Off Limits

Contempt of her court: When Denver voters ousted Judge Lynne Hufnagel last week, they created the first vacancy on Denver District Court's general bench in six years--which means that lawyers who think they might look good in black are polishing up their resumes. But it also means the people charged with finding suitable candidates for Hufnagel's seat are in a sticky position. Hufnagel's status won't become official until the election results are certified by Secretary of State Vikki Buckley a week from now, but time is already of the essence. From the moment Buckley makes the vote final, under the Colorado Constitution a nominating committee has only thirty days to sort through the applicants, come up with a short list of finalists and present it to Governor Roy Romer.

But also according to the constitution, Hufnagel remains on the bench through January 14. (If she's willing to go out earlier--and quietly--she isn't saying.) That means that not only could lawyers applying for her job wind up arguing cases before lame-duck Hufnagel, but so could members of the committee looking for her replacement. There goes the judge...

A swing and a miss: In its recent ode to America's new breed of activist mayors, Newsweek listed Denver potentate Wellington Webb as one of the country's leading power hitters and casually credited Hizzoner with "reviving downtown with a new baseball stadium." The kudos were warmly received over at the City and County Building--Webb staffers even sent out a voluminous November 4 press release touting the PR coup (Newsweek was "now available on newsstands," it noted) and reminiscing fondly about the mayor's storied career.

Sadly, though, Newsweek's journalistic stroke was also a journalistic strikeout. Those keeping score at home will remember that the vote on whether the public should fund a new ballpark was held in August 1990, ten months before Webb even took office--and that voters in Denver proper rejected the idea of subsidizing Coors Field. It was suburban voters who carried the measure to victory--and who are contributing the majority of the sales-tax dollars used to pay off the ballpark. And the current site wasn't always so popular down at City Hall; the Blake Street bombing range was actually opposed by Webb predecessor Federico Pena and most members of Denver City Council, who wanted to stick the stadium on a Phil Anschutz-owned parcel just off the Auraria Parkway. It was the six-county stadium district authority that was gung-ho on LoDo--and that formally selected the Blake Street site in March 1991, three months before Webb was elected. The stadium district also oversaw the construction of the now-trendy ballpark.

Oh, well. Those pesky facts aside, Webb can still enjoy the afterglow of the two other kisses Newsweek blew his way: landing the G-7 economic summit next year and "helping get open" that lasting monument to civic pride and modern baggage technology, Denver International Airport.

National journalists aren't the only ones who've been sending bouquets instead of brickbats to Webb. Denver Post publisher Ryan McKibben recently sent the mayor a dozen red roses, with a card noting that the next time someone asked who'd sent the flowers, Webb could tell him it was the state's "number-one circulation leader." You bet. The mayor's office was so puzzled by the accolade that press secretary Andrew Hudson says the staff called the Post to ask if there was something more behind the tribute than the latest newspaper circulation figures.

There wasn't. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Rumors are flying: In another release--this one a joint statement from Webb and "First Lady" Wilma Webb--last Thursday, the First Couple lavished praise on Pena upon his departure from the Clinton cabinet. "Today we have received word that Federico Pena has resigned his position as Secretary of Transportation," they pronounced. "Secretary Pena is to be praised by all Americans for his service to our nation."

Just one problem: Pena had not yet resigned.
What happened? Go ahead and blame the media--Webb's press secretary already has. After the AP erroneously reported Pena's resignation that morning--a report repeated on local noon newscasts--reporters besieged Hudson's office with requests for a response from Webb, whose sneakers had followed Pena into office. Hudson obliged. In retrospect, he says, he should have checked out the AP report, rather than paying attention to the media. "That's always my mistake," he adds.

But at least when Pena finally made his departure official Tuesday--this time with a phone call to Webb--Hudson had his release all ready to go.


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