Seven years ago, when Glendale mayor Steve Ward was a law student at the University of Denver, he learned of a midterm vacancy on the city council of the small municipality on Denver's southeast side. He was then 27 years old and three years out of the Marines, where he had served as a first lieutenant. But the Marines hadn't prepared him for his first encounter with a Glendale politician.
Introducing himself to a councilman, Ward remembers, he asked to be considered when the council voted to fill the vacant seat. "He said, `I don't know,'" Ward recalls. "`I'll have to figure out what your motivation is.'" The mayor bristles at the recollection. "That's one thing I make certain not to do when candidates for council introduce themselves to me--ask them what their motives are."
Ward has a certain sensitivity on the subject. After four years of city council duty and two years as mayor, people are still questioning the motives of the Holme, Roberts and Owen attorney as he attempts to remake Glendale's hodgepodge of office buildings, apartments, topless clubs and drinking establishments into a landscaped "urban campus" where residents can walk to work, shopping and entertainment.
Those content with Glendale's present tend to be those who thrived in its past: old-guard politicians and people with liquor licenses. They see Steve Ward and his supporters on the newly elected city council as crusaders out to make a city known for its hopping bar scene into a yuppified residential community--at the expense of businesses that have filled city coffers with fees and sales-tax revenues since the three-quarter-square-mile parcel incorporated in 1952.
"Steve Ward's making himself out to be the guy who's cleaning up Glendale," says Tom Foster, a seventy-year-old construction engineer and former city councilman who was trounced by Ward in the 1992 mayor's race and has since become his most vocal critic. "Stevie Wonder is after the bars."
In Glendale, liquor licenses traditionally came easily, unimpeded by red tape. In council chambers ruled by an easy alliance of farmers turned landlords, there was no reason to get in the way of good business. The city had no zoning plan until 1986, and businessmen took advantage of the city fathers' hands-off policy toward development.
Ford Wheatley, Ward's 41-year-old predecessor as mayor, remembers the heyday of George Garson, who served as mayor from 1959 to 1984, usually ran unopposed and dominated local politics into his eighties. "I heard when George needed to fill a vacancy on the council, he just walked over to his trailer court at Leetsdale and Cherry and knocked on doors until he found somebody willing," says Wheatley, now a Glendale municipal judge.
But political changes that began as a trickle in the mid-Eighties have reached watershed size in the past year. The city's old-timers have grown farther apart from a young population of apartment and condo dwellers, and a crop of politicians in their twenties and thirties have taken over the city council, eager to put down roots and file down the city's rough edges. "Most of the older councilmembers saw the writing on the wall and retired or moved away," says 59-year-old Bill Junor, who has been on the council since 1990. "Tom Foster was the only one who fought to stay."
"This is not an ego trip for me," says Foster of his anti-Ward campaign. "I feel it's my civic duty. I'm interested in making Glendale a better place for people. It's my home."
Foster defends establishments such as Shotgun Willie's and the Mile High Saloon as "great places for guys to go after a Broncos game or a Rockies game," have a drink and "do some male bonding." But as development along busy Colorado Boulevard has exploded, the city has grown less dependent on revenue from liquor sales.
Now one of the hottest strips of retail real estate in the country, the east side of Colorado between Alameda and I-25 rests largely in Glendale, which has given its preliminary site approval to such sales-tax generators as Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and Builders Square (slated to replace the now-closed Celebrity Fun Center). The addition of a Mervyn's outlet to a shopping complex already anchored by a Target store has helped boost the city's sales-tax take by 23 percent in the past year. A Cub Foods store under construction just off Leetsdale Drive should add appreciably to that when it opens in the coming months.
Ward has plenty of plans for what to do with that money. In his remaining two years as mayor, he says, he wants to create more parks and encourage condo and townhouse development that will convince Glendale's apartment dwellers to become permanent residents. If his vision gels, the city's aging apartment buildings and hulks of failed nightclubs and restaurants will be replaced by a plaza park in the bed of Cherry Creek and new commercial buildings along Leetsdale Drive. Glendale, he adds, "could become a very pleasant little community."
But according to Foster, the 34-year-old Ward and his political allies are well on their way to bankrupting the city with a deal to hook into the Denver water system, a move he predicts will lead to annexation by the giant neighbor. No one among the city's 2,400 residents can stop Ward, says Foster, because the mayor has used his clout to create a city council in his own image: young, moralistic and on the political make.
"You heard of Generation X?" asks Foster. "Ward and his friends on the planning commission and the council all live in the same complex"--a reference to Cedar Point, a condominium complex on East Kentucky Street.
Though George Garson's trailer court has been paved under to make way for the new Cub Foods store, his "hey, neighbor" approach to city politics may live on at Cedar Point, where--along with Ward, Junor and two other councilmembers to whom Ward threw his support in recent elections--Ford Wheatley resides.
"People who want to live in the community a long time want to buy property here," says Wheatley. "Cedar Point is really the only place in town you can do that. Once you're a property owner, you want a voice in what happens in the community. So you become politically active." Adds the former mayor, "Just because a guy owns a condo across the way from me doesn't mean we're going to agree on everything."
Foster, though, considers the condos a command post for meddlers bent on straitlacing a town that's thrived on a wide-open reputation since it ducked annexation by Denver forty years ago. Ward is "very, very ambitious politically," says Foster. "He'd like to get us annexed so he could get a seat on Denver's city council."
Steve Ward laughs at that prospect. "How many people are in a Denver City Council district?" he asks. "Forty thousand? I doubt Denver would create a new seat for less than three thousand people."
The mayor admits he'd like to shoot for higher office someday. Perhaps a seat in the state legislature--an opportunity the young Republican says the party dangled before him and he rejected because he admires the job being done by the Democratic incumbent, Denver attorney Diana DeGette.
It's just a coincidence that so many local politicos live at Cedar Point, Ward says. And he insists that he and his fellow residents aren't conspiring to shoehorn Glendale into some Volvo-ized vision of Nineties morality.
The water deal with Denver will help Glendale economically, not hurt it, Ward insists, adding that the thought of pushing for possible annexation never crossed his mind.
But debates over annexation have raged throughout Glendale's history. In the city's first seven years alone, the issue was voted on three times. Each time, independence won out. And the bar owners were happy.
"It's well known the mayor does not like bars of any sort," says John Hill, owner of the Mile High Saloon and twice an unsuccessful candidate for city council. Adds Foster, "It'll be the happiest day of the mayor's life the day the last bar in Glendale closes."
Steve Ward is sitting at a table at the Bull & Bush, a Glendale bar and restaurant that he calls his "favorite watering hole." "Among the voters, there is no love for the bars," the mayor observes. "They see what's obvious to most of us: The amount of police time required due to trouble in certain bars or outside them; the amount of crime and disturbances that are brought into our neighborhoods; the way the city's reputation suffers. But I don't rail against all places with liquor licenses. I'm concerned with the ones that cause problems in the community." Then the mayor adds, "I can only hope there are fewer bars when I leave [office]."
Under Ward's leadership, the city has begun cracking down on what it views as problem establishments. The city council recently adopted a policy of having the license holders of bars that were the subject of more than 100 police calls per year appear before council at renewal time. Police records show that group includes such establishments as Shotgun Willie's and Jimmy's Grille, which, next to the defunct Celebrity, racked up the highest number of visits from Glendale's finest. Proprietors of the hard-rock club Bangles voluntarily turned in their liquor license two weeks ago after repeated run-ins with the city over difficulties in controlling the behavior of their customers.
Mark Johnson, owner and general manager of Jimmy's, says the majority of police calls involve minor incidents such as customers with fake IDs and patrons drinking in the parking lot. Police encourage business owners to "call for every little incident," he says--and "three quarters of the time, they're cruising the place, anyway."
Ward stresses that the city didn't close down Celebrity and didn't ask for Bangles' license. "Those were decisions of the business owners," he says. "Yes, we did have a problem with the number of police calls and some incidents that were related to those businesses. What we don't want is a business that requires police to leave the rest of the city uncovered for two or three hours at a time in order to deal with trouble there."
However, Glendale has been known for both the number and the nature of its nightspots almost from its inception. It was the sale of liquor licenses, in fact, that put the first black ink into the ledgers of what was orginally a scattering of farm fields, greenhouses, junkyards and 26 sewerless houses.
Glendale was founded as a middle-finger salute to Denver when a group of dairy farmers, seat-of-the-pants businessmen and rankled individualists residing on the east side of Colorado Boulevard heard that the expanding city had plans to annex their thinly populated tracts and zone them for residential development. Determined to make their own decisions on land use, residents voted to incorporate, offering those opposed the choice of opting out and becoming part of Denver or Arapahoe counties. More than a few did, giving the community a patchwork look that survives to this day.
One of the early residents who opposed incorporation was John Glasier, whose family ran barn dances and hay rides from 1947 until 1985 on what was once 54 acres of farmland near Cherry Creek Drive South and Elm Street. "We couldn't see joining a town that had no sewer or water system," says Glasier's son Loyd, who today lives in Parker and is readying the final 2.4 acres of family land for sale. After directing a bulldozer driver to spare an outhouse near the newer of his two barns ("The Four Mile House people are interested in that"), Glasier gestures in the direction of city hall and says, "My name is still mud over there."
Actually, no one working at the city's municipal building is old enough to remember the Glasiers' resistance to Glendale's formation. Of the present councilmembers, Irma Reiss has lived in the community seventeen years, nine years longer than Steve Ward, who has the next longest residency.
As a result, memory of the signature event in Denver-Glendale relations is in danger of going the way of drag racing on Cherry Creek Drive South. In 1963 Glendale's Economy Lumber Company burned to the ground as outmanned and underequipped volunteers from the unannexed community struggled to extinguish the four-alarm blaze--watched by Denver officials and firefighters, who refused to help until the fire was out of control. Then the Denver officials permitted a single hose to be connected to a fire hydrant across Colorado Boulevard. Denver's official stance on Glendale had been summed up by Mayor Dick Batterton three years before, when his honor described the upstart community as "a running sore on the side of the city."
Part of Denver's contempt for its independent-minded neighbors had to do with Glendale's cheerful embrace of liquor establishments. As early as 1955, Denver's police chief was urging annexation so that "the moral situation" could be improved. In the Seventies Mayor Garson and his council continued to give a libertarian reading to the liquor code, interpreting it to mean that, short of being faced with a neighborhood uprising, they had no choice but to approve any license application that came before them.
The city's laissez-faire attitude attracted 34 restaurants, nightclubs and taverns to the city by 1977, when up to 50,000 disco-hopping singles would glut the streets on Friday nights and liquor-based revenue accounted for 20 percent of Glendale's sales-tax take.
Today the hot spot for singles is lower downtown Denver, and the number of Glendale bars and restaurants serving liquor has decreased to 24. The establishments now account for about 17 percent of the city's sales-tax take. Compared to his predecessors, Mayor Ward can afford to wonder, "Why does a city this size need so many bars?"
To people like Foster, though, the bars seem to serve as a reminder of the city's proudly defiant history. "I'm no PR guy for the bars," says Foster. "I don't drink. I don't hang around in bars." But "as far as trouble in those places, the cover charge keeps out most of that. The clientele at Shotgun Willie's is probably more mature than most crowds you'd find at a high school dance."
"I'm a free-market guy," adds one Glendale businessman who doesn't own a bar but believes that any legal business should be tolerated. "It isn't the place of the city council to try to run them out. I think the city council is more interested in morality than business."
The present council is "less tolerant of liquor-code violations than councils before," acknowledges Irma Reiss, a planning commissioner for eight years and councilwoman for two. "I think the clubs have gotten that message. There aren't as many problems as before."
Ward, however, says the new regime has been "very supportive of the business community. Business is booming," he notes. "We've secured a very healthy tax base, and now we need to improve in other areas. People have to understand that a liquor license is not a sanction to break the law."
"Nobody's on a witch-hunt," adds Joe Rice, 27, a councilman elected last April with Ward's support. "There's nothing wrong with nightlife, but there's a limit. We have to consider the safety and welfare of the community. We want businesses that don't cause a lot of problems."
When Ward was first elected to the city council in 1988, his chief concern was not crime or booze, but water. The subject had interested him, he says, since he did a law-school paper on how state water law affected Glendale's supply. His research convinced him that the water, drawn from wells along Cherry Creek and poor for drinking, was also in demand. Senior rights held upstream by Denver and downstream by private interests could squeeze Glendale's supply if legal push came to shove, leaving the city too parched to fuel new development.
Until a plentiful supply of water was secured, Ward concluded, Glendale's residential growth could be nipped in the bud by outside interests. And last month, at his urging, Glendale agreed to become part of the Denver water system, a step residents had discussed but invariably rejected for forty years.
Glendale water, most residents agreed, was cloudy, bad tasting and horribly corrosive to plumbing. But it was better to drink lousy water than to allow Denver to control the tap--and use that leverage to nudge Glendale into annexation. One colleague, Ward recalls, told him, "The water's fine with a little Scotch in it."
That's still Tom Foster's thinking. He sees Glendale's agreement as "the first step to annexation"--a dreaded move he says Steve Ward has advocated since he became mayor. Foster calls the water deal a "boondoggle."
Ward denies ever advocating annexation. He says Foster and others must have gotten the notion that he supported annexation when he suggested holding a nonbinding referendum on the matter in the spring of 1991.
Emma Wall, who at that time had been a councilwoman for ten years, remembers Ward and then-councilman Foster clashing over the issue. "They just didn't get along," she says. "It had more to do with a personality conflict than issues. Steve was very firm in what he defended and what he argued for. Tom Foster was extremely overbearing and had an attitude that he knew it all. Nobody liked him."
Foster won the tug-of-war, and the referendum never took place. Today, Ward says he advocated the straw poll only as a way to determine where the voters stood. "Everyone on the council always assumed residents were against it," he says. "We didn't know for certain. All I wanted to do was find out. But the rest of the council went ballistic."
Most of those councilmembers are gone following a shift of power that occurred with the election of three new members this April. The winning candidates--Joe Rice, Cecil Milligan and Tracey DeHart--all were backed by the mayor. The losers were Tom Foster and Mile High Saloon owner John Hill. With Ward's campaign help, Rice, Milligan and DeHart each won by more than 100 votes--a landslide in an election where only about 200 of 1,200 registered voters bothered to cast ballots.
When it came to a council vote on whether to tie into the Denver water system last spring, the mayor's new candidates all voted with him, as did Junor and Reiss, who had been supported by Ward in the 1992 election.
Ward and the council negotiated an agreement with the Denver Water Department under which Glendale sold its wells along Cherry Creek to Denver for $500,000. To quell annexation fears, the officials included a clause that allows the smaller city to terminate the agreement at will and buy the wells back for a price that would be negotiated at that time.
"How are they going to pay for it?" Foster demands of the deal, estimated to cost Glendale $20 million in hook-up costs, financing and lost tap fees. The city's easiest out would be to raise the sales-tax rate, which is currently on a par with Denver's, Foster says. That would devastate the business community, he adds, killing the city's cash cow. Ward says that, thanks to the city's healthy cash flow, it can finance the hookup without raising taxes. Adds Rice, who blames the poor quality of the city's water for yellow sparks that fly from his home humidifier, "We know the choice we made on water has certain risks. But we could no longer just do nothing. That water is destructive."
The council vote approving the water deal came as no surprise to Tom Foster, who during the campaign derided the three new councilmembers as "Ward's puppets. He picked them," Foster insists. "Nobody knew them. Now he has a majority and he can do whatever he wants. Every time he opens his mouth, the council nods and says yes."
DeHart, a thirty-year-old legal assistant at a Denver law firm, admits Ward encouraged her to run. And the notion of entering politics, she says, was first suggested to her by her neighbor, Joe Rice. "I was adamantly opposed to it at first," she says. "I don't like politics."
By the time of the last election, Rice and Ward had been political confidantes for some time. The two men met a couple of years ago during a meeting of the Cedar Point Homeowners Association; in 1993 Ward helped Rice get on the city's planning commission. As for Cecil Milligan, Ward says, "he introduced himself to me at a public meeting and said he was interested in running. We talked a few more times on the phone, and I was impressed with him."
Foster's puppet charge, however, continues to irk the new councilmembers. "It offended me," says Milligan, a 25-year-old social worker who works with inner-city youths. "I decided to run because I wanted to run. I was the one who had to call people on the phone and knock on doors. Steve wasn't there holding my hand."
Rice, the director of a halfway house for prison parolees, notes that he doesn't always agree with Ward on issues. "Steve and I share a relatively common view of the way we'd like to see the city in the future," Rice continues. "But we tend to favor different paths to get there."
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Even John Hill of the Mile High Saloon, who ran with Foster on a slate opposing Ward four years ago, says the new council is mostly doing right by Glendale. He calls Foster, whom he ran with on a slate opposing Ward four years ago, "argumentative" and "part of the lunatic fringe."
"I'm not saying Steve Ward is right 100 percent of the time," Hill adds, "but I think he's done a hell of a job as mayor."
But Foster remains convinced that Ward and his clean-living cabal won't stop until they've squeezed every ounce of character out of a city that may no longer be too tough too die. In November, he notes, Glendale plans to send the new city councilmembers to a conference of the National Civic League in Philadelphia where they'll learn "about how to zone businesses out of business." Next, he says, the Ward crew will try to get rid of Shotgun Willie's and Hill's Mile High Saloon.
And then? "They'll start the annexation procedures so Stevie Wonder can go on to the Denver City Council," he warns. "Somebody's got to stop it, because it's a runaway train.