part 2 of 2
Three generations is what passes for old money in Denver. So it's not surprising that along with the Hirschfeld name and the family's tremendous wealth comes a great deal of accumulated power and influence.
Much of that influence has been used in the traditional ways of electing politicians and helping various charities. Although Barry Hirschfeld has not held office like his grandfather or closely advised the mayor like his father, he has not been shy about dipping into the family pocketbook to fund a wide range of candidates.
Nationally, he has cut checks to candidates as diverse as Coloradans Tim Wirth, Richard Lamm and Hank Brown, Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, Oregon senator Bob Packwood and both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
Locally, he was an enthusiastic backer of former mayor Federico Pena (but only after he'd already beat Ed Hirschfeld's candidate and friend, Bill McNichols). Most recently, he threw his support behind Norm Early in the former district attorney's unsuccessful mayoral bid against Wellington Webb. He also used his contacts and influence at City Hall to play a pivotal role in convincing city lawmakers to hike the Cultural Facilities District tax--the same levy his father had helped pass several years earlier.
And, as his father and grandfather did, Barry Hirschfeld has thrown himself into all manner of charitable activities. He has been the chairman of the Denver Art Museum and has sat on the boards of a wide range of organizations, from the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, Boy Scouts of America and the Boettcher Foundation to Public Service Company of Colorado. "This is obligatory," he explains. "It's part of the Hirschfeld ethic."
Yet the Hirschfelds have also played their extensive political contacts for personal gain. For instance, it appears as though Barry was not above using the family's political clout to attempt to help him in his land deals.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Hirschfeld and his wife attempted to develop a Cherry Creek apartment complex called Mountain Shadows. Under the zoning requirements at the time, the land was designated R-3. Among other things, that meant that the floor space of the building could not exceed three times the area of the lot.
In 1978 Hirschfeld requested a zoning variance for the property. It was hardly a small matter: He asked that the city allow him to exceed the floor-space restrictions by more than 40,000 feet. Zoning administrator Anthony Jansen quickly shot down the request.
Hirschfeld appealed to the city's Board of Adjustment. Part of the job of the board was to review disputed decisions of the zoning administrators. The board was appointed by then-mayor McNichols. Although he was only a silent partner of his son's, Ed Hirschfeld, still a close advisor to the mayor, sat in on the appeal. The Board of Adjustment overturned Jansen's decision, giving Barry Hirschfeld the go-ahead to disregard the zoning restriction.
Outraged, two local residents, along with the South Central Improvement Association and Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, filed a lawsuit charging that the Board of Adjustment had acted irresponsibly. In May 1979 a district court judge agreed. In a blistering decision, the judge refused even to allow the board to reconsider its decision and simply overturned it.
Since the strike at Hirschfeld began two months ago, union officials have charged that Hirschfeld has used his position on various cultural boards to win printing contracts. There is no evidence to support that. But there are plenty of examples showing how Hirschfeld is nevertheless wired very tightly into Denver's business and political communities.
Since Hirschfeld began serving on the Denver Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau board of directors, for instance, A.B. Hirschfeld Printing has won several contracts to print the organization's publications, which are mailed out to tourists and conventioneers. Despite the appearance, that is not necessarily a conflict of interest: The contracts are let to publishers, who then subcontract out the printing work.
Still, sources close to the bureau's board who asked not to be identified say that Hirschfeld's bids for the printing work frequently seemed to come in very late and just under the low bid. Although there was never any indication that Hirschfeld had tampered with the bids, one source says that a local accounting agency was retained to accept the sealed proposals so as to prevent any future problems.
Even that move did not entirely block Hirschfeld's network, however. At the time, Al Luthy was president of JWJ Publishing, which had the contract to publish the guides. Luthy recalls that soon after the bids were received by the accounting firm, he learned that Hirschfeld already knew the results--even before they had been reported to JWJ, which was letting the contract.
"Apparently this guy at the accounting firm was a friend of Barry's," Luthy recalls. "When he called and asked about the bids, the guy just told him. I think he just did it out of habit. Anyway, I told [the accounting firm], `I have a real problem with this.' I said, `I haven't even been told about this yet.'"
Adds Luthy, who now works out of New Jersey: "It was kind of comical and it wasn't." (Hirschfeld disputes Luthy's memory. He says the accounting firm opened the bids publicly and Luthy simply wasn't there.)
Thanks to his vast connections in the worlds of politics, business and public service, Hirschfeld's allegiances sometimes have become tangled. At least that's the way it appeared to Roger Smith, who headed the Convention and Visitor's Bureau for nine years until he left last fall after several high-profile clashes with Hirschfeld.
One of the biggest issues tackled by Smith during his tenure as chief of the bureau was where to relocate its offices. By 1990, after several funding increases and with conventions and tourism playing an ever-larger role in Colorado's economy, it had become clear that the bureau had outgrown its space on Colfax Avenue.
Smith says he appointed Hirschfeld to head a committee to find new office space in the spring of 1990. By December, however, after not seeing much movement, he says he arranged a presentation in front of the entire board with the commercial real estate company Grubb & Ellis. During the presentation, the brokers suggested moving to a reasonably priced space in Anaconda Towers.
According to Smith's recollection, however, Hirschfeld was vehemently opposed. He then revealed that he'd been talking to Mayor Pena about renting space in the Denver Dry building.
Hirschfeld's vigorous support for the Denver Dry plan, Smith recalls, made him uneasy. After all, the printer was a generous and public supporter of the mayor. In addition, he still held a contract with the City of Denver to print the Stapleton Airport flight guide, for which the family business had collected approximately $1.5 million since 1987.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, the city had committed to plowing $3.5 million into renovating Denver Dry in what was a far-from-certain venture. Smith said his discomfort increased when he attended a fundraiser for Norm Early the following spring that was hosted by Barry and Arlene Hirschfeld--and David French, who at the time was developing Denver Dry for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority. "I began to think, `There's a lot of collusion here,'" Smith recalls.
Worse, Hirschfeld seemed to be pushing the Denver Dry option in the face of the bureau's immediate needs. The renovation of the building was taking forever. At one point the bureau had to set up a mobile trailer to absorb its cramped staff. Even when the bureau staff eventually moved into Denver Dry last summer (more than three years after they began looking for new space), the organization had to borrow money to complete the renovations to its offices. Recalls Smith, "There came a point where everybody was saying, `This is not a good deal; why are we doing it?'
"In August 1993, I sat at my desk in Denver Dry for the first time," says Smith, who now works as a convention consultant on the East Coast. "And I calculated that our [ten-year] lease there came to $1.2 million more then the space we'd moved into temporarily and were considering staying at [in Republic Plaza]. That's $120,000 a year more that could've been going into the work of the bureau."
He concludes: "I never understood what the pressures were that got us into Denver Dry. I was very skeptical of what was going on. And I disagreed totally with us moving in there."
Hirschfeld replies that he has never allowed his personal business activities to interfere with his civic obligations, the move to Denver Dry included. "If you check the record, those dealings were as arms-length as could be," he says. "My allegiance was always to the bureau first."
As Barry Hirschfeld winds up his tour of the old A.B. Hirschfeld factory, he wanders back into the cavernous rooms that housed the giant presses before the company moved to its present location on Smith Road, in 1973. It now seems impossible that they could have been anything but a concrete shell (the family sold the building in 1982 but repossessed it four years later). Even the wiring from the electrical boxes set into the walls has been stripped of copper.
Hirschfeld's memories breathe life into the old building, however. "This is where Denver's first commercial web press was," he says, walking into a huge rectangular room where dirty light filters in through cracked glass overhead. Unlike previous machines that were fed flat sheets of paper, the room-size press, which cost a whopping $80,000, pulled paper off of giant rolls.
Next, Hirschfeld turns and strides off to the right. He points out a separate section of the plant, the old composing room. This is where workers once set hot lead type, he says. Vents that sucked the hot air out of the workspace still dangle from the ceiling like Spanish moss from a cypress branch. Like many other things in the old plant, Hirschfeld comments, this part of the vacant family factory is a relic.
"This is totally dead now," he says, nodding toward the composing room. "Now it's all computerized. When this plant was really cooking, we used to have 250 workers. Now we have 200. You just can do more with less."
The workers have changed, too, he reflects. Take the union, for example. When his grandfather and his father were running the business, organized labor played a role. Today, he says, the union, like the old composing room, is just another artifact from the past.
"If you walk down to the union and ask them for a [plate] stripper," Hirschfeld explains, "they would not be able to provide you with one. If you asked for a web pressman, they couldn't find one. The union has become an entitlement program. They haven't been sensitive to what it takes to earn their position."
He concludes: "This whole conflict with the union would seem to be out of character with the tradition of my family, and it's unfortunate. It's just a sign of the times."
It isn't the first time that Barry Hirschfeld has walked away from a family tradition. In the 1954 Sports Illustrated article, A.B. Hirschfeld revealed his baseball plans for the future. First, he said, he would like to run his streak of World Series attendances to 35. After that, he confided, he would turn over the streak to his grandson for him to maintain.
A.B. reached his goal, and his grandson, Barry, attended his first series in 1955. When the old man died two years later, Ed kept the streak alive. When Ed Hirschfeld passed away in 1984, however, the Hirschfeld World Series streak died with him. "I enjoyed baseball," says Barry. "But it just wasn't as compelling to me. I always preferred playing golf."
Although he denies ever saying the exact words, Barry Hirschfeld's friends say that he has a phrase that sums up the family's relationship with Graphic Communications International Union. It is: "My grandfather loved the union. My father tolerated the union. I hate the union."
Union officials will tell you that the beginning of the end for them came in 1984, when Ed Hirschfeld died and Barry became president. "I can't understand what happened between generations," says Larry Koopman, who worked at A.B. Hirschfeld for more than three decades as a stripper. "Barry's grandfather insisted that it be a union shop. He passed that on to Barry's father. Why is it the two or three generations who started the company can work with the union, and then along comes Barry?"
Indeed, until recently labor relations generally have been smooth at the printing company. A.B. Hirschfeld was a card-carrying member of the International Typographical Union. ("Labor relations," he told the Post in 1951, "is the science that the man who works isn't working solely for a paycheck. To a certain extent we must be our brother's keeper.") And although a strike stung the plant in the early 1960s, it was more a wildcat action designed to show off workers' muscle, according to longtime employees.
Even Barry concedes that relations between the Hirschfelds and the union have become strained only lately. "We have dealt with the union and considered them a partner up to the last five years," he says. "Since then, though, the union bosses have been counterproductive; they haven't been helpful."
One incident in particular grates him. Several years ago, Hirschfeld claims, the union attempted to steer business away from the family press after he attended a Republican Party fundraiser attended by President Bush, which he says the union leadership interpreted as hostile to them. ("Absolutely not," responds Paul Greene, secretary-treasurer of GCIU Local 440, which represents the A.B. Hirschfeld production workers. "I don't even know what he's talking about.")
Moreover, Hirschfeld says, "The union began taking us on for every little thing. It was a very confrontational atmosphere. We never used to have grievances filed. Now they're filed all the time. Things have changed, and they haven't been willing to change with them. And you can't negotiate attitudes."
Despite the increasingly sour relations between Hirschfeld and his organized workers, the more likely starting date of the current bad blood was the termination of the company's huge contract to print TV Guide. In 1981 the magazine selected A.B. Hirschfeld to print its regional edition for Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Kansas and Utah. The ten-year deal, worth millions of dollars annually, prompted the company to build a $10 million addition to its Smith Road plant.
By the beginning of 1990, however, TV Guide let Hirschfeld know that the contract was not going to be renewed. (Barry explains that the publication was cutting back on its regional printing strategy; some of his competitors have suggested that the quality of Hirschfeld's work was uneven.) The final edition of the Hirschfeld-printed TV Guide ran through the Smith Road presses in October 1992.
"That was a major hit for this company," Hirschfeld remembers. "It represented 20 percent of our volume and also a significant part of our profitability. That was a bleak day."
In preparation to help the company through the crisis, Hirschfeld negotiated a wage freeze with the GCIU in 1989. The contract expired last July but was extended indefinitely. Both the union and Hirschfeld agreed that the deal could be terminated with seven days' notice.
The extension deal was reached with the expectation that the two sides would soon hammer out a new contract. With A.B. Hirschfeld Press starting to rebound from the loss of TV Guide (in early 1993 the company signed a deal to print 500,000 Colorado Rockies programs; last November it snagged a $200,000 contract to print state income tax forms), union members say they had high hopes of a good deal.
But the GCIU's Greene says it soon became clear to him that Barry Hirschfeld had no such plans. As evidence, he points to a series of help-wanted advertisements published in Midwestern newspapers that ran as early as August 1993. The fact that Hirschfeld was seeking replacement workers only a month after the two sides had agreed on the indefinite contract extension leads Greene to conclude that "there was never any intent on his part to reach an agreement."
Meanwhile, Hirschfeld had made an offer to the GCIU. It included a raise in the company's contribution to the workers' health and benefits. But it also asked for another wage freeze, this time for three more years. If the union had accepted, Greene points out, it would have made seven years without a pay raise. "In my mind," he says, "he was trying to force us to strike so he could replace us."
On March 23, the union gave the required seven-day notice that it was severing the contract extension agreed on the previous summer. On March 30, the day the contract expired, Hirschfeld yanked the union security clause from consideration in any future negotiations. The clause, which required the printing shop to be all union, was the foundation of the GCIU's presence at A.B. Hirschfeld Press.
"I interpreted that as forcing a strike," says Greene. "It told me that he was going to destroy the union."
Hirschfeld acknowledges that the move could be read as taking advantage of the opportunity to give the GCIU the boot. But he shrugs and explains, "If I'd wanted to bust out the union, I'd have done it years ago. I have always spent my energies trying to get along with them. I have been a good friend of the unions. But hey, this is the Nineties, not the Thirties. Choice is very important."
On Friday, April 29, approximately 100 A.B. Hirschfeld Press production workers represented by the GCIU struck. Barry says he was up and running with fill-in workers the following day. They have since become designated as permanent replacements. The GCIU's picket lines notwithstanding, the strike for all practical purposes has been broken, and for the first time in three generations, A.B. Hirschfeld Press is a nonunion shop.
Since then, the strike--and Hirschfeld's decision to permanently replace the union workers--seems to have pleased no one. The GCIU's pressmen, many of whom have been at the company for two or three decades, are at home or looking for other work.
Hirschfeld, meanwhile, has found himself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend his actions to old family friends. The Democratic Party, for example--which A.B. helped build and which Ed sustained and which Barry is still a member of--has pulled all its printing jobs.
"We have used, and will always use, union printers," says Howard Gelt, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party. "Since Mr. Hirschfeld is not using a union shop, we will not be printing there."
Soon after the strike began, state senator Dennis Gallagher stopped by the picket lines to talk to the workers. He later wrote a letter to Hirschfeld. "I wanted to let you know what impressed me the most was that many of the workers had been with your company for 20, indeed, even 30 years," he wrote. "Some workers remembered your father and your grandfather with great fondness."
In urging Hirschfeld to return to the bargaining table and to try to reach an accord with the union, Gallagher appealed to the third-generation pressman's sense of tradition. "I think it is what your father and grandfather would want," he wrote.
Barry Hirschfeld, though, says the break from the past is inevitable. "I don't like it," he says. "It's not comfortable. It's not my style. But it is what it is."
end of part 2
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Pot Driving Study Suggests Colorado's Stoned Driving Standard Way Too Low
University of Denver Pioneers Volleyball vs. University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks Women's VolleyballSun., Oct. 11, 2:00pm
Fri., Oct. 16, 12:00am
Fri., Oct. 16, 7:00pm
Fri., Oct. 16, 7:00pm
- Reader: I Hate People Who Ride Their F*cking Bike on the Road as If It's a Car
- Remembering Gary Lee Bomar, a Denver Music Scene Original Gone Way Too Soon