Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver's Star-Spangled Bungle: Simmer in the City

It was a bad week for the city to turn down its air-conditioning and turn up the emphasis on Cool Biz, the energy-saving plan that Mayor John Hickenlooper had announced last Thursday. City Hall was already muggy on Tuesday, July 1, and the place really heated up after Rene Marie substituted the words from "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the Black National Anthem, for the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Hickenlooper's fifth State of the City speech.

By Wednesday afternoon, Hickenlooper was so hot over all the attention the stunt had gotten --and the fact that Marie was telling the media a different story, or two, than she'd told him, when she'd said it was just a moment of "artistic expression" -- that he called another press conference to read what he said would be his final statement on the matter.

I happened to be driving by City Hall at the time, saw all the gathered news vans, and decided to watch the show. I haven't seen Hickenlooper this mad since back in 1989 or so, when Westword printed that the then-barkeep had given Mayor Federico Peña a pair of "birthday bongs." It was an innocent typo -- he'd given Peña bongos -- but Hick thought we'd pulled a switcheroo. The sort of "switcheroo" that Marie pulled when she sang the words of the Black National Anthem to the tune of the other National Anthem, a mix that's part of her "Voice of My Beautiful Country medley."

"We expected her to sing the National Anthem, and she deceived us," Hickenlooper told the many cameras. "Her actions show a certain lack of understanding for how strongly our community feels about patriotic symbols and traditions, and certainly overshadowed a day of great importance to our city."

And to city workers. Hickenlooper's staff had spent weeks pulling together the material behind that State of the City speech, a catalogue of the hard, and often unglamorous, work the city had done, and the hard work left to do. He'd spent the weekend writing the speech. A speech that no one is talking about, because the story's all about the Star-Spangled Bungle.

The heat is on, and with the Democratic National Convention just fifty days away, Denver won't cool off anytime soon. -- Patricia Calhoun

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun