at all. Being a Ready Man means, as one put it, "You show up, work, get paid, and they take care of the rest of the bullshit."
The rest of the bullshit, however, keeps Jim Hannifin a rich man.
Last year his total revenue brought in millions of dollars -- "in the low teens," is all he'll say. With close to 600 men and women working out of three locations, times are booming; everyone gets a chance to work. Hannifin won't say how much he charges to deliver a worker, citing proprietary information. But if it's near industry standard, it's around $9.75 per hour, with the worker taking home the minimum wage of $5.15 and Hannifin covering workers' compensation and insurance. The rest is a profit by the hour.
Around 1 p.m., the foreman divides up the Ready Man crew. Some go back to the company's warehouse to unload trucks. Some go to Vail to build tents for another party. One goes on a ride to an estate in Cherry Hills Village to set up tents for a private wedding reception. By 3 p.m., most of the crew is reunited at the warehouse, where they spend the next three hours unloading trucks filled with tubes, tarps, banquet chairs and tables.
At one point, one of the full-time warehouse employees is told to remove a heating unit from the back of a pickup truck. He's tired, he complains. "Get the Ready Man to do it," his co-worker laughs. "That's what they're here for."
"Hey, Ready Man! Come here!" the warehouse employee shouts.
At the end of the twelve-hour day, when the foreman fills out timecards for each Ready Man, thirty minutes of pay has been deducted for "break time." When one Ready Man asks the foreman just which thirty minutes of the day was this alleged "break time," the foreman scratches his goatee and asks, "How long were you in the truck today?"
"Yes, all total. Add...it...all...together," he says slowly, as if the Ready Man were incapable of navigating simple math.
"One hour? There's your break."
When the crew of six finally files back into Hannifin's lobby, an additional $1.75 has been deducted from the pay of those who purchased lunch. After taxes, each man picks up a check for an even $48. Some of the Ready Men from the six-man crew say they are heading to the Roslyn Grill, a dimly lit haunt on the corner of Colfax and Pennsylvania. Others say they can't go, need to save money. Kent, the drifter from Alabama, says he's going home to the residential hotel he's staying at to take a hot shower, get something to eat and get some rest for tomorrow.
All of the Ready Men say they will be back tomorrow, as long as there is work for them.
Initially, when talk of rezoning Colfax started to surface in the fall of 1995, business owners merely wanted a few conditional uses to keep Hannifin's temp-labor agency in line. Instead of letting Ready Temporary Services operate 24 hours, they wanted Hannifin to run banker's hours. They wanted some sort of licensing that forced the workers to stop loitering around the building.
East Colfax Avenue, dreamt business owners like Crowe and Geller, could turn as exciting and clean as lower downtown or Cherry Creek -- and still maintain its unique integrity as Denver's most diverse strip.
But to get there, they needed to rezone the area. And if there was any chance to get the city's endorsement, they would need to prove the idea was a happy consensus.
By July of 1998, the fight had escalated as the proposal began making its way through city hall. Hannifin was in the clear minority of business owners opposing the plan, yet he delivered his petition to city hall showing that 3,200 people in Capitol Hill were with him on this one. His workers had collected the signatures by knocking on doors and standing in front of grocery stores, waving down shoppers. Though the grocery-store technique was statistically sketchy -- who's to say the signee wasn't just stopping in Capitol Hill for the first time in a year? -- the stack of signatures was an impressive display of Hannifin's maneuvering.
And for each business owner who had signed in favor of the rezoning, Hannifin sent out a picketer for at least one day to walk slowly in front of the business, back and forth. Though Hannifin won't admit it himself, he and CRL had lassoed the issue of rezoning and scaled it down to one stinger: If you were for rezoning East Colfax, then you were, as the signs said, "Against the Working Poor." And who wants to be against the working poor?
"Let's say I didn't do a Toyota jump," says Geller, remembering the day he looked out his window and saw the picketers. "It was probably the biggest twist on the truth I had seen." Geller, somewhat unconvincingly, now insists Hannifin's picketers increased his business. "Sure. People wanted to come in and show their support and say, 'This is the biggest crock of bull that I've ever seen.'"
Before it could come to an end, everyone on East Colfax was pointing fingers: Geller and his supporters were comparing Hannifin to a Southern slave owner; Hannifin and his advocates were suggesting Geller and his gang were classist bigots.
"First they define their bogeyman as 'day laborer,'" Hannifin told city council members at a meeting in February. "This could just as well be Irish Catholic, Jew, African-American, Hispanic or Gay."
Aside from the hot talk and grandstanding by citizens, the rezoning of East Colfax would become, for city planners at least, one of the most labor-intensive and ambitious attempts to redefine a community they'd seen. Since it was creating an entirely new zoning district, the plan would require an amendment change in the Denver Zoning Code. To win, the Colfax on the Hill group needed the idea to pass through various low-level zoning committees, sail through public hearings, earn a majority vote by the city council and, ultimately, win the approval of the mayor.
By June 8, when the issue reached discussion at the Land Use Committee meeting, members from the Denver Planning Office had met several times with neighborhood leaders during the past four years, helping residents create a proposal that held a chance at passage. But the Denver Planning Office assists only in bringing citizens' proposals to light; it does not openly endorse them. So when the committee took note of the market-driven turnaround already taking place on East Colfax and sensed all the neighborhood dissension, it was hardly surprising to anyone versed in city politics that the plan was killed.
Only dreamers like Geller who didn't read the writing on the wall were shocked by the easy dismissal of the plan. Even Holiday Chalet owner Crowe, realizing the power of the perceived opposition that Hannifin had worked up, conceded that the rezoning had little chance of passing.
"He and CRL derailed the Colfax zoning," Geller says of Hannifin. "We had 100 percent majority from the affected neighborhoods. We had it from CHUN (Capitol Hill United Neighbors), Congress Park -- his own neighborhood -- from south City Park and Uptown. Each neighborhood took their own vote, and they were unanimous to rezone Colfax."
To try to make peace on Colfax, the city's Office of Neighborhood Response had an idea: Hire an outside mediating team to bring the two sides together. The result was a twelve-page "contract" that asked temporary labor business owners to operate within some guidelines. The guidelines were totally pedestrian: Keep the outside clean. Don't let people loiter. Make sure bathrooms are sanitary. Just by way of being a good businessman, Hannifin already met the criteria.
The neighborhood groups soon realized that any contract would be toothless, because without city-mandated conditional-use clauses or an incredible new law that would regulate day labor shops, there was no bite. Hannifin happily agreed to the terms of the contract while taking time to point out that the Subway sandwich shop next door to him, for instance, didn't have to sign such contracts with neighbors, so why should he?
Hannifin sees his willingness to go along with the contract as above and beyond the duty of a regular business owner. But he'll do it, because after all, it's a "win-win situation."
To this day, only three of the thirty neighborhood groups next to temp-labor agencies throughout the city have signed the contract, none of which are near Jim Hannifin.
"Of course no one has signed it," huffs Geller, like someone who knows he's been outmaneuvered. "That's Jim Hannifin's document. It means nothing."
Now that the smoke has cleared over rezoning, Crowe, like many other business owners on Colfax, is hesitant to say the loss was devastating. On the contrary, thriving development on East Colfax this year is dictating a change that four years' worth of rezoning meetings -- and two decades worth of hoping -- couldn't provide. A record amount of business space has either been bought or changed hands, says Dave Walstrom, executive director of the Colfax Improvement District.
"I love Colfax," Crowe says. "This has been my home and my family's home for three generations. I do resent anyone that would come into a neighborhood and be as mean-spirited as Jim Hannifin and say things that are untrue and then sue a person. I'm at a loss, but I think over a long period of time, people will wake up and realize that the beauty of this street is that it caters to all people. And the one thing that I have found with all people -- from the business owners to the homeless to the street people -- is that they all appreciate being given something beautiful. They like seeing flowers along the street.
"Goodwill is what this street needs," Crowe says. "You know -- love thy neighbor?"
For the first time in his entire life, Jim Hannifin is going on a two-week vacation. It was only in December last year that he lightened his workload, sauntering into the office at 4:30 a.m. instead of the usual 3:30. But before he and Karen leave for Ireland, he's got business to attend to.
First, the City of Aurora is considering an ordinance that would limit the number of days a person can stay in a hotel to thirty. A friend sent Hannifin a clipping from the newspaper and highlighted the parts that sounded all too familiar: Neighbors along Colfax want to keep transients from feeling welcome on their street, and advocates for the homeless think the law is yet another attempt to criminalize being poor. Hannifin says he still has to learn more on the issue before he gets involved.
And second, there's a meeting to attend.
Inside a banquet room at the Assistance League building at 14th and Josephine, a potential member of the neighborhood has called a meeting to make its case.
Shannon's Hope, a nonprofit group home for pregnant mothers, would like to rent a house at 1444 Josephine Street. Leaders of Shannon's Hope make their spiel: These girls have nowhere else to turn, they've decided to have their babies, and they need our assistance.
The tables at the meeting are pitched in a square so that everyone can see one another. Hannifin sits in one corner of the square.
All of the Capitol Hill residents who speak up are against the group home. "These women will be right on Colfax!" one complains, explaining that East Colfax is a dangerous place for pregnant women. Another complains about the group home itself, fearing that Capitol Hill will turn into a sprawling mess of group homes -- not families and children. One woman implies that it's not her responsibility to help these women just because they made the mistake of getting pregnant.
Hannifin sits at the corner, thinking, "Who are you to be making these moral judgments?" Under his breath he says, "What the fuck is this all about?"
Ultimately, there are several more papers to be filed, several more meetings to be held if Shannon's Hope is to move into Capitol Hill. But for now, even though resident after resident has attacked the idea, the mediator takes a straw vote, a show of hands, "to get a sense" of how the neighborhood feels.
The vote is seventeen to one.
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