Off Limits

The tourism-and-hospitality industry didn't stay angry at Governor Bill "Nuclear Winter" Owens for long. On Monday night -- just eight days after Owens told the nation that "all of Colorado is on fire" -- HOSTPAC, the Colorado Restaurant Association's political action committee, held a reception in the governor's honor to raise money for his already overflowing campaign coffers.

"For those donors who wish to have their picture taken with the governor," advised Pete Meersman, the HOSTPAC treasurer who also happens to head the CRA, "there will be a private reception from 5:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. for $500 per person." Those who skipped the portrait session paid a mere $200 each -- and that's in addition to the $5,000 that HOSTPAC has already donated to Owens, the maximum allowable by law.

Obviously, all is forgiven -- or close enough for government work. "The governor didn't start the fire, and he's doing his best," Meersman says. "The whole thing is unfortunate. Now there's all this smoke in town, and with the Yankees playing, I know the national press will be on it. When it snowed during Monday Night Football, skiers called Colorado to book vacations. This is the opposite of that.

"I'm not trying to play party politics," he adds. "We really haven't had a governor in a long time who's done as much for tourism and the hospitality industry as Owens."

Or as much to tourism, counters Rollie Heath, Owens's Democratic opponent, who came out swinging after Owens talked to the press on Sunday, June 9. "What I've been saying is we supported Governor Owens going out and giving support to the people -- I would have done the same thing," Heath says. "That's totally separate from going on national television and saying, `Colorado's on fire.' That showed his inexperience as a leader, that he didn't understand the dire consequences that a statement like that would have.

"I've been a marketing guy all my life," adds the Boulder businessman. "Fundamentally, that's who I am. To me, the message that Bill Owens should have been giving was that we're open for business. He basically put a 'closed' sign on Colorado."

Cinamon Watson, Owens's campaign spokeswoman who attended Monday's "very nice" reception, would like to see closure on the tourism topic. "His comments were really political, really divisive," she says of Heath. "The governor's supporters continue to support him. He's got a long track record with economic development and the tourism industry."

Unlike, say, "millionaire" Heath, whose running mate, state Senator Bill Thiebaut, "tried to raise the minimum wage to over $10 per hour and tried to eliminate the tip credit," according to Meersman's HOSTPAC letter.

Hmmm. Who's getting political now? "Thiebaut has always carried a minimum-wage-increase bill, and he's never been shy about saying that," responds Denis Berckefeldt, chief of staff for the senate Democrats. "Generally speaking, he tried to bring the state minimum wage in line with the federal minimum wage, and eliminate the disparity with some workers who don't always come up to minimum wage, particularly agriculture workers and in the restaurant industry."

Last time, Thiebaut's unsuccessful bill tried to index the minimum wage to the cost of living in the metro area. "He certainly never had $10 in mind," Berckefeldt adds. "But if they think paying people a living wage is bad, that's too bad. If that's the worst thing Bill Thiebaut's done, I guess we'll survive."

Fanning the flames: The flashy Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal-based extravaganza that's now pitched its tent in the Pepsi Center parking lot (see review, page 57), is playing with fire. In its current show, Alegria, a loincloth-clad acrobat juggles flaming batons and at one point sends a stream of flames flickering along the floor.

According to Cirque spokeswoman Doatsy Peifer, the performer -- one Timé Sumeo, a nineteen-year-old native of Aurora who attended Rangeview High School -- auditioned his act for inspectors from the Denver Fire Department. Those hotties not only approved the stunt, they considered it safe enough for bossman Wellington Webb to attend last week's opening-night performance.

But just in case of trouble, Peifer notes, a Cirque employee with a fire extinguisher is stationed stage-side.

And Cirque doesn't offer the only hot time in the Platte Valley, where flames can sometimes be seen shooting over the top of nearby Six Flags Elitch Gardens Amusement Park. No, that's no disgruntled employee burning a letter from an estranged spouse -- those "explosions" are propane flames coming from a Batman stunt show, explains Elitch spokesman Eric Curry.

The show passed all applicable government-safety licensing procedures, Curry notes. And the four-times-daily exhibition -- which features one flame jet shooting about fifteen feet up and others ripping horizontally -- is performed on a concrete plaza, where there are no trees or patchs of grass that could ignite. Even so, "there are firefighters" at each show. He swears it.

Fire sale: Does Gart Sports know something the rest of us don't know about burned-out hurler Mike Hampton? At the downtown Sports Castle, a 50 percent-off rack of shirts -- including some bearing the number of long-gone Jeff Cirillo -- includes a fancy uniform featuring Hampton's number 10. Hampton -- who despite his nine-figure contract has been hitter-friendly for much of the year -- has resisted a move from the starting ranks to the bullpen. But if Gart's is already remaindering his stuff, can the Sky Sox be far off?


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