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Year in Review

Patrick Merewether

It was the year no one wants to remember, the year no one will ever forget.

For half a decade, Colorado -- and the rest of the country -- had reveled in high times and good spirits. Even all those predictions of a catastrophic Y2K had come to naught, and 2000 passed without a glitch. We never suspected that 2001, the real start of the millennium, would be the year that those dire predictions would come true.

But even before the events of September 11, anthrax attacks and the slow, settling recession, Denver had received several hints that 2001 would be a year to live in infamy -- and we're not just talking about the Broncos, the Rockies and the Nuggets. The glory days of the 1990s, which seemed to bring new promise to Colorado in every arena, from sporting championships to declining crime to booming business, had come to end.

The high-tech companies on which we'd staked our future, the ones that once symbolized our go-go economy, fell the hardest. Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs were going, going, gone, from the massive communications corporations to the tiny software makers. Qwest, AT&T Broadband, Sun Microsystems, Level 3 Communications, Lucent, Rhythms Netconnections, Liberty Media -- they all suffered. By December, Colorado-based companies of all kinds had announced more than 35,000 total job cuts in 2001. It almost made you feel sorry for that 23-year-old Internet genius down the street whose Lexus SUV is now up on blocks and whose hot tub got repossessed.

Why, even our world-class skiing has lost some of its luster: A good powder day now refers to any day in which the mysterious white stuff in the envelope turns out to be detergent or vanilla pudding mix.

We've lost our depressing but brightly lit place in the national media spotlight. JonBenét Ramsey? Columbine? Timothy McVeigh? They all seem so last century. The Mile High City is no longer the Center of the Universe. Boeing took a pass on Colorado, and Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro bailed out of a hyped appearance at a Hunter Thompson-organized rally to protest the incarceration of Lisl Auman. Hershey Foods Corporation announced that Wheat Ridge's world-famous Jolly Rancher plant would close in 2002 as production is consolidated in Pennsylvania. Hell, even Britney Spears bowed out of a planned concert at Red Rocks; the renowned venue just wasn't big enough for her. Hit us, baby, one more time.

Somewhere between the glorious fireworks that lit up the D&F Tower on New Year's Eve 2000 and the not-so-glorious fireworks that lit up Littleton police phone lines during the opening of the new Aspen Grove shopping center, we lost our way. If only we'd had a beacon, a shining light in the night sky to tell us what to do. Something bright and blue and...wait a minute...oh, it's just the giant Qwest signs over downtown.

Perhaps the real sign of the times was the scope of the hysteria surrounding the opening of the new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Lone Tree last spring. The hoopla -- and the lines of people and cars -- made Denver seem like a dirt-road town getting its first stoplight. Seriously. The doughnuts at Safeway taste just as good.

Yes, 2001 was a year to forget. Just ask Mayor Wellington Webb, who botched his decision not to run for the U.S. Senate; state Speaker of the House Doug Dean, who killed his once-promising political career; Terrell Davis, who blew his wholesome image -- and his Campbell's Chunky Soup commercials -- by getting blown at Atlanta's Gold Club; and Denver Botanic Gardens executive director Brinsley Burbidge, whose campaign to raise $40 million for the institution wilted in the sun. After an internal investigation by the nonprofit's board of directors, Burbidge was asked to undergo counseling. The DBG itself weathered numerous other indignities, including layoffs, leaked fundraising memos and a dis by the mayor. At this point, it looks like the only way Burbidge will be able to raise $40 million is by winning Colorado's new Powerball game, which debuted this year.

Oh, and then there was "The Horse," Dan Issel, who provided Denver with one of its most embarrassing moments in recent memory with a tirade aimed at a beer-drinking "Mexican" fan. As a result, Issel is now known as "The Horse's Ass."

None of these characters would mind if we forgot about 2001, and we wouldn't mind forgetting about them.

So, is there anything about 2001 we'd like to remember in 2002? The resolve of the American people in times of trouble. Yes. The flags flying from the backs of garbage trucks and fire trucks. Okay.

But whatever you do, remember to take an alternate route if you usually travel through T-Rex country; remember to stay away from the elephant pen at the Denver Zoo if someone makes a loud noise; and please, please, please remember to take your nail clippers out of your carry-on bags before you head to DIA.

 

Politically Incorrect

The year began with the Texas Fourteen. No, not the group of convicts who escaped from a Lone Star state prison and killed a Dallas-area cop before finally being found and rounded up in dramatic fashion in Woodland Park in mid-January: That was the Texas Seven.

The Texas Fourteen consisted of President-select George Dubya Bush's Cabinet nominees, including two with Colorado connections: Gale Norton, a lawyer with Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber and former state attorney general, and Linda Chavez, a two-bit political commentator and former Denver resident. Although she faced initial opposition and was slapped with the nickname "James Watt in a skirt," Norton is now the Secretary of the Interior. Chavez, on the other hand, is still a two-bit political commentator who can only say she was once nominated to be the Secretary of Labor.

Chavez gave up that nomination after it was revealed that she'd allowed an illegal Guatemalan immigrant named Marta Mercado to live in her basement in 1992 and 1993; Mercado claimed that she did household chores for Chavez in return. Harboring illegal aliens is not exactly the kind of thing that a labor secretary nominee should be doing, especially a nominee who is already hated by most Democratic special-interest groups and their political representatives in Congress. Chavez, after all, is anti-labor, anti-bilingual education, anti-minimum wage and anti-affirmative action.

The mini-scandal didn't dampen the spirits of Colorado Republicans, however; after eight years of watching President Bill Clinton sashay his way around the White House, they were finally able to celebrate one of their own. And so a whole host of GOP faithful dusted off their tuxedos, ironed the creases out of their evening gowns and Texas-two-stepped their way to Washington, D.C., for Bush's January 20 inauguration. The list was headed by our governor -- ex-Texan Bill Owens -- and his family; Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers and his family; businessman, Republican party activist and former gubernatorial candidate Bruce Benson and his wife, Marcy; Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski and his wife, Julie; housing über-developer Larry Mizel; state senator Ken Chlouber of Leadville; House Speaker Doug Dean of Colorado Springs; and a Coors family contingent. Somehow, they all made it into one party or another.

Bush, who'd already shown Colorado how much our state matters by skipping us entirely during his campaign stumping, thanked these top GOPs by waiting until August to grace us with his presence, and then only for 24 hours. During that busy day, Bush visited Rocky Mountain National Park to pitch his wildfire protection plan and pose for rugged photo ops, hosted a million-dollar fundraiser for Owens and Senator Wayne Allard, and attended part of a Colorado Rockies game. Thanks, George. Hell, even Vice President Dick Cheney lasted a couple of days in Colorado -- even if he spent them fishing at the exclusive Wigwam Club near Deckers.

But the President's trip was long enough for Longmont entrepreneur John Fischer (another ex-Texan) to get himself arrested by the Secret Service and charged with disturbing the peace. One of many protesters who weren't allowed to get anywhere near Bush during his Rocky Mountain high, Fischer handed out sample rolls of toilet paper he sells online that feature a picture of the president along with the words "Bush Wipe." Fischer also sells versions with Cheney ("Dick Wipe"), Secretary of State Colin Powell ("Colin Wipe"), and Attorney General John Ashcroft ("Ash Wipe"), as well as anti-Bush bumper stickers, T-shirts and other paraphernalia.

Witnesses told Estes Park police that Fischer, who had wrapped his body in toilet paper, was encouraging people to throw their rolls at the president's motorcade. He denied the charge, but the ensuing national attention sparked a major business boom.

Way to go, and go again, John.

Taking Stock

In March, the first 2000 census figures were released, offering an explanation for why there seem to be so many more people milling about, from the drive-through line at Krispy Kreme to the checkout line at the Gap to the chairlift line at Vail. In fact, the census provided 276 explanations per day -- which is how many people moved here every 24 hours in the 1990s.

All told, Colorado grew by 1,006,867 people in the '90s to reach a population of 4.3 million, making it the third-fastest-growing state in the nation. Denver added 87,000 residents, while Superior grew in size from 255 to 9,011 -- an increase of 3,434 percent! Another major rise involved the Hispanic population, which surged by 73 percent, or 311,000 people. (Attention, Dan Issel! Attention, Dan Issel!) About 17 percent of the state's current residents are of Hispanic descent.

 

Among the other fascinating facts we learned about ourselves: One out of every fifty households has five or more cars; one out of every eight homes has nine or more rooms; there were twelve Coloradans in 2000 who had already lived to be at least 110 years old; Aurora has more people (276,393 and growing -- a 24 percent increase since 1990) than Orlando, Birmingham and Newark; if Highlands Ranch were a town, it would be the state's thirteenth-largest, with 70,931 covenant-protected people; 600 new lofts, apartments and condos were created in LoDo in the last decade, with 2,225 people now living in the area.

Colorado politicos, always desperate for attention, will get something they wanted out of this numbers game: another voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. Because of Colorado's growing population, the state is set to have seven congresspeople -- although deciding what part of Colorado that seventh person will be elected from could take quite a while.

Something the census didn't count was cows. But Colorado ranchers had to take stock of their stock following an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease that began in Britain in February. Although the incredibly contagious disease didn't make it to the United States, it managed to spread to other parts of Europe, where hundreds of thousands of cows were killed, as well as South America and South Africa.

And it still managed to touch off a panic in Colorado, one of this country's largest beef-producing states. Although humans supposedly can't catch the disease, they can carry it on their shoes. Thus, many cattle ranchers closed off access to their land and their herds. At Denver International Airport, special agents from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service scrubbed the shoes of anyone returning from England; the Colorado Legislature passed a law giving the Colorado Agriculture Commission permission to impose quarantines and destroy entire herds in the case of an outbreak in the state.

Sushi, anyone?

Unfortunately, the legislature did nothing about foot-in-mouth disease, which seems to infect its own members each and every spring. State senator John Andrews sustained bruises over the majority of his body after a particularly nasty bout. On March 26, right after female lawmakers were honored, Andrews took to the podium and announced that "ordinary logic and women's logic aren't always the same."

Get that guy some antibiotics.

A Spaced Odyssey

One of the strangest journeys of 2001 began on March 21, when Boeing CEO Phil Condit stunned the business world by announcing that after 85 years as the plane-maker's headquarters, Seattle just wasn't cutting it anymore. Instead, Condit said he wanted to relocate HQ to Chicago, Dallas...or Denver.

Although Condit denied that he was trying to start a bidding war, that's exactly what he got as all three cities began a frantic, theatrical, ass-kissing effort to land Boeing. Condit and a team of execs visited each city on two separate occasions, during which they were wined, dined and wined again before being flown from site to site in helicopters. In Denver, the pressure was turned up a notch at a high-powered event at the Governor's Mansion, with John Elway for star power.

In the end, though, even the king of last-minute comebacks couldn't help Denver; the toothy former quarterback couldn't compare to a VIP cocktail party and dinner at the famous Art Institute of Chicago featuring entertainment by a harpist, an Indonesian bell troupe, a children's choir singing "My Kind of Town" and a string quartet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra -- oh, and a $50 million incentive package (which dwarfed Colorado's offer). On May 10, Condit ordered the governors of Illinois, Texas and Chicago to stand by their phones. He then boarded a 737 business jet with three possible flight plans before making the suspenseful in-flight victory call to the winning, windy suitor.

A few business analysts wondered how Boeing could have passed Denver over, but Mayor Webb had an answer ready. "Am I disappointed? The answer is obviously yes," Webb told a reporter. "Am I depressed? Absolutely not. I would have been depressed if the Avalanche had lost last night." Hizzoner then moved on to a party at Maggiano's, where, alongside some Broncos cheerleaders, he helped slice the restaurant's millionth meatball -- a thirty-pounder -- and proclaimed May 10, 2001, as Maggiano's Millionth Meatball Day.

Hmmm. And Boeing didn't think Denver was sophisticated enough to be a world-class headquarters?

Not that "Beef" Wellington hasn't tried to establish Denver as a major player by initiating a series of inexplicable trade missions in such far-flung cities as London, Tokyo, Santiago and, this past year, Shanghai. Unfortunately for Webb, he and the rest of the 47-member Denver junketeers were setting up that most recent office when a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet on March 31, sparking an extremely tense international standoff in which the 24 crew members of the U.S. plane were briefly held hostage by the Chinese government.

 

Despite calls from citizens and politicians alike for Webb to cut the mission short, he remained in China. The brouhaha wasn't exactly what he had in mind for his ego-boosting venture, especially since he'd been roundly criticized for embarking on the trip in the first place. Many critics complained that the U.S. shouldn't trade with China because of its poor record on human rights -- and skinflints joined in the criticism, pointing out that the eight-day excursion cost Denver taxpayers more than $36,000. And then, only a few weeks later, Webb fired the new head of the trade office, Roland Tong, for undisclosed reasons. Tong had been pulling in an annual salary of $84,000.

Of course, the China mess was just one of many incidents that made 2001 a year that Webb would probably like to forget as much as anyone.

In mid-June, the three-term mayor gave his eleventh state-of-the-city address, in the process announcing that he wouldn't actively campaign for the Denver Botanic Gardens' planned $40 million bond initiative, since his first and only election priority would be a new jail. This information was a particularly brutal blow for the DBG, considering that Webb delivered his speech there. But Botanic Gardens karma got its revenge -- on the mayor's wife -- when a gust of wind blew an aluminum tent pole onto Wilma Webb's head seconds after the mayor finished his address. The dazed First Lady was treated on site by a doctor from Denver Health Medical Center, then transported to the hospital as a precaution.

Later that month, Webb reluctantly announced that he wouldn't run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican senator Wayne Allard, despite the mayor's excellent polling numbers and strong support. But by the time he got around to announcing his long-delayed decision, Webb had already angered a large sector of the local Democratic Party leadership, including state party chairman Tim Knaus. The situation got really ugly when former U.S. attorney Tom Strickland, who lost to Allard in 1996 (back when he was just a lawyer/lobbyist for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & soon-to-be-not Strickland), began publicly chiding Webb for not revealing whether he would be a candidate. Strickland, who wanted to run again, had earlier said he would back off if Webb entered the race but now announced that he was tired of waiting. Webb, who, when he finally backed out, would say only that the timing wasn't right, then accused Knaus and Strickland of conspiring against him. He has yet to endorse his fellow Democrat.

In July, Hizzoner got a lights-and-siren police escort to DIA. Webb was on his way to catch a flight to New Orleans for the funeral of his aunt when he realized that he'd left his wallet back home. In order to make his plane, he got into a marked city vehicle and sped to the airport. Witnesses told a local news station that the motorcade was traveling in excess of a hundred miles per hour.

Later this past summer, the mayor tried to exchange the trademark to the name Mile High Stadium for a twenty-year lease on a luxury suite at Invesco Field at Mile High -- somehow not understanding that the sweetheart deal would create a huge uproar in a year when the city had just passed a tough new ethics code. In the middle of said uproar, Webb canceled the cozy agreement between the city and the Metropolitan Stadium District Board, which owns the new home of the Denver Broncos, and revealed instead that he and a bunch of his cronies would buy a luxury suite themselves at a cost of $85,000 a year. (Note to Mayor Webb: Make sure you don't forget your wallet on this one, sir.)

In October, Mayor Moneybags engaged in an ill-advised and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to buy at auction the bus that Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of in 1955. Although the mayor -- along with a hastily organized coalition of local rich folks -- put up $407,000, they lost out to the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, which bid $427,919. Being that the historical event took place in Alabama, Webb's interest seemed a little out of place.

In November, the mayor was involved in a three-car accident near 17th Avenue and Humboldt Street; his security guard was driving Webb's official black Lincoln at the time. No one was injured, but the mayor-mobile was badly damaged.


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