Off Limits

The last group of students who were at Columbine High School during the April 1999 massacre will graduate on May 18 at Fiddler's Green Amphitheater, but you won't be able to watch the ceremonies on TV -- if, for some reason, you even wanted to. According to a statement issued May 9 by the Jefferson County School District: "At the request of the senior class and their families, Columbine High School graduation ceremonies...will be closed to the media. The graduation ceremony is a ticketed event, and any persons without a ticket will not be allowed to enter the amphitheater. Security will be on hand to ensure persons without tickets are not permitted onto the grounds."

So who would want to torture these students -- freshmen at the time of the slayings -- and their parents and teachers by hauling TV cameras to the graduation ceremonies, then showing tassel-to-tassel coverage? "We're starting to get some requests nationally and locally, including two of the networks, ABC and NBC, as well as the Associated Press," says school district spokeswoman Marilyn Salzman. Local media outlets were no more circumspect, she reports; one daily has already asked for credentials, and she expects that the other daily, as well as Denver television and radio stations, will follow suit.

"Some of them we hadn't heard from yet, but we felt it was important to get this information out there now," Salzman adds. We took it to the school and student body, and the students felt very strongly that they wanted to do their graduation without a lot of media hoopla around it."

Of course, anyone traveling to and from the parking lot will probably be fair game. Roll 'em!

Wetter is better: Colorado is a dry state. Very dry. It's so arid here that Governor Bill Owens has asked restaurants to begin serving water to customers only on request, the Colorado Rockies have begun keeping their baseballs in humidors, and a single look from U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield could start a forest fire. It's so parched that Aurora -- a city that single-handedly put most of Rocky Ford's famed cantaloupe industry out of business by siphoning off its water -- considered a ban on new installations of sod, an invention that made the city possible in the first place. It's so dry that Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo repeatedly finish in the top five in Lanacane lotion's annual Dry Itchy Skin Index.

It's so unbelievably dry in Colorado, in fact, that you can't even buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday.

But it's not too dry to plant a brand-new garden on the caked-over banks of the South Platte Trickle. Not when the project is a pet of Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife, Wilma, who got the idea for a regal-looking formal garden after visiting the world-famous gardens of Versailles. (Wilma brought home a video and picture book of the former home of the French king, according to published reports.) Fortunately for the Webbs -- and the environment -- the First Couple decided to think globally before acting locally, and so all of the plants that become a part of Centennial Flower Gardens will be native Colorado species, the kind that can withstand drought or very low water climates and conditions. (It's particularly fortunate because the Denver Water Department has asked the city to cut its H2O usage in offices and parks by 15 percent.)

"Bluemist spirea, blue fescue grass," says A.J. Aljinovich, director of horticulture and operations for the Denver Botanic Gardens, which is overseeing the project. "Gold gazinia, Blue Star juniper, switch grass.

"Yarrow, butterfly weed, orange iceplant, daylilly," he adds. "This garden is going to be planted completely with native species.... That's been our goal all along. These plants don't require the same amount of water as petunias and roses and those beautiful kinds of things, but these are still beautiful."

All five acres of Centennial Gardens -- which is sandwiched between Speer Boulevard and Six Flags Elitch Gardens -- will be planted over this summer and next spring. "This will be the first formal low-water, native-plant garden in the state of Colorado, as far as I know," says Aljinovich.

Now, pass the lotion.

Party crashers: Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot came to town last Thursday to unveil Abriendo Caminos, the GOP's new TV "news" magazine designed to reach out to Hispanics in six markets, including Denver. You can credit former Coloradan Karl Rove, an increasingly prominent advisor to President George W. Bush, with helping to create the RNC Grassroots Development Division, which has made Hispanic voters its first focus. Or discredit him, as veteran GOP campaign operative K.B. Forbes did in the Washington Times: "It's time Karl Rove understood that it takes more than a Mariachi band and a TV show in Spanish."

Among the usual GOP suspects who showed up at the Museo de Las Américas for the briefing: state senator Ken Chlouber, who'll be vying for the 1st Congressional District seat in November (either against incumbent Diana DeGette or Democratic challenger Ramona Martinez); Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers, who's taking a run at the new 7th Congressional District slot; and Dick Wadhams, who's running Wayne Allard's campaign to keep his Senate seat. And while Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, who's challenged President Bush's stance on immigration, was conspicuously absent, Dani Newsum, spokeswoman for the Colorado Democratic Party, put in a surprise appearance; she was still steaming over phone problems that kept her from commenting on Allard's new TV ads in this space last week.

"Allard's in critical condition. The president knows it and is throwing him a lifeline," Newsum says. "Even with the intensive-care intervention, Allard hasn't even managed to crack the 50 percent mark with Colorado voters." As for the GOP's TV outreach to Hispanics, "It's Fantasy Island," she fumes. "The rank-and-file GOP voters and politicians have spent decades ignoring the concerns and inflaming the sensibilities of the very people they're trying to bedazzle with lights and cameras. These guys are so patronizing, I'm embarrassed for them. Taking Spanish lessons?"

And, in fact, while Racicot appears to be making progress with his lessons, several local GOP types are clearly in need of a crash course in how to pronounce the name of the former Montana governor. (It's ros-cow -- or close enough.)

As for those phone problems: For some mysterious reason, calls made to the Democratic Party office in early May were rerouted by Qwest to an investment company. Oddly enough, they wound up reaching the voice mail of Jim Polsfut, who, as a former candidate for state treasurer -- for the Democratic Party, luckily enough -- has plenty of experience in taking down numbers and naming names.


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