Since the moment Michael Kennedy made unfortunate contact with a tree on an Aspen ski slope on New Year's Eve 1997, it's all been downhill for Colorado.
If 1997 had been a peak year for the state--which attracted international attention with its flawless handling of the two Oklahoma City bombing trials; its smooth, if bumpkinish, hosting of the Summit of the Eight; its ham-handed approach to the JonBenet Ramsey murder case--then 1998 flat-lined. Sure, there were periodic bumps and blips: The Denver Broncos' fifth trip to the Super Bowl was a real high, while half-million-dollar houses sliding off Jeffco hillsides hit a new low. But generally speaking, to see any upbeat action this year, you needed a stiff dose of Viagra.
If Colorado was the center of the universe in 1997, in 1998 it barely registered on the national radar.
That wasn't entirely our fault, however. This past year, most of the nation's attention was focused on a very particular piece of territory, a small bit of turf somewhere just below the Beltway in Washington, D.C. And when it comes to things unimpeachably sleazy, if not completely sexual, Colorado is a Johnny-cum-lately compared with President Bill Clinton and all the congressmen currently being outed. For chrissake, Lakewood ranked as our "most romantic city" in a national survey. Even Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who in October placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post offering million-dollar bounties for tales of close encounters of the worst kind with politicians, wasn't looking for any sordid stories stemming from our state. His offer didn't apply, he explained, to tales of flings with "a freshman congressman or an unknown from Colorado."
By then, of course, Colorado already had one very public embarrassment. On Super Bowl Sunday, Roy Romer--part-time governor of Colorado and chair of the Democratic National Committee--had suited up in a turtleneck and bomber jacket and prepared to defend Clinton, and maybe do a little Bronco boosting, on national news shows. The president had gone on record declaring that he "did not have a sexual relationship with that woman," and--hey!--Romer believed him.
Two weeks later, Romer's own eighteen-year relationship with former aide B.J. Thornberry went public in a big way--D.C.-based Insight magazine posted on its Web site pictures of a six-minute smooch between Romer and Thornberry, captured by a private investigator outside Dulles Airport in 1995. Although Romer had denied for years that any such relationship existed, he now took advantage of a sympathetic ear at the Denver Post and told editor Dennis Britton almost all in an "exclusive" that sounded like an ad for Geritol. (But then, Viagra had yet to hit the market.) "I needed an infusion of spirit and energy," Romer told Britton by phone. "It was a professional relationship that grew into a supportive personal one." And a smoochy one--but the guv swore that sex wasn't involved, since he "was not a very sexual person."
The next day, at a peculiar press conference at Centennial Airport, Romer kept confessing. "It's a very strong relationship," he said of his marriage to Bea Romer, who looked shell-shocked in the background. "Solid. We have a very strong extended family. In the course of 45 years in many marriages in this country, different attitudes develop in a marriage. About 50 percent of them end up in divorce; they can't work them out. But in those who remain married, there still are times in which there are different feelings and different interests, different relationships. In the course of this, about sixteen years ago, I began to work with a person who became a very close professional colleague and a very good personal friend, in a very supportive personal relationship...I was open with Bea and my family about that all that period of time. In that process, there is a working-out of how you related. In this particular family, that working out was that my marriage, our marriage, was always first. This relationship was secondary. This relationship had limits."
Then, taking a cue from his fearless leader's own semantic ramblings, Romer continued: "Let me say it straight. This is not a sexual relationship; it is a very affectionate relationship. And I'm not trying to define when affection ends and sex begins, okay? That's as straight as I can be."
Close, but no cigar.
When Clinton visited Aspen in July, he was welcomed by "Moan-ica" the "blow-up doll"--a sex toy with a gaping oral hole, set up on the side of the road.
Not surprisingly, by late fall other politicos were getting tired of all the smoke-blowing. As New York representative Charles Rangel, finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, said of Romer, "What damn credibility has he got as governor of Colorado? He just should shut up. Is it like the whole world is waiting to see what's going to happen in November based on the governor's evaluation of congressional seats? Give me a break!"
In fact, Romer's pet project, Referendum B, got a $60,000 break from the DNC--a donation that wasn't enough to save the anti-tax refund measure, but might actually have done something to help get a Democrat or two elected in Colorado.
Instead, Gail Schoettler's horse is back in the barn; conservatives now rule both houses, and the Governor's Mansion is occupied by a Republican--a draft-dodging, cardigan-wearing, SUV-driving one at that--for the first time in 24 years. The development was so unprecedented that you could hardly blame befuddled GOPs for strutting their stuff to the Village People's "YMCA" on election night.
Colorado's grown, all right, but it's going to take more than a dose of Viagra to make it grow up.
Former Colorado senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart left his lair on Troublesome Gulch long enough to offer his own unique insights on Clinton's "character" issue. But former congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who'd chaired Hart's 1988 presidential bid, was about to let loose with her own opinion of Hart's Monkey Business in her book, 24 Years of House Work...and the Place Is Still a Mess. "Although Gary and I are still cordial when we meet, our friendship was history," she wrote. "Perhaps he felt I didn't adequately defend him and was angry because I was not prepared to fall on my sword for him. I felt we'd all been let down by him. I felt he used me because having a woman at the head of his campaign might deflect these issues. But Donna Rice wasn't sitting in my lap, and I just didn't have the energy to even engage asking why she was in Gary's."
Former state senator Charlie "Here Come the Black Helicopters" Duke put himself in God's lap, resigning his seat after the Big Guy said he should. "He now makes all the major decisions in my life," Duke explained, adding that God had also told him not to be so critical of Bill Clinton because "we deserve" Clinton's immoral leadership as punishment.
What sins could possibly account for the continuing punishment being inflicted upon us by the RTD board remains unknown. Although outspoken, outgoing boardmembers Jon Caldara and Ben Klein have reached the end of the line, 1998 was a bumpy trip for Colorado's most cranky elected body, complete with lawsuits, threats and one wild meeting in the fall at which one boardmember accused another of "talking white but sleeping black."
Meanwhile, the second-crankiest body in Colorado, the Moffat Tunnel Commission, finally was put out of commission. And former Denver mayor, former transportation secretary and then-energy secretary Federico Pena put himself out of his own misery, getting out of the Clinton cabinet while the getting was still relatively good--and jumping into a lucrative job working for an investment house back in Denver.
But for many happy returns, it would be hard to beat Dick Lamm's new post. Although the man known as "Governor Gloom" during his last few years heading Colorado kept a low profile through wife Dottie's losing run for the Senate, he's since signed on with a winner: Lamm will be advising Jesse "The Mind" Ventura, newly elected governor of Minnesota. The two share more than a streak of independence, Lamm confesses: Like Jesse, he, too, has been doing some weightlifting.
PAINTING THE TOWN
Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who may or may not be running for that third term he always said he'd never serve, proclaimed 1998 the Year of the Neighborhood, which translated into a grab bag of neighborhood goodies on the November ballot and the elevation of neighborhood busybodies into "ambassadors," who suddenly were honored for ratting out the Joneses. No need to wait for someone else to turn in Mike Quintana, though: The "Graffiti Avenger" took the law--and spray paint--into his own hands after homeboys kept tagging his west-side gym and gave them a taste of their own medicine. Unfortunately, he did so while the homies were handcuffed, which earned Quintana an assault charge. Undeterred, Quintana announced he was thinking of running for Denver City Council, even though he didn't live in Denver.
When the city wasn't cracking down on graffiti and graffiti crack-down artists, it was cleaning up after other miscreants, like the phantom caiman in Washington Park. Cops were freed up for real work, like shutting down those over-amped Harleys ridden by overaged attorneys in LoDo, since photo radar nabbed speeders--and Representative Doug Dean be damned, said safety chief Butch Montoya in defending the practice, because "here you have a legislator encouraging people in Denver to break the law by not paying the $40 fine." In other parts of town, the city decided to smooth things over by introducing new "traffic calming" plans--which basically called for jamming traffic so badly on neighborhood side streets that the major arteries stay clear, and no one ever gets anywhere.
Sounds a lot like the trains at DIA. The little engines that couldn't suffered through a series of well-publicized breakdowns last spring, which had trapped passengers clawing at the doors to escape the dulcet tones of Reynelda Muse--even though the voice of the train herself wisely left town some months ago for a new life in Indiana. Also not-so-dearly departed: Aviation director and chief airport apologist Jim DeLong, who'd overseen the much-delayed opening of DIA when he wasn't on one of his overseas junkets for his other job, as president of an airport trade association. Still very much in evidence at the airport, though, are mounds of radium-contaminated dirt, swept up from Capitol Hill street construction projects and stored at the far reaches of DIA while contaminants settle for the next ten years or so. And speaking of dirt, don't try looking for airport information at www.denverairport.com, which is actually registered to a porn site.
But unlike Western Pacific in 1998, it could get you off.
WE DI HARDER
During a bankruptcy court break, Western Pacific CEO Bob Peiser bemoaned his fate over a urinal: "Can you imagine going through that every day? It was like the paparazzi. I felt like Princess Di, and I'd just gone through a French tunnel." Or a DIA train. Despite such insights, WesPac finally crashed and burned, owing Denver $6 million and leaving its residents something to remember the upstart airline by: airfares that jumped nearly 50 percent in a year.
The billion-dollar Magness estate avoided a hell of a wreck when Bob's two sons decided to settle out of court with widow Sharon "Pony Up" Magness. Considerably less smooth was the battle over the Miss Colorado crown, with the ousted 1997 pageant winner hiring Walter Gerash to get back her crown--or at least wreak revenge on former executive director Vonnie Pederson. The millennium bug crawled onto the front pages, inspiring militia types to stockpile soup and allowing computer nerds to collect big bucks attempting to fix the Y2K problem. Also collecting some major cash was bond salesman Lee White, who wound up resigning his post on the Denver Public Schools board after his assorted jobs--including playing bagman for Broncos owner Pat Bowlen--proved too time-consuming. Porter Wharton, the fellow who helped snag a new stadium for Bowlen, announced that he was taking a smokin' deal to lobby for Vail Resorts. Hey, this has a nice ring: Vail Twice as High as Mile High Stadium.
Things weren't exactly rosy at the Cherry Creek Foley's, where a valet called two women doing last-second Christmas shopping "fucking niggers"--and then, to add insult to injury, the city promptly lost the women's complaint. The ACLU took up the cause, the city found the missing file, and the truculent teen--son of a Foley's exec, a fact the Foley's ad-heavy dailies graciously failed to point out--was assigned to some remedial history reading. And Nike got its own lesson in just how cranky Golden residents can be when some out-of-town outfit proposed plopping a 5,000-employee "campus" atop their town's unofficial landmark of Table Mountain before making tracks out of town.
The state finally introduced its long-delayed ten-digit dialing--but sadly, US West continued to have trouble with three-digit dialing, as numerous municipalities reported 911 outages. Phil Anschutz's Qwest continued to make its mark on the stock market, although it garnered criticism for one TV ad featuring a potential suicide about to jump from a tall building. Learning that the fellow worked for "a big long-distance phone company," the cop called to the scene told him to go ahead and jump.
At least he wasn't leaping from the Trango Tower, the 86-story skyscraper that Scott Moore has proposed building downtown. A jump from those dizzying heights, and you could find yourself splattered all over the thousands of jaywalking rubes outside the Denver Pavilions collecting tickets while they wait for their overpriced Wolfgang Puck pizzas.
High culture finally arrived in Colorado in the form of the Pavilions' Hard Rock Cafe, featuring second-rate memorabilia from third-rate rock stars. Just in time, too, since Colorado lost one of its most prized celebrities, Margaret Ray, the David Letterman stalker, when she was cut in half by a train outside her hometown of Crawford. Larry Flynt-imitator Woody Harrelson briefly dropped into town for an appeals hearing for his father, Charles Harrelson, now serving life for the murder of a federal judge in Texas. During one break in the action, the Woodman asked a reporter: "Are there any places left that Jack Kerouac wrote about in On the Road? What's the name of that bar where he used to hang out with, what's his name, that wild guy?"
That would be Neal Cassady, and the bar's long gone.
To further cement this state's image as a cultural mecca, there was a move afoot to have the late John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" made the official state song, replacing "Where the Columbines Grow." Meanwhile, Denver's home outside Aspen, where columbines really did grow, went on the market for $4 mill--underground gas tanks not included. The Colorado Tourism Board decided to gear its advertising efforts to just such highbrow types with an ad encouraging visitors to come here and let the "kid inside you" find "seashells and arrowheads"--and probably collect a summons for violating antiquities laws in the process.
Those kids who got away from us--University of Colorado alums Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park--continued to make waves of nausea in Hollywood, most recently with their offer to take over the Comedy Channel. Another local girl made good, Pam Grier, whose comeback in Jackie Brown was as short-lived as Parker and Stone's BASEketball, was honored when Webb named October 13 "Pam Grier Day" in Denver. Arrow Productions sponsored "Denver Deep Throat Week" to mark the fact that the group is allegedly remaking the porn classic--and that the original deep-throater, Linda Lovelace, now lives in the Denver area, where she keeps her mouth closed. Thanks to the continuing popularity of Titanic, the Molly Brown House enjoyed a record number of visits. But the Forney Museum got run out of town on a rail, to be replaced by a Denver Urban Renewal Authority-subsidized sports-and-rec emporium. DURA also looked the other way when the old Denver Post building turned into a parking lot.
In response to complaints about black cowboy clown Leon Coffee, the Stock Show got politically correct--and very dull. Protesters unfurled a banner over I-25 announcing that "Stock Show=Death," but that should have been "Stock Show=Bored to Death." Disappointing generations of stoners, the Denver Museum of Natural History extinguished its laser-light shows. The Denver Botanic Gardens underwent a major facelift and a minor rebellion, which resulted in hordes of faithful volunteers being locked out. The original founders of the Butterfly Pavilion got pinned in a board shakeup; a much-publicized trip to Mexico to collect fish for Colorado Ocean Journey wound up all wet.
But one hallmark of culture remains firmly in place. Although the religious right is cleaning up municipalities across the Front Range, Denver remains the one town in the area where you can get a lap dance.
By year's end, the best local read, hands-down, was the "Dennis Britton Go-Home page" (www://members.aol.com/empirvoic/dennis.page.html), an unofficial effort by the same band of merry pranksters who've been bedeviling the Post all year. First came that John Elway nipple-ring business, then the fake note posted on the paper's chatroom, allegedly from publisher Ryan McKibben, apologizing for his "cheesehead" appearance--a caper that caught not only the Post napping, but also rival Rocky Mountain News gossiper Norm Clarke. Then the Post almost went to press with a story announcing that Britton had won the prestigious Edgar O'Malley journalism award--an entirely fictitious honor--until an eagle-eyed city editor caught the hoax. The Gazette wasn't so lucky: The Colorado Springs daily got stung when it went with the July 3 announcement that Britton would be stepping down to devote more time to his beekeeping hobby.
But the Post couldn't blame pranksters for one of its most public embarrassments. No one could have made up that ludicrous "Snapshots of Colorado" bus tour that took the paper's execs around the state, getting in touch with all three readers. Nor could anyone have concocted the scenario in which quotes from a staff sportswriter concerning Bowlen's threats to sell the team if it didn't get a new stadium somehow wound up attributed to Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano: "It's nothing new, but now it's coming from the horse's mouth. He's saying that if he doesn't get a new stadium, he'll let somebody else do the dirty work." Perhaps as payment for being such a horse's ass, the Post not only corrected the perplexing mistake, but wound up donating $10,000 to Bowlen's pro-stadium campaign.
Broncos coverage brought out the best--and the worst--in local journalists. Channel 9's Phil Keating proved he was quick with a quip when he warned a swearing, tear-gassed Super Bowl partyer in LoDo to "Watch your language, sonny." The Wall Street Journal compared Mile High Stadium--unfavorably--to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's cabin. (Meanwhile, Kaczynski was transferred to the federal Supermax prison in Florence, where he joined Timothy McVeigh at a facility where inmates spend 23 hours each day in solitude. "It's a prison where you don't have to worry about getting raped," observes one inmate.) Weekend KCFR news reader Tia Marlier resigned from the station after it was revealed she'd done anonymous voice-overs for the pro-stadium group--here in Colorado, we like our media cheerleaders to do their job in public!
For example, in a November 29 story about Terrell Davis that extensively quoted O.J. Simpson about his own NFL exploits, author Rick Folstad made absolutely no mention of any nasty double homicides. But then, the News has been worried about keeping its own nose clean. Specifically, the nose of "Snotman," a longtime employee of the paper who showed his disgruntlement with the current regime by leaving strings of mucus around the building.
This year, if it was news, it was probably because media types were making it outside the confines of the newsroom. Bipolar talk-show host Jay Marvin is in the midst of the longest goodbye in history; after talk this fall that he was leaving at any moment for a job in Florida, he shows no signs of departing. Yakking colleague Peter Boyles, meanwhile, got slapped by a judge for contempt when he refused to reveal the sources that had tipped him off to a police altercation outside Pierre's Supper Club.
Other crimes were easier to solve--because reporters themselves were committing them. Former KOA business editor/former Channel 4 business reporter Keith Weinman is set to go on trial in Boulder in the new year for assaulting his wife. Also popping up in domestic violence cases: Channel 7's Julie Hayden and Channel 4's Katie Keifer. But the real record-breaker is former Post medical writer David Algeo, sentenced to ninety days in jail after he seduced a fourteen-year-old girl over the Internet. But, hey, at least he was a sensitive guy: After having sex with the girl on his marital bed, he bought her dinner at Taco Bell before taking her home to her grandparents.
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OH, GROW UP
As a parting gift to Colorado, Colorado's outgoing governor published a summary of "Colorado in the Romer years," titled The Best Place to Raise a Child.
Further proof: The University of Colorado adopted a new marketing slogan, "Minds to Match Our Mountains." Can we help it if the most prominent local rocks are the Flatirons?
The East High Spotlight got in trouble with its April Fool's edition, which noted that "rug-munching" was at an all-time high at Regis Jesuit High School. The issue also offered up this ebonics lesson for a Graland Country Day School student: "After robbin' all those li'l beeyaatches at Boardwalk blind, I took me and my Impala down to the liggidy likou' sto'...I slammed half of a Country Fuzzy Naval Peech boones, outside the sto' and I was straight perved, son."
Or, to quote our leader (for the next twelve days), in his intro to Best Place: "I am no fan of retrospectives: I have always been more interested in where we're going than in where we've been. But I also recognize that understanding the past can help us shape the future.