Year in Review: The Great Pretenders
In Colorado, 2006 will be remembered as the Year of the Great Pretender. Many of the most notorious newsmakers were people masquerading as someone or something they weren't -- leading secret lives, conning the public, boasting of a competency they didn't possess or taking credit for achievements and even crimes that were not theirs.
Among all these impostors and frauds, a few truly remarkable posers demand special mention. We can't bid this year adieu, shedding mock tears as it ebbs away, without first recognizing the greatest pretenders of them all.
Here they are, the Sham Seven, in ascending order of sincere, authentic, from-the-heart fakery.
7. BOB BEAUPREZ
Occupation: All-occasion candidate.
Offense: Walking contradiction. Partly truth, partly fiction.
A year ago, Bob Beauprez was an incumbent congressman with impeccable conservative credentials, a folksy backstory about milking the cows, a lack of any heavyweight Democratic opponent with statewide recognition -- and thus considered a shoo-in for the governor's office. So who was that rank impostor who went down in flames in November?
Call him Both Ways Bob.
Put aside all the incidental missteps of the campaign -- the unfortunate choice of a running mate who likened gay marriage to sheep marriage, the bad stats on the African-American abortion rate. The basic problem here was a campaign bereft of ideas, particularly ideas about who Bob Beauprez really is.
Both Ways wanted it every which way. He wanted to woo the party's ultra-righties away from upstart Marc Holtzman, and that meant slamming Referendum C, thereby alienating moderates, Governor Bill Owens and business leaders. He wanted to push his experience as a congressman but downplay his ties as a Washington insider. He wanted to blast Bill Ritter on immigration policy yet failed to come up with a coherent plan of his own. ("Illegal immigration? It's illegal," his horse-patootie ad boldly pointed out.) He was with Tom Tancredo when he wasn't against him. He wanted to be tough on national security issues and be "held accountable," he said, yet he defended the unauthorized use of a federal criminal database to supply ammo for his attack ads.
In the end, the former dairy rancher turned banker turned party go-to guy spun himself out of contention. Voters may not have figured out who Beauprez is, but they know the type: All hat, no cattle.
6. THE DENVER ELECTION
Occupation: Not for long.
Offense: Take a number. We'll get back to you.
No terrorist cell could have disrupted free elections in Denver last month more effectively than the city's own commissioners, who ran such a disastrous operation that you have to wonder if they're only pretending to be on our side. Clueless buffoons, or fanatical, expertly trained enemies of democracy? You decide.
If you want to discourage voter turnout, here's a master plan. Replace the old neighborhood precincts with a meager scatter of "voting centers." Send out mail-in ballots with erroneous postage information. Buy some complicated, half-assed voter-registration software for $85,000 and fail to test it (while turning down a proven system offered for free). Neglect to inform people that it will take weeks to hand-sort the absentee ballots. Then express bewilderment when the three-hour lines on election day turn the citizenry into homicidal maniacs and discourage an estimated 18,000 people from voting at all.
What? You can't handle a little inconvenience? Don't worry. These well-placed operatives, masquerading as inept bureaucrats, will have everything running fine in time for the May elections. Just wait.
5. ZURI-KYE MCGHEE
Occupation: Sexual predator.
Offense: Being damn good at his job.
It takes a certain something, really, to be able to pass yourself off as a fourth-grader when you're pushing thirty. For the past five years, Zuri-Kye McGhee pretended to be one of the boys. He cruised Aurora on a bicycle, helped kids with their homework and lured them to his apartment for sleepovers, promising video games and "workout" sessions that soon turned sexual.
He also did impersonations of Michael Jackson.
Apparently, one of the things it takes to pull this off is an understanding mom. Soldad McGhee allegedly introduced her son to his victims' parents, telling them he was thirteen and lived with his uncle, prosecutors say.
Last August, Zuri-Kye, now 32, was sentenced to 508 years in prison on multiple counts of child molestation. His victims, eighteen boys and one girl, ranged in age from nine to sixteen. Soldad also faces sexual-assault charges for her alleged role in aiding her son's attacks. She stood by Zuri-Kye when he faced similar charges in New Mexico in the 1990s (which were plea-bargained down to a single felony count) and defended his innocence on the latest charges. Boys will be boys, after all.
And women will be girls: A Special Dishonorable Mention goes to former Brighton Charter High School teacher Carrie McCandless. While not in McGhee's league, McCandless is charged with conducting a hot-and-heavy romance with a seventeen-year-old student; police say the affair led to a boozy night of dry-humping on a field trip to Estes Park and as many as 76 text messages between the pair in a single day. If nothing else, the 29-year-old McCandless may well be guilty of impersonating an adult.
4-2. (Three-way tie) JOHN MARK KARR, MICHAEL TRACEY and
Occupations: Pathological liar, pseudo-sleuth and ersatz prosecutor, respectively.
Offense: Pretending to conduct a murder investigation.
These three are a package deal. No single phony could have brought the Ramsey case back into the headlines like this. It took John Mark Karr, Michael Tracey and Mary Lacy -- all pursuing separate agendas yet remarkably in step, like synchronized swimmers -- to turn Boulder into a global joke once more.
The first essential ingredient in this steamy crock of bad karma is Karr, a man of many personae, an exotic herb amid the ditchweed. Alias Daxis. Boasts of intimate relations with young girls that may or may not have occurred. Known to chatter on about his "female side," perform Katharine Hepburn impersonations and express interest in sex-change surgery. Obsessed with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey to the point of composing an elaborate confession to the crime that manages to be implausible, repellent and twee all at the same time.
Next, add a few foamy pints of Tracey, the University of Colorado journalism professor who rose from academic obscurity to cable-show notoriety on the strength of his involvement in a series of slipshod documentaries about the case, defending JonBenét's parents and serving up other suspects. Always on the lookout for fresh fall guys, Tracey is approached by Karr online in the guise of Daxis. Just as eager to play dress-up, Tracey pretends to befriend the poor bugger.
Over the course of many months, the fake killer and his fake friend whip the fake confession into shape; Tracey supplies Karr with key details that fill in some of the gaps in his story. At the same time, Tracey helps detectives track down Karr so they can arrest him in Thailand and fly him back to Boulder, thereby helping the cause of justice itself -- not to mention the cause of the inevitable documentary to follow. Such a helpful fellow!
But the international uproar over Karr's arrest wouldn't have been possible without that vital third component, a dash of extra-thick District Attorney Lacy. She inherited the Ramsey mess from her predecessor but soon managed to simplify matters by publicly declaring that the most likely suspect was an intruder. Undeterred by the inconsistencies in Karr's story or Tracey's role in the whole business, Lacy went after Karr like Ignatz after Krazy Kat, brick in hand.
His DNA no match for the evidence, Karr is now a free man, famous for what he did not do. In their latest documentary, Tracey and producer David Mills are still pushing Karr as some kind of behind-the-scenes accomplice to the real killer. The bogus investigation cost Boulder at least $35,000 in real money and precious shreds of its criminal-justice system's tattered credibility, but Lacy soldiers on. "I feel bad for a community that questions what we did," she told reporters in August, defending the arrest.
Yeah, but we feel worse.
1. TED HAGGARD
Offense: Threw away a bright future in the church -- and perfectly good meth.
You were expecting maybe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
In this year of deceit, other people did more terrible things, with a greater impact on public trust, than Pastor Ted. But Haggard heads our list for the simple reason that his fall from grace is so emblematic of the deep divide within our national psyche, so evocative of the state of denial among our leaders of their own deep-rooted compulsions and moral myopia, so redolent of textbook self-destructive behavior, somessed up in the head.
Haggard wasn't just any preacher beset by temptation. He was president of the National Association of Evangelicals, head of the largest evangelical church in Colorado, a confidant of political titans and one of the most influential religious leaders in the country. Yet once a month or so, according to Mike Jones, he sought Jones's services as a male escort and occasionally asked him to score some meth.
Jones says this double life went on for at least three years. In stepping down from his pulpit, Haggard talked of "a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life." But if there was a war, it was a clandestine one his flock never saw. He embraced in private the kinds of things -- and the kind of person -- he denounced in public. And he did so right up until the time that Jones found out who he was and, fed up with all the Colorado Springs-based attacks on the so-called gay agenda, decided to introduce Private Ted to Public Ted.
What was surprising was how quickly Public Ted crumbled. In the course of 48 hours, he went from flat denial of any connection with Jones, to an admission that he'd bought drugs from him (but then thrown them away) and paid him for a massage, to calling himself "a deceiver and a liar" in his letter resigning as the pastor of New Life Church.
Like all disgraced stars, Haggard is now in rehab, working on his comeback. In the evangelical world, that involves repentance, forgiveness and a lengthy casting-out of any lingering demons of gayness. But the repulsive and dark part of Haggard's story isn't his conflicted sexuality or his possible drug habit. It's the deceit, the hypocrisy, the reckless disregard for those who trusted him and believed in him.
Evangelicals say people aren't born gay, they choose to be that way. But regardless of his orientation, Haggard did have the option of being straight, so to speak, with the people around him. He chose not to.
You say it's a shame? We thought so, too. Shame being the awareness of sin, Ted Haggard leads our Hall of Shame for 2006.
Let the healing begin.
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