So much changed this year, but so many things stayed the same. Denver's obsession with our changing media landscape continued, as did its fascination with the Broncos. Mayor Michael Hancock was elected to a third term, and the city's neighborhoods and culture and food scenes continue to evolve. Here are our ten most popular news stories of 2019:
"Marty Coniglio on Why He's Leaving 9News"
Denver doesn't really have celebrities, but there are a few faces that passersby on the street are sure to recognize. One belongs to Marty Coniglio, a weather forecaster at various local TV stations for the past three decades, most recently at 9News, where he's monitored Denver's ever-changing skies for fifteen years. But come December 30, Coniglio is signing off of the airwaves for good.
He says he is neither retiring nor being pushed out, and he's not leaving channel 9 for another station. "The honest answer is, I don't know what I'm going to be doing," he told us in November. Citing health issues that have made his early-morning shift difficult to manage, he says he's applied to positions that are totally unrelated to media, including a stint as a jet salesperson. While that didn't pan out, he's hopeful the skills he's amassed as a TV meteorologist will come in handy. "Meteorology is a pretty damn hard degree to earn," he told us, "but I think weather people are still viewed as being less serious and, frankly, less intelligent than their news counterparts. You're viewed as a smile and a haircut. So it can be very difficult to convince people about the huge array of skills you have to transfer. But I hope I can."
"The Message of Denver GoTopless Day"
Nipples are serious business in Colorado — and, as 2019 has proven, around the U.S. The Fort Collins City Council removed the topless ban aimed at women from its public nudity code in September (the ban had been unenforceable since February 2017 after a judge ruled it unconstitutional). The final nail in the coffin came when the federal appeals court for the 10th Circuit struck the ban down in February.
The so-called Free the Nipple movement could even make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three women in New Hampshire are asking the nation's highest court to consider the constitutionality of a city ordinance in the state that bans women from appearing topless in public. No doubt the 10th Circuit decision will appear in their case.
As Matt Wilson, co-organizer of the Denver GoTopless Day rally, put it to us in a story we published in August ahead of the local rally: "We have to remind society that while nudity and sexuality can overlap, they aren’t the same thing."
"Looks Like the Broncos Got Hosed on Stadium Naming Deal, Expert Says"
News came in the beginning of September three years in the making. On the 4th, the Broncos announced they had sold the naming rights to their stadium three years after Sports Authority, the previous owner of the naming rights, filed for bankruptcy protections. The lucky new company? Empower Retirement, a local firm that virtually no one had heard of before the announcement.
Empower might have been the subject of a few punchlines after the announcement, but it got the last laugh. The company got the 21-year deal for a song, said Darrin Duber-Smith, a marketing professor and senior lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver, as well as the state's acknowledged expert on sports sponsorships, for a story we wrote the day after the front-office announcement. "On the Broncos side, it looks funky," Duber-Smith said of the agreement to call the edifice Empower Field at Mile High. "You spent three years looking. You had the name of a dead company [Sports Authority] on the stadium for two years, and you refused to take it down. Then you finally took it down, but you didn't replace it with another venue-naming sponsor, so people got used to the Mile High Stadium name again. Then you announced, really without any warning, that an unknown company had bought the rights — and you announced it, without disclosing very much about it, to a very cynical fan base that's faced with one of the worst Broncos teams we've had since the 1960s."
The new name didn't bring much luck to the team, which has struggled this year for reasons totally unrelated to its stadium. We'll spare you the "empower" puns...
"AAA: Snowy Denver Driving Issues Were Your Fault, Dumbass"
The American Automobile Association might not be known for its saucy language, but its message was loud and clear after an October 10 snowstorm ripped through town. Who was at fault for all the traffic accidents? You, you nitwit.
A news blast issued on the 11th titled "Winter Driving: Here's What Went Wrong This AM" cited, as our Michael Roberts put it, "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data estimating that 'nearly 95 percent of all crashes are the result of driver error' before offering up a list of sample comments from folks who had problems during the storm, followed by responses intended to deliver the cold, hard truth."
AAA went on to list common gripes by commuters during snowstorms — car wouldn't start, tire pressure light came on, car sliding everywhere — and rebuke them in near-poetic fashion, not-so-subtly reminding drivers that, yes, we live in a wintry wonderland, and, why, yes, it is up to you to ensure your car is winter-ready.
"Pepsi Center Security Company Pushes Back Against Woman's Racism Claim"
We regret to inform you that 2019 was not the year we all learned to live in harmony. In mid-November, Gazella Bensreiti, a Muslim mother of three girls, claimed that a woman screening ticket-holders before a Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center told her to remove her hijab. "I explained to her that it was my hijab and that I would not be taking it off, to which she responded, 'I don’t care, you can’t come in with it on,'" Bensreiti wrote on her Facebook page. "I then asked if she’d be willing to take me to the side so that I could remove it and show her my entire head in private. Again, she told me no."
The employee in question worked for Argus, which handles security at the Pepsi Center. After the incident, the Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called a press conference to denounce what had happened. Argus quickly fired back, releasing security footage of the incident and claiming Bensreiti's claims of racial profiling were overblown. "Our employee is a 71 year old African American woman who has worked for Argus for 14 years and until this incident never once had been accused of discrimination, profiling or harassment," Argus president/CEO Dave Brower wrote in a statement. "The patron repeatedly pointed to our employee and another Argus colleague while calling them racists. Argus stands behind our employee."
A lawyer for CAIR responded to Argus's statement in a story we wrote detailing what had happened like so: "The fact that the employee who did this is a veteran security screener makes the incident even more concerning, rather than less. The NBA and Nuggets have a decision to make to either follow the law and implement policies that respect the rights and dignity of their fans that wear religious attire or to continue telling Muslims that they are not welcome."
"Is KOA Tanking After Switch From Rush Limbaugh to Alfred Williams?"
Back in February, Alfred Williams announced he was leaving his afternoon program at 104.3 The Fan for greener pastures at iHeartRadio's flagship KOA, replacing right-wing idol Rush Limbaugh.
Williams might be a Broncos and CU Buffs legend, but KOA listeners didn't quite take to the switch. In November, Roberts reported that overall ratings for KOA, at 94.1 FM and 850 AM, had been cut almost in half in three months. Meanwhile, ratings at Freedom 93.7, Limbaugh's new home in Denver, had nearly tripled.
"Forrest Fenn Mum on Warning About Treasure Hunt That's Cost Lives"
Forrest Fenn fancies himself a sort of modern pirate. The New Mexico-based author claims to have hidden $2 million in the mountains near Santa Fe, a treasure hunt so alluring it has claimed the lives of at least three Coloradans. New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas even asked Fenn to call off the search in 2017 after Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, died during his attempt to find the loot.
Revived media attention to the buried cash in June 2019 prompted at least one sheriff to issue a statement warning the public of the risks involved in the hunt. But as he has over the years, Fenn dug his heels in, telling us he had no comment about the stories, the warnings or anything related to his cash.
The West has no shortage of tall tales. Spare yourself the risk and just buy a lottery ticket.
"Inside the Massive I-25 Project That's About to Take Its First Step"
Loads of attention has been paid to the Central 70 project — and rightfully so. The Interstate 70 rebuild project severely impacts not only traffic, but the surrounding neighborhoods of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea.
No road project in Colorado is without controversy, but at least one proposal has been met with skeptical approval.
In describing the project, Roberts opened with this graph: "Interstate 25 from Santa Fe Drive to 20th Street is the busiest slab of Colorado's highway system, with an estimated 250,000 vehicles using at least part of it on a daily basis — and that number is expected to hit 300,000 by 2040. In the meantime, approximately 1,000 crashes per year, or around three a day, take place along this five-mile stretch."
The Colorado Department of Transportation has considered a few fixes to that boondoggle, and the winning proposal would consolidate the Union Pacific rail lines that now run parallel to Interstate 25 between the highway and Sixth Avenue with RTD's light-rail tracks, giving CDOT more room to improve I-25. A deal with Union Pacific to buy the rail could come as early as the end of this year or early next year.
"Kratom Imported by Denver Company Seized by the Feds"
Kratom remains a controversial subject, a savior for some dealing with crippling opioid addictions and a nightmare for others who can't kick it. It's controversial federally, too; in February, the owner of Denver-based Kratom Cafe USA told us the federal Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency seized 540 kilos of kratom he'd ordered, holding it for months with no resolution in sight.
"I think this is nothing short of government overreach and a violation of my rights, which is currently taking a toll on my business," Nicholas Moodley told us.
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"Op-Ed: Damn, but Denver Is Getting Lame"
The pen is certainly mightier than the sword, as proven by a May op-ed we published by Patrick J. Mims. Six words set off a firestorm of comments from readers who either vehemently agreed or disagreed with Mims.
I'm just back from San Francisco, and my Lyft driver today was this seemingly dorky white dude," Mims wrote. "We get to talking, and he used to be an amateur boxer. He actually went to this boxing high school. Now, he "just dances." What kind of dance, you ask? Breakdancing and that Street Crew shit. The guy was kinda dorky, but he did listen to good music. I asked him where he was from, and whaddya know...he's from the Denver area. This guy had depth, he had a personality. There's more to him than meets the eye. He is Colorado to the core.
"You don't meet Denver transplants like this. They never break the mold, they are exactly what they appear to be. There is no hidden anything. They are basic!!"
Fighting words, indeed.