What a difference a year makes. Last summer, as Mayor Wellington Webb pondered joining the Democratic race for the U.S. Senate in 2002, he seemed to take issue with a Denver appearance by the Republican who currently holds the job, Wayne Allard. Webb apparently didn't appreciate the Loveland veterinarian invading his home territory -- specifically, the annual Juneteenth parade in Five Points.
"It's a predictable kind of political deal when, if you haven't been to a particular place, you go to your opponent's base and make a statement that you are here," Webb told the Denver Post. "It doesn't do much other than to energize my base. People around here are probably saying they've never seen him before." For his part, Allard pointed out that he'd participated in the parade not once but three times, and had also held an affordable-housing meeting in the neighborhood.
And Allard was back in the area on January 21 this year for the Martin Luther King Day Marade. But it now seems that Webb -- who, by the way, is no longer a possible Senate candidate, let alone a real one, having abandoned those plans last year -- has learned to share. He and Allard not only marched side by side through town, they later appeared together on stage.
"To my knowledge, there were no repeats of last June," says Allard spokesman Sean Conway. He'd been "stunned" by Webb's comments, Conway adds, but was happy to see the two marching together this year. "The mayor couldn't have been more gracious and accommodating. It was a wonderful event. Senator Allard feels that there is no part of Colorado that is off limits to anyone. If Mayor Webb had entered the race and decided to come up to the Greeley Stampede, Wayne would have welcomed him there." According to Conway, this was Allard's third appearance at the Marade -- even though back in 1984, when he was a Colorado legislator, he voted against making MLK Day a state holiday because he felt it was unfair to private-sector employees whose employers wouldn't grant them the extra day off.
Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson insists that the mayor never had a problem with Allard's Juneteenth appearance. "He wasn't irked," Hudson says, explaining that it was the Post that chose to characterize Webb's comments in a negative way. As for the Marade, Hudson says, "It's common that when the Martin Luther King Jr. event occurs, a lot of people come, and there is also a lot of posturing to get next to the mayor. Tom Strickland was on the other side of the mayor. It's a fun march that is in honor of a very significant person in the history of the world. It's very appropriate that elected officials be at that event. It brings out everyone of every different political background."
Of course, a Webb/Allard kiss-and-make-up session probably wasn't what Strickland was hoping for. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination since Webb backed out, Strickland -- who already lost to Allard once before, back in 1996 -- can use all the support he can get. Nevertheless, Strickland landed on the mayor's prodigious bad side last summer by needling him during Webb's tortured, on-again, off-again decision- making process. At first Strickland offered to stand aside if the mayor chose to run for the Senate. But after waiting...and waiting...and waiting for Webb to make up his mind, Strickland began pressuring him, then finally reneged on his offer to get out of the way.
Strickland spokeswoman Chris Watney suggests that bygones are bygones. "Tom and the mayor have been friends for years, and the mayor has been very supportive of him," she says. "The mayor and his wife asked Tom to join them at the parade."
Can't you just feel the love?
Speaking of love: Although the life-sized bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. (standing with fellow civil-rights martyr Emmett Till) that stood in City Park for three decades (and marked the Marade's starting point until recently) is gone, it hasn't been entirely forgotten. While the area has been cleared to make way for local sculptor (and onetime astronaut-in-training) Ed Dwight's million-dollar replacement MLK project, complete with a three-layer pedestal supported by bronze representations of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi and Rosa Parks, the city still possesses the original statue, unlike other much-mocked public works -- such as Larry Bell's "Solar Fountain" -- that were simply destroyed.
And even though the MLK piece, too, has taken its share of criticism over the years (among other things, people complained that the statute was "disproportionate" and that MLK looked like an ape), Mayor Webb has come to recognize that the work has value. In fact, the city plans to donate the statue to one of the 35 schools in the Denver Public Schools' northeast quadrant and has sent a letter to those schools asking if they're interested in receiving the "beautiful sculpture that has graced the city for so many years." First come, first served, the city says, anticipating a glut of interest in the much-maligned work -- and Webb has even promised to help find a private donor to cover the $20,000 in moving and installation costs.
Fish heads: The mayor has plenty of love for Ocean Journey, the aquarium that's been like a fish out of water for the last year, struggling to survive in an arid climate where money dries up fast. Aside from losing its founder, Judy Peterson-Fleming (who stepped aside during one well-publicized financial crunch), the facility announced that it couldn't make payments on $57 million in bond debt or on a $6.1 million loan from the City of Denver. It didn't help that Ocean Journey was denied entry into the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, which would have brought in some much-needed sales-tax revenue, and has been suffering from dwindling attendance. (Just how many times can you see that tiger, anyway?)
But this year seems awash in promise for Ocean Journey. Last week, Mayor Webb announced that saving the aquarium will be one of his top priorities in 2002. Although the details of how the city will bail out Ocean Journey are still hush-hush, the mayor has suggested that the facility could be run like the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Zoo or the Denver Botanic Gardens, with the city providing some operating money while allowing the aquarium's board of directors to remain autonomous.
Meanwhile, Ocean Journey is diving into its plans to "reinvent" itself, says spokeswoman Kimberly Thomas, with a new look, new brochures and new ads that highlight "interactive" exhibits. In March, the aquarium will unveil "Tide Pool Treasures," which will allow visitors to touch sea stars and urchins; in May, another interactive exhibit will feature rays. And an indoor playground will be installed to give kids one more thing to do (the outdoor sculptures, originally intended as climbing-friendly, were soon deemed too dangerous for little ones). Thomas says the aquarium also plans to focus on customer service; already, members are being offered free parking.
But exactly what the new -- and hopefully improved -- Ocean Journey will look and feel like is still a mystery of the deep. The aquarium has narrowed down that look to three choices and has hired the local marketing firm of Amherst & Reeves to run them by focus groups. "This is part of the evolution of us getting older," Thomas says.
Let them eat cake: On January 22, the Denver Newspaper Agency celebrated its first birthday -- or, more appropriately, its first wedding anniversary, since the DNA was created by the shotgun marriage of the business operations of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, a merger approved by the Department of Justice a year ago. Either way, the event was cause for plenty of sheet cake, at least for DNA employees, who were the only ones feeling particularly festive. After all, newsroom employees at both dailies have been doing their best to keep up the appearance of a newspaper war.
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Not that newsies were barred from the party, DNA spokesman Jim Nolan is quick to point out. "Newsroom employees were able to have a piece of cake, sure," he says.
Two days later, on January 24, 200 DNA managers and other employees gathered for what Nolan refers to as a "State of the Union" address by DNA president Kirk MacDonald. And how goes the union of the two daily newspapers? "The state of the union is quite healthy," Nolan says. (Yeah, right, and Garfield is still the funniest thing in the comics pages.) "It was just simply to communicate to the managers from all five of our locations," Nolan says of the gathering, "and to look back at the past year and look forward to the next year."
In order to accommodate the crowds, the pep rally was held at the shiny new football stadium just off I-25, which the better (financial) half of the happy couple still refers to in print by a made-up name. No one from either paper's newsroom was invited, including Rocky president/publisher/editor John Temple or Post poobah Glenn Guzzo -- although in the latter case, that's probably for the best. Since the invitations to the party listed the address as "Invesco Field at Mile High," Guzzo -- who has staunchly defended his decision to call the stadium by a fabricated moniker, the "new Mile High stadium" -- might have had trouble finding the place.
Hint: It's the one that's not on fire.