A rocky week
After taking heat for its failure to throw a New Year's Eve party and criticism for instituting "martial law" downtown on what was elsewhere the world's most festive night, the office of Mayor Wellington Webb defended itself last week by circulating an editorial published in the January 4 Rocky Mountain News. The editorial, which included the line "Hey, this is America. You're not only free to throw your own party, you're presumed capable of doing so without help from city hall," closely followed the city's own stance.
Among the recipients of the e-mail sent out by Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson was the Denver Business Journal, which, despite a tag line identifying the editorial as being from the News, ran it verbatim on its own opinion pages under Hudson's byline. "It was our mistake," says sheepish DBJ editor Neil Westergaard. "[Hudson] is one of the most ubiquitous e-mailers in city government, and since we hadn't committed the Rocky editorial to memory, we ran it. The tag line should have tipped us off."
So should the piece's prose, which Westergaard had ample opportunity to study in a previous job: as editor of the Denver Post. (He took the business-pub position just two weeks ago, following a PR stint at Blue Cross.) Westergaard says he's apologized to Hudson and News editorial-page editor Vincent Carroll and plans to clarify the mistake in the next issue of the Journal.
"I was alarmed when I read it, but it would not be fair to put all the blame on them," says Hudson. "I went back and looked at the e-mail...and if someone hadn't read the Rocky Mountain News editorial that morning, I can understand why it wouldn't have been clear. I can understand why the mistake was made," he adds. "It wasn't 100 percent their fault."
The new year may have started with a whimper in Denver, but it started without a bang in Tucson, where both daily newspapers -- the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen -- announced on January 2 that they would no longer accept classified gun ads from anyone who is not a licensed gun dealer. "For some time, it has concerned us at the Arizona Daily Star that people who buy guns from individuals selling them through our classified ads circumvent the requirement for background checks. In an age of increasing gun violence, it is difficult to defend our part in the transaction," wrote Star editor and publisher Jane Amari in a front-page letter to readers. Citizen editor and publisher Donald Hatfield wrote a similar letter. The two papers are separately owned but run under a joint operating agreement.
A few days later, Denver auditor Don Mares issued a challenge to Denver's two dailies to do the same. "I am respectfully asking that your newspaper and its affiliates discontinue the sale of classified advertising enabling individuals to sell guns," Mares wrote in a January 4 letter to William Dean "Don't Call Me Dinky" Singleton, chairman of the Post, and Larry Strutton, publisher and CEO of the News. "Sales by individuals require no criminal background check such as those mandated for licensed gun dealers. I am by no means recommending the suspension of an individual's right to sell a legal firearm to another individual, so long as a criminal background check is conducted. In point of fact, there are a number of licensed gun dealers who offer the consignment sale of hand guns, long guns and shotguns."
Since the Columbine shootings, the issue of private individuals selling firearms at gun shows has become a hot one for local and federal lawmakers. Although anyone who buys a gun from a licensed store or dealer has to undergo a criminal background check, the same is not true of private parties who sell guns over the Internet, out of their garage, at gun shows or in the classified sections of newspapers.
The Post and News each have run dozens of articles mentioning this so-called "loophole" as it refers to gun shows, but so far, neither has addressed gun sales through the classifieds. The discrepancy is ludicrous, charges Dave Anver, who owns Dave's Guns on South Parker Road. "It should be all or nothing," he says, adding that if background checks are mandated for unlicensed dealers at gun shows, then every private sale should involve a check. But Anver, who has run ads in both Denver dailies and in Westword, also says he believes a law like that would make "criminals out of a lot of law-abiding people."
The Post didn't return Westword's phone calls. According to Linda Sease, vice president of marketing and public relations for the News, her paper makes sure it doesn't run ads from people selling assault weapons. "But we are not inclined to put limits on things that are currently legal in our country," she adds. "We don't want to get into the business of practicing censorship. All we do is connect buyers and sellers; it is up to them to follow the laws. If someone wants to get a gun, they will get a gun. There are a million ways for someone to get a gun if they want one bad enough. We reviewed our policy again after Columbine to make sure everyone still felt comfortable with it."
And anyway, what business is it of the auditor -- who spends more time dealing with financial concerns than social or political ones -- to comment about the practices of private companies? "Guns are important to him," says R.J. Ours, a spokesman for Mares. "Basically, it's something he had been considering for about a month and a half." After the Tucson dailies made their announcement, he adds, Mares decided to weigh in. As an elected official -- and one who has been rumored to be considering a bid for mayor -- Mares felt that no one else was stepping up to the plate on that specific issue, Ours says.
This wasn't the first time Mares has spoken out about guns, either. In April he asked the National Rifle Association -- headed by actor Charlton Heston -- to cancel its annual convention in Denver, which was scheduled to begin April 30, just ten days after Columbine. Although Mayor Wellington Webb made the same request, the NRA declined to cancel its annual meeting and instead scaled back other scheduled events. Judging from his remarks during the opening of the Arizona Legislature on Tuesday in Phoenix, Heston may not think much of Mares's current quest, either.
"Popularity is history's pocket change. Courage is history's true currency," Heston said of the pressure in many states to toughen gun laws. Lawmakers should be guided by the Bill of Rights, he added. "[Those rights] are not yours to take away. They're yours to guarantee. That is your job. Political correctness is just tyranny with manners." Before the speech, Heston had told reporters for the Citizen and the Star that he disagreed with their new policy. "I would say that verges on illegal, or it's legally insupportable," he said.
Most of the people who have written letters to the editors of the two Tucson papers also disagree with the policy -- something the powers that be at Denver's dailies may be aware of.
So far, neither one has responded to Mares.
What's my line?
As Colorado lawmakers prepare to grapple with gun issues in the new legislative session, rumor has it that one of them has been doing some wrestling of his own at CityGrille on East Colfax, just a block away from the State Capitol. The grill's famous hamburgers ("Law and Order Me a Burger," May 6, 1999) and friendly bartenders have attracted a devoted clientele to the small, cozy space, which has earned a reputation as the hangout of choice for assorted lobbyists and legislators.
And according to the first sour grape of the legislative grapevine, during a particularly convivial moment last fall, one politico engaged in a little parliamentary jousting with a mysterious woman in the CityGrille men's room.
"The legislators are only human -- of course they get wild and crazy," says one employee. "Not that I'm gonna tell you about it." And not that Westword reporters haven't tried to get the scoop: After the paper received several phone calls and e-mails demanding that we check out the rumor, three different writers used CityGrille research as an excuse to pad their expense accounts and wet their whistles.
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No, not those whistles. After all, the small men's room doesn't exactly qualify as a romantic hot spot. At one time a couple of nudie pictures hung above the two urinals, but they've since been covered with a reprint of a flattering News article about CityGrille's burgers. And the lack of a condom machine should give pause to the unprepared. At the bar, jars of olives -- a reputed aphrodisiac -- are available to stir the appetite and fuel the libido, but the typical afternoon crowd would never be mistaken for the cast of Baywatch. Most Colorado legislators appear to be dressed for a meeting of the Podunk Chamber of Commerce, with ill-fitting suits and respectable red ties that are clearly intended to convey a message of sobriety. Chain-smoking lobbyists -- many of whom work for the tobacco industry -- share the bar with legislative staffers and Post columnist Chuck Green, another CityGrille habitué. Nothing more steamy than CNN and sporting events is aired on the TV above the bar. Still, a humidor behind the bar has a supply of cigars that would make Monica Lewinsky blush, and the lighting is subdued enough that after a few cocktails, even the most staid lawmaker might begin to look like Adonis.
Or the most questionable fellow resemble a Westword reporter. On Monday night, CityGrille owner Rich Salturelli reports, a pesky male claiming to write for Westword kept pestering lobbyists until Salturelli finally had to toss him out. Sorry, Rich, not one of ours: The guy's "all-American face" should have been everyone's first clue that he was completely bogus.
Which, by the way, is exactly how we'd label that Romeo rumor.
If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.