Off Limits

Quick! Before the half-dozen declared candidates in Denver's May 2003 mayoral election start slinging mud around, there could be just enough time to clean up the muck left by recent political dirty tricks. Among the muddiest: the anti-Wayne Allard ad tagging him as a hater of children (more on that later) and the anti-Tom Strickland ad chastising him for labeling terrorism a by-product of "hopelessness," when, in fact, it's a direct result of "evilness." Evilness? What's wrong with plain, pure "evil"?

Apparently the dictionary's preferred usage just wasn't redundant enough for a Senate race that was, after all, a rematch of the 1996 race.

And speaking of redundant, it was 1995 all over again on one downtown corner last Saturday night, where the front of a Westword distribution box displayed not the current issue, but a pristine paper from October 11, 1995. Its cover featured then-brand-spanking-new Senate candidate Strickland, back in the days when he was a lawyer-lobbyist with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Strickland, the law firm known as The Firm for its powerful hold not just on Denver, but Colorado, the country and much of the known universe. Strickland was soon to leave The Firm, taking his name with him, so that he could make his first run for Senate with as little baggage as possible; by the time he ran again, he possessed a far more extensive resumé, including a stint as U.S. Attorney for Colorado. (He took office the day after the April 20, 1999, slaughter at Columbine High School.)

As dirty tricks go, the paper switch was piddling -- but it was a puzzler, nonetheless. Where had the seven-year-old paper come from, and why put it in a box on the 500 block of 17th Street? Perhaps not coincidentally, that box has a high-profile neighbor: What's now known as Brownstein Hyatt & Farber has been headquartered at 410 17th Street for over two decades, with notorious firm founders and fixers Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein ruling the roost throughout that time. And the more things change, the more they stay the same: In one of the biggest downtown deals in months (although given the current economy, that's not saying much), the 95-lawyer firm just added offices on floors 20 through 23 to the 62,000 square feet it fills on floors 19 through 22. But while there might be a few copies of Westword's old story about the firm's former partner stashed in that space, how one had landed in a newspaper box twenty floors below remains a mystery.

"That is really strange," says Steve Farber. "Blame it on Norm."

Or blame it on just as unlikely a candidate: Jared Polis, for example, who won his expensive seat on the Colorado Board of Education in the 2000 election and was one of several millionaires trying to influence this one. (Polis was the prime proponent of Amendment 30, which pushed same-day voter registration.) Last month, Republican State Party Chairman and former -- and failed -- gubernatorial candidate Bruce Benson took aim at the twenty-something Polis because that child-hating Allard attack ad had been funded by the Washington, D.C.-based ECM, a liberal political education group (Rob Reiner was one of its founders) that happened to make use of Polis's amendment campaign office for a mailing address.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for this so-called child-abuse watchdog group to join political hands with Jared Polis, a man who praises the misogynist lyrics of rapper Eminem," Benson charged, citing an August op-ed piece that Polis had penned for the Rocky Mountain News. "Polis applauds Eminem, claiming the rapper's lyrics promote traditional family values. If rape and murder constitutes good family values, I would hate to see Polis's idea of what it takes to raise a healthy child."

But even before Benson took aim at Polis, the young politician had taken a beating in the News's letters section for statements such as this: "We are lucky as a society to have someone of Eminem's talent and insight reaching such a mass audience with moral messages to fill a void that our so-called 'real' leaders refuse to address in a meaningful way."

Don't expect Bruce Benson to be first in line when 8 Mile, Eminem's feature-film debut, opens this weekend. And do expect to see Polis's News essay emerge as an issue the next time he dares to stick his head -- and his millions -- into a political fight.

Meanwhile, back to redundancy: Maybe it's 1987 all over again! How else to explain the resurrection of former senator Gary Hart, whose presidential aspirations were sunk by Monkey Business with non-lawyer/lobbyist Donna Rice? First, pundits on last Sunday's Meet the Press, in predicting Strickland's election, likened him to pro-environment Colorado liberals of old, like Hart and former senator Tim Wirth. But former Clintonite George Stephanopolous took it a step further on This Week that same day, reporting that Hart was taking "a serious look" at running again for president in 2004 -- a fact confirmed in the press the next day.

Empty nester: Now that Brinsley Burbidge, the controversial director of the Denver Botanic Gardens, has stepped down, the DBG has apparently decided to do a little housecleaning. Specifically, the nonprofit plans to sell a 4,428-square-foot house that it owns at 1060 Race Street.

When prominent Denverite Betty Yates, a neighbor and supporter of the DBG, passed away five years ago, the stately old home where she and her husband, Richard, had lived since the '50s became the property of the DBG. (She'd left the three-story house to the Gardens in her will.) The Yates home had been divided into three units many years earlier, and after Burbidge arrived at the DBG in 1999, he moved into one of them -- while reportedly living in another was a female DBG employee whose close personal relationship with Burbridge became a subject of speculation among other Gardens employees and, ultimately, an issue brought before the DBG board of directors.

Now the official word from the Gardens is that the board came to view the home as "an idle asset" that was costing the institution more than it was worth. "It has major plumbing issues" and other maintenance problems, explains spokeswoman Holly Jones, adding that the generous gift from the Yates family didn't come with a stipulation on how the home was to be used. If and when a buyer comes along, the Gardens could realize a nice windfall: The asking price is $795,000.

The family wasn't notified that the house was finally being put on the market, according to Scott Yates, one of Betty and Richard's many grandchildren, but the decision didn't surprise them, he says.

In fact, the big surprise for many at the Gardens was that the DBG director would take up occupancy in the donated home, however temporary his tenure. With Burbidge gone, that thorny problem has been removed.

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