Off Limits

Tears were still glistening on Democratic cheeks when Cody Wertz, the Colorado Democratic Party's communications director, was on to a new job -- the same position, but in Don Mares's campaign, a switch Wertz announced by e-mail the day after the November 5 election.

What? No rest for the weary? Wertz did take a week off, but he was eager to keep moving. "I felt like I was just hitting stride," he says. "And Don's just a great guy." Another Democratic buddy made the move with him: Mike Melanson, the state party's executive director, is now Mares's campaign manager. And while Mares, currently Denver's city auditor, has yet to officially kick off his campaign for mayor, there's no doubt he's running.

As are a half-dozen others (thus far) -- making this the most crowded field since 1983's mayoral race, when incumbent Bill McNichols was challenged (again) by then-Denver district attorney Dale Tooley, as well as by Monte Paulson, head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, environmental gadfly Steve Schweitzberger (a recent write-in candidate for Jefferson County sheriff) and the head of Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies, Wellington Webb. And -- oh, yeah -- state lawmaker Federico Peña, a dark horse who won the runoff. (Webb's first consolation prize was a slot as Denver's city auditor, a position from which he launched his victorious mayoral campaign in 1991.)

In addition to Mares, the unofficial mayoral lineup includes former Denver Manager of Safety Ari Zavaras, former city councilmember Sue Casey, former head of Historic Denver Elizabeth Schlosser, former Democratic party chair Phil Perington, current state lawmaker Penfield Tate and current beer baron John Hickenlooper, who just scored a $3,000 donation from HOST PAC, the political arm of the 4,000-member Colorado Restaurant Association, which represents Colorado's $7 billion restaurant industry. (That's a lot of suds.)

The Zavaras for Mayor campaign added a press secretary, too, after interviewing a half-dozen notable PR types around town (and, hey, better give them a call and let them know they didn't get the job). Sandra Dillard, who left the Denver Post last year after a long career that included a stint covering City Hall before she settled in as theater critic (she took a buyout deal the Post offered editorial staffers over fifty), will start working full-time on the Zavaras campaign on January 1. (Apparently, ink flows in the Dillard family veins: Sandra is the mother of Alton Dillard, state press secretary for U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.) But in the meantime, the Zavaras campaign already has a director of communications -- longtime political operative Arnie Grossman (and father of state senator Dan Grossman) -- as well as assorted staffers, including campaign director Ann Bormolini.

Bormolini remembers that crowded 1983 campaign all too well. She worked for Tooley and ran his field operation against Peña. The day after the Tooley-Peña runoff (McNichols had been ousted early, thanks to an election-day snowstorm), Peña called and asked her to serve on the transition committee. She accepted (with Tooley's blessing) and wound up serving as Peña's chief of staff during his second term as mayor -- after his tough re-election race against Don Bain. The Republican attorney is one of the few people whose names haven't been mentioned in connection with the May 2003 election.

With the field this crowded, are politicos anticipating that the 2003 election season will get as down-and-dirty as the November 5 races? "The elections we just went through will probably be uglier," Wertz says. "Don's not going to run a negative campaign against anyone."

Hmmm...where's Dick Wadhams when you need him?

Not back in Governor Bill Owens's office, where Wadhams served as press secretary after engineering Owens's 1998 win. Affable Dan Hopkins, the voice of the Colorado Department of Transportation who moved into that spot when Wadhams left to run Wayne Allard's campaign, says he'll be staying put.

Meanwhile, Allard's longtime press secretary, Sean Conway, was named the re-elected senator's chief of staff -- which should give him a chance to see how the other half lives. And that would be the half that doesn't have to answer nosy inquiries from reporters.

"I've done this for Wayne since his House days, since 1991, and I actually enjoy it," Conway says of his press-secretary duties. "There are good days and bad days. Don't get too down when there are bad days, and don't get too excited about the good days."

Since early November -- when the pundits were predicting that Allard would lose, and lose badly -- the days have all been good. Allard won big (the MSNBC pollster who missed by fifteen points is still hanging his head in shame), as did Conway in Vegas last week: $500 on the slots. "I've just been through a roller-coaster experience, which is healthy," he says. "It's educational. Most reporters I deal with are very fair. They're equal-opportunity offenders."

Any advice for those who'll now start flacking for Denver's wannabe mayors? "Always be honest, be straightforward, and say 'I don't know' if you don't know the answer," Conway offers. "And always return Westword's phone calls -- that's my best advice."

Belly up to the bars: We know that most elected officials would like to see reporters locked up -- but this is getting ridiculous. Last week, Denver City Council approved the $16 million purchase of the building currently housing the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Newspaper Agency, the entity set up to oversee the business operations of both the News and the Post after they entered into a joint operating agreement.

Someday -- but probably not before March 2004, which is how long the city is letting the two stay in the building rent-free -- the News and the DNA will move into an as-yet unnamed building they will share with the Post, and the city will build a justice center, complete with courts and jail, on the West Colfax site. (The 1400 block of Elati, which was renamed Gene Amole Way a few months before columnist Gene Amole died, will retain its new name -- although the city's unlikely to give its new jail a Gene Amole Way address.) In the meantime, though, the city's in the unusual position of being the landlord -- or jailer, depending on how you look at it -- of a major metropolitan daily.

At least the city waited until long after the Post had moved out of its old building at 15th and California to buy that property -- a gap that allowed Bruce Berger, who bought the place from Times Mirror, former owner of the Post, to realize a $20 million profit when he sold it to the city last month. Denver plans to use the site for a convention-center hotel. That project isn't yet financed -- but then, neither is the proposed jail.

If the jail deal doesn't work out, officials say, the city can always use the News building for office space and storage. (After all, the brand-spanking-new Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building that debuted last month is already bursting at the seams.) And never mind that the city already has a perfectly good police building that it's leasing -- at $1 a year -- to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. That's the organization founded in 1972 by then-Post publisher Donald Seawell, with a grand building plan later made possible by the sale of the Post to Times Mirror (which subsequently sold the paper to Dean Singleton).

The city's former police administration building, at 1245 Champa Street, currently houses the DCPA's box-office operations, as well as offices for Denver Center Attractions and the DCPA's development and media-relations departments. The fourth floor is currently devoted to Denver Center Media and the National Center for Voice and Speech. When the latter moves to the currently-under-renovation Tramway building next spring, the TV and media center will expand to fill the entire floor, according to DCPA president Lester Ward.

The city recently renewed its deal to lease the building to the DCPA for a buck a year for another fifty years. That means it will run until almost 2050 -- at which point probably only DCPA chairman Seawell, who turned an unbelievably fit ninety this year (and this month was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), will be around to sign it.

Lights out: The Tramway project isn't the only change at the DCPA. Right under the Seawell Ballroom (the site of so many sad Democratic eyes on election night) in the Helen Bonfils Theatre complex, a distinctive red-and-blue marquee makes it clear that the space that had been the Source is now the Glenn Jones Theater. It's named after the cable entrepreneur who recently donated $1 million to the DCPA -- and the sign's keyed to his corporate color scheme. "Glenn Jones is on our board," says Lester Ward. "He's a generous supporter."

He's also a rare example of that vanishing breed: Colorado's cable cowboys. Although Jones is better known these days for his work pushing Internet education through Jones Knowledge, he was one of the cable mavericks who helped wire not just the West, but the world. But that era's just about over, and the plug's been pulled. On Monday, AT&T Broadband -- which emerged from AT&T's earlier purchase of Tele-Communications Inc., the Arapahoe County company founded by the late Bob Magness and engineered into gigantic profitability by John Malone -- officially merged with Philadelphia-based Comcast. As part of the $60 billion deal, the AT&T Broadband name disappeared, as did hundreds of jobs and the former Colorado TCI/AT&T headquarters.

Round 'em up, move 'em out.

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