Off Limits

Less than nine months until Election Day 2002 -- do you know who you'll be voting for? If not, you're not alone: Keeping track of who's running for what is tougher than finding an honest Olympic figure-skating judge.

To help keep score, we've compiled a summary of who is where -- as of Presidents' Day, at least -- starting from the top. On Monday, Governor Bill Owens made his re-election campaign official; his allegedly front-running Democratic challenger, state senator Stan Matsunaka, withdrew from that contest hours later.

Instead, Matsunaka will run for the Fourth Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Bob Schaffer. And Matsunaka isn't the only gubernatorial challenger to take his hat out of the ring. State senator Bob Hagedorn, who never met an election he didn't like, has also switched campaigns; he's become one of ten...eleven...twelve -- we've lost count -- people who say they intend to run for the newly created Seventh Congressional District (the boundaries of which are still being haggled over in the courts). Hagedorn will be battling at least two higher-profile Dems: former state senator Mike Feeley and Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, who both joined the fray last week. That leaves just Democrat Rollie Heath challenging Owens.

Denver City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez, who will be term-limited out of office this November along with most of her cohorts in the City and County Building, briefly considered a run at the Seventh before settling on the First District, where she will once again try to unseat Diana DeGette in the Democratic primary. Whoever wins that battle may face a challenge from Republican state senator Ken Chlouber, who is actually from Leadville but might make Denver his primary residence in order to enter the race -- unless he decides that the big city is just too dangerous. (His pickup was stolen from the Capitol last week.)

On the Republican side, Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers, who won't be joining Owens on the ticket this time around, has announced his desire to seek the Seventh, although he'll have to move into the district to do so (something state treasurer Mike Coffman considered but decided against). A handful of other Republican names have been tossed around there as well, including that of state GOP chairman Bob Beauprez.

So who's not running for anything? Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, for one -- not that he won't be throwing his considerable weight around. On February 15, he showed that he can forget personal peeves for the sake of politics by officially endorsing fellow Democrat Tom Strickland, who's running -- again -- against Wayne Allard for the U.S. Senate. Strickland made Webb mad last year when he publicly needled the mayor about taking so long to make up his mind about running for the office himself. Webb also endorsed Heath before Matsunaka dropped out of the gubernatorial race.

Keep those scorecards handy, folks. It's not over yet...

In our sights (a continuing public service): The daily papers' on-Olympics-duty gossip columnists, Penny Parker and Bill Husted, would have wept into their teeny Salt Lake City martinis Monday night had they known they were missing a surfeit of quality sightings back in Denver. A host of movers and shakers came out for the opening of the Blue Sky Grill, a pet project of Kroenke Sports (and Pepsi Center, and Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Avalanche) owner Stan Kroenke, who modeled the restaurant after his ranch near Laramie, Wyoming. And some ranch it must be, because this joint -- tucked into what had been administrative offices in the Pepsi Center (Dan Issel's old home is now the kitchen: If you can't stand the heat...) -- looks like the Ponderosa crossed with Flagstaff's Museum Club (possibly the coolest bar in the world). Blue Sky is a big, lodgelike retreat full of leather furniture, Zane Grey books and reproductions of paintings from the private collection of oilman, Qwest founder and now movie-theater mogul (and, yes, billionaire, not that he likes being referred to that way) Phil Anschutz. Yee haw!

The original Anschutz himself made it to the party -- a rare sighting. ("Wow," says Husted from Salt Lake City. "I have gossip envy. There are no celebrities here. This isn't the kind of event that attracts bold names.") But Blue Sky was all about bold: Kroenke was there, of course, as was Kiki Vandeweghe (he spent much of the evening negotiating on his cell phone), Ernest Gurule (the University of Colorado/Denver PR guy appointed by Kroenke to do Nuggets liaison work with the Hispanic community -- did we mention that Issel's old office is now the kitchen?), glad-handing attorneys Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber (their firm does considerable work for the Pepsi Center), and Holly Brown, director of administration for the new, improved Grand Prix of Denver, which is slated to rumble around the Pepsi Center come Labor Day. The last downtown road race, which filled the streets around Civic Center with exhaust, traffic tangles and overpriced concessions more than a decade ago, was the brainchild of Andy Shlenker, whose father, Sidney Shlenker, owned the Nuggets at the time (Farber was his lawyer, too) and put some of the oddest restaurants ever seen in this city in the old McNichols Arena. But the Blue Sky Grill, which for now will be open whenever there are events at the Pepsi Center, is no Wong's Gong.

Also chewing the fat -- and the buffalo prime rib -- were Denver city councilmen Charlie Brown (whose Western attire fit right in), Ted Hackworth and Ed Thomas, none of whom were headed to Africa the next day on Mayor Webb's trade mission. And then there were unofficial city officials, like Greg Kolomitz and Maria Garcia Berry, partners in the business-consulting and public-affairs firm CRL Associates (read: lobbyists). Just last week, CRL hired Gina London, former Denver-based regional correspondent for CNN, away from TV journalism to become the company's first communications director.

London was one of the rare TV types not in evidence Monday night. That could be because she's working...hard. In three days with CRL, London reports, she did more investigative work than she had in months with CNN -- which is reporting a lot more on personalities and a lot less on substance these days. "I'd gone really broad but really shallow," London says of her CNN career. "That's the nature of breaking news. Now I get to go really deep into issues in Denver."

Musical chairs: With the threat of a United Airlines strike over, Webb was able to leave on his trade mission after all, joining up with a 64-member entourage (only fourteen, including Webb, are traveling on the city's dime; Wilma Webb is covering her own costs). That leaves Deputy Mayor and Manager of Public Works Stephanie Foote in charge -- and she had to hot-foot it back from the Olympics to take over Tuesday. (Next in line is Denver City Council president Joyce Foster, who's also out of town.)

While Webb's away, Foote has plenty of time to contemplate what to do with beleaguered parking manager John Oglesby, whose PR blunder announcing new parking rules was as "world-class" as the 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. parking enforcement hours he said would "better reflect the multi uses of Denver as a world-class city." That new parking plan is now on hold -- and assorted City Hall wags already have a betting pool for when Oglesby will get the boot.

Our guess: You won't have to feed that meter very long.


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