Dear Lindy Eichenbaum-Lent:
We'd like to be the first to welcome you back from maternity leave -- and not a moment too soon. Because while we're sure you've been doing great with all that mother stuff, you've been sorely missed. The reputation of Mayor John Hickenlooper, your first charge, has suffered a serious meltdown since you left your spokeswoman job in December to attend to your new sprog.
In your absence, even Denver City Council has quit singing "Kumbaya" along with the mayor. Like Hickenlooper, ten councilmembers were newbies when they were elected in May 2003; now they're starting to find their voice. Rosemary Rodriguez was the first to raise hers in protest over that hot-chocolate-and-sledding thing, and while she left her council seat last week for a cushie federal slot (Elbra Wedgeworth, too, has departed for a job at Denver Health), council president Michael Hancock has also been critical of snow removal and gang activity.
Although there's no business like snow business, the honeymoon was over even before you went on diaper duty, Lindy. Here's where the city's recently had to shovel shit, and just how high the pile got (on a scale of one to five shovels):
August 30, 2006: Civic Center
We're sure Daniel Libeskind seemed like a sure bet for furthering the city's pro-creative class image after all the love showered on the Denver Art Museum's new Hamilton Building. But Denverites are notoriously persnickety about our cultural treasures, and the Civic Center is the mother of them all. So letting the Civic Center Conservancy, a private and very secretive group (you'd think they were Opus Dei), manage the first phase at charting the park's future was doomed from the beginning. Ditto for Libeskind's flying bridge and giant tower.
October 4, 2006: No Justice (Center)
When the news hit just days before the Hamilton opening that famed New York architect Stephen Holl was no longer designing the $127 million courthouse for the nearby Justice Center project, it was another sign that all was not well at City Hall. With all the subsequent he said/she said quibbling between Holl and various city agencies, the debate devolved into a very public pissing match that was fun to watch, but didn't reflect well on Denver.
November 7, 2006: Election Day (and Night)
An Off Limits operative waited five hours in line at a total of three vote centers -- one of which suggested that she leave and come back later, as computers were down. Our operative stuck it out, but an estimated 20,000 people abandoned their polling places without casting a ballot. Denver's voting debacle was the top story on newscasts across the country, and few bothered to note that the Denver Election Commission was technically independent from the Denver mayor -- although Hickenlooper had appointed City Clerk and Recorder Wayne Vaden, who served as one of three election commissioners. But not for long. While Vaden submitted his resignation and Hickenlooper convened a Blue Ribbon Panel to fact-find just what had gone wrong, City Auditor Dennis Gallagher -- who'd warned about an impending "tsunami" -- filed paperwork to replace the commission with an elected clerk and recorder, a move Rosemary Rodriguez had proposed fifteen months before, only to have the mayor ask her to table it.
Still, Hickenlooper was able to recoup some national points -- and press -- by offering to pay for any parking tickets that would-be voters collected while waiting in line.
November 20, 2006: Preschool Matters
Thirteen days after the election, the proponents of Initiative 1A, which increases the city's sales tax by twelve cents per $100 to fund preschool programs, finally declared victory. The mayor expended an enormous amount of political capital promoting the measure, but it passed by just a thousand votes -- a huge change from his successful Justice Center (see Holl, above) and FasTracks campaigns. It was a sign that voters aren't willing to jump out of just any plane with the mayor -- which sent hopes for any future infrastructure bond measure plummeting.
December 20, 2006: Snow!
The city shut down and DIA closed for 45 hours and stranded thousands of passengers, but everyone in Denver was walking in a winter wonderland of 20.7 inches of white stuff. The mayor suggested sledding and cocoa, and not only promised that every side street would be plowed, but soon proclaimed that mission accomplished. He'd eat those words for weeks to come.
December 26, 2006: Piling On
Denver City Council members rejected the mayor's suggestion that they wait until May 1 and authorized a special January 30 election, when voters would decide whether to replace the Denver Election Commission with an elected clerk and recorder.
December 28, 2006: More Snow!
City offices were shuttered as residents prepared for the second coming of whiteness. A full blizzard never materialized, but not even photo ops of Hickenlooper shoveling sidewalks were enough to melt cold, cold hearts.
January 1, 2007: Darrent Williams, DOA
A dead Bronco is never good news for Denver -- particularly when it looked like the New Year's Eve slaying had gang ties. And the national media was still stranded at DIA, which meant they had plenty of time to cover the story.
January 30, 2007: Throw the Bums Out
By a 2-1 margin, voters tossed out the Denver Election Commission in favor of an elected clerk and recorder. The DEC will oversee just one more election: the May 1 vote, during which Hickenlooper will run for a second term as mayor.
February 23, 2007: Grounded
More than two months after that first snowflake, the Denver Department of Public Works declared victory over snow -- if not potholes. No parade was thrown.
February 27, 2007: This Does Not Compute!
Political pundits blame some of Hickenlooper's snafus on the loss of two steadying influences, former chief of staff Michael Bennet (now superintendent of Denver Public Schools) and former city attorney/chief of staff Cole Finegan. And Finegan was certainly responsible -- if inadvertently -- for the next blizzard of bad publicity. At the end of February, Larry Manzanares resigned the post of city attorney just six short weeks after he'd been sworn in. Why? Because a laptop reported stolen by the Denver courts had turned up at Manzanares's home, a situation he explained away by saying he'd bought it off someone in a parking lot near the City and County Building. Even if he was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it showed an epic level of naiveté for someone who'd served as a Denver District Court judge.
And for those Denverites who bought his story, well, we have a Daniel Libeskind-designed bridge we'd like to sell.
Welcome back, Lindy.
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