Let Us Pray

"As with all weak people, the criticism and backbiting by reporters occurred only during office gossip. After this, they all proceeded to genuflect in print for a rich man or politician. They had no access to public funds, the most stolen article in all of crime...they constantly perpetrated the worse crime, the sin of omission, by not persistently attacking the alliance of builders, bankers and politicians who, stealing tax money, form the criminal class in this country."
Truer words were never spoken--although in this case, they were written, by Jimmy Breslin in Damon Runyon: A Life. Runyon, Denver's most legendary reporter, never genuflected. Before moving on to build his legend in New York City, he tore up this town, digging dirt and unearthing characters even more colorful than he.

Characters who never wore blue and orange.
But maybe that was because Runyon pounded Denver's pavement eighty years ago.

As election day 1998 approached, the thumps you heard were media executives hitting the floor, praying for Pat Bowlen to get his new stadium. His new stadium built almost entirely with public funds, squeezed out of taxpayers and fans one way or another.

The media was on its knees.
Although genuflection is far from journalism, it's often difficult to tell the difference.

Two years ago, when talk of a new stadium grew from a murmur to a roar, you wouldn't have thought Bowlen, the Canadian millionaire originally from Wisconsin, had a prayer of convincing Coloradans to build him a new stadium. But then, you wouldn't have thought the Broncos had a prayer of winning the Super Bowl. Or of starting a season 8-0.

And then here they were, on Monday morning before the vote, with an unprecedented win record preserved through such a nail-biter of a game on Sunday that voters didn't really have a chance to think about how Bowlen had produced a team this good in a stadium everyone says is that bad. (Last week the Wall Street Journal compared it to Ted Kaczynski's cabin. Unfavorably.) Or how, no matter what John Elway says in those ads, the stadium will be built by a new tax--that's why we had to vote on it.

The Broncos' record is apparently so miraculous that it justifies the endless Bronco stories, forgives the fawning over Saint John. Almost, but not quite. Channel 4's interview Sunday night with John and Janet Elway, in which they didn't really talk about her illness for the first time, was genuflection, not journalism--and just the start of the worship service.

Reporters weren't the only ones on their knees. Secretary of State Vikki Buckley, whose fumbles on the job resulted in a Colorado ballot clogged with unqualified measures, was slow to check petition signatures but moved faster than Terrell Davis when she was needed to make a ruling on whether Broncos apparel could be worn to a polling place. After this earthshaking question was raised in Douglas County last week, Buckley scrambled into action and quickly ruled that our right to wear blue and orange is a sacred one.

"It's just using common sense," Buckley said in explaining her decision--although common sense has taken a time-out at the secretary of state's office for the past four years.

To back her rushing record, Buckley donned a Broncos jersey and, with similarly suited campaign manager Sam Riddle in tow, headed off to Denver Election Commission headquarters, where a Rocky Mountain News photographer caught them huddling over "a sample ballot before they voted." (If the News caption-writer didn't get that one wrong, then there should have been a penalty on the play, since Riddle isn't registered to vote in Colorado.)

If it isn't lobbying when a voter wears Broncos attire to a polling place, what is it when an embattled secretary of state wears Broncos attire to a photo op?

Don't bump your knees on the way down.
On the same day Buckley was making the world safe for football jerseys, another decision came down concerning the then-upcoming stadium-district vote.

The little town of Lone Tree, an affluent enclave carved into Douglas County, was tossed into a tizzy last May when the Colorado Legislature made a last-second grab for its rich commercial district, throwing much of Lone Tree into the stadium district along with its rich neighbor to the East, Park Meadows ("Little Grouse on the Prairie," October 29).

As far as Lone Tree residents, who'd incorporated just six months before the original 1996 stadium act, were concerned, that was taxation without representation. (There weren't any residents of Park Meadows, also known as Cash 'R' Us, to complain.) But lawmakers didn't want to listen. And so Lone Tree took its complaints to a judge. In a suit filed against the stadium district last May, they demanded that the rest of Lone Tree be added to the district so residents could vote on whether a penny-per-ten-dollar sales tax should be levied in the district in order to build a new stadium. Either that, Lone Tree said, or the town's business side should be booted out of the district.

Finally, late last Wednesday, Judge Scott Lawrence of Douglas County District Court issued a ruling on one portion of Lone Tree's complaint, invalidating the 1998 addition to the stadium-district act as it affected Lone Tree.

"While it is certainly reasonable to include the commercial areas of Lone Tree because of the tax-generating potential represented," the judge ruled, "there is no reasonable basis to single out the City of Lone Tree as the only area where both residential and commercial properties are not included."

No reasonable basis other than greed. Stadium boosters wanted the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Lone Tree businesses might collect each year--but they didn't want to risk the few thousand Lone Tree voters who might oppose the tax.

As a result, they threw Tuesday's stadium election into jeopardy.
The challenge won't come from Lone Tree officials: They proclaim themselves pleased with the judge's ruling. "It was a good call," says Mayor Jack O'Boyle. "All of our objectives were achieved."

In researching their case, though, Lone Tree opened a few holes that other spoilers could run through. For starters, the boundaries of the taxing district are not as they'd been represented up until the final days of the campaign--the judge made sure of that. And he didn't deal with another issue that Lone Tree had raised, one that "left some room for interpretation," O'Boyle concedes. According to a motion Lone Tree filed on October 7, legislation passed in 1994 to redefine RTD's boundaries could be interpreted to mean that not only was all of Lone Tree in the district, but so was a great deal of Douglas County excluded from the current interpretation of the district's boundaries.

A sore loser could grab that ball and run with it.
But today, Denver doesn't have much use for sore losers. The game was won, square if not fair. Bowlen and an "alliance of builders, bankers and politicians" will have their new house of worship and the hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts that will build it. And the taxpayers who subsidize those contracts may not feel a thing, as long as the Broncos keep winning and the economy stays flush.

On your knees, Colorado.

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