Three generations is what passes for old money in Denver. So it's not surprising that along with the Hirschfeld name and the family's tremendous wealth comes a great deal of accumulated power and influence.
Much of that influence has been used in the traditional ways of electing politicians and helping various charities. Although Barry Hirschfeld has not held office like his grandfather or closely advised the mayor like his father, he has not been shy about dipping into the family pocketbook to fund a wide range of candidates.
Nationally, he has cut checks to candidates as diverse as Coloradans Tim Wirth, Richard Lamm and Hank Brown, Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, Oregon senator Bob Packwood and both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
Locally, he was an enthusiastic backer of former mayor Federico Pena (but only after he'd already beat Ed Hirschfeld's candidate and friend, Bill McNichols). Most recently, he threw his support behind Norm Early in the former district attorney's unsuccessful mayoral bid against Wellington Webb. He also used his contacts and influence at City Hall to play a pivotal role in convincing city lawmakers to hike the Cultural Facilities District tax--the same levy his father had helped pass several years earlier.
And, as his father and grandfather did, Barry Hirschfeld has thrown himself into all manner of charitable activities. He has been the chairman of the Denver Art Museum and has sat on the boards of a wide range of organizations, from the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, Boy Scouts of America and the Boettcher Foundation to Public Service Company of Colorado. "This is obligatory," he explains. "It's part of the Hirschfeld ethic."
Yet the Hirschfelds have also played their extensive political contacts for personal gain. For instance, it appears as though Barry was not above using the family's political clout to attempt to help him in his land deals.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Hirschfeld and his wife attempted to develop a Cherry Creek apartment complex called Mountain Shadows. Under the zoning requirements at the time, the land was designated R-3. Among other things, that meant that the floor space of the building could not exceed three times the area of the lot.
In 1978 Hirschfeld requested a zoning variance for the property. It was hardly a small matter: He asked that the city allow him to exceed the floor-space restrictions by more than 40,000 feet. Zoning administrator Anthony Jansen quickly shot down the request.
Hirschfeld appealed to the city's Board of Adjustment. Part of the job of the board was to review disputed decisions of the zoning administrators. The board was appointed by then-mayor McNichols. Although he was only a silent partner of his son's, Ed Hirschfeld, still a close advisor to the mayor, sat in on the appeal. The Board of Adjustment overturned Jansen's decision, giving Barry Hirschfeld the go-ahead to disregard the zoning restriction.
Outraged, two local residents, along with the South Central Improvement Association and Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, filed a lawsuit charging that the Board of Adjustment had acted irresponsibly. In May 1979 a district court judge agreed. In a blistering decision, the judge refused even to allow the board to reconsider its decision and simply overturned it.
Since the strike at Hirschfeld began two months ago, union officials have charged that Hirschfeld has used his position on various cultural boards to win printing contracts. There is no evidence to support that. But there are plenty of examples showing how Hirschfeld is nevertheless wired very tightly into Denver's business and political communities.
Since Hirschfeld began serving on the Denver Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau board of directors, for instance, A.B. Hirschfeld Printing has won several contracts to print the organization's publications, which are mailed out to tourists and conventioneers. Despite the appearance, that is not necessarily a conflict of interest: The contracts are let to publishers, who then subcontract out the printing work.
Still, sources close to the bureau's board who asked not to be identified say that Hirschfeld's bids for the printing work frequently seemed to come in very late and just under the low bid. Although there was never any indication that Hirschfeld had tampered with the bids, one source says that a local accounting agency was retained to accept the sealed proposals so as to prevent any future problems.
Even that move did not entirely block Hirschfeld's network, however. At the time, Al Luthy was president of JWJ Publishing, which had the contract to publish the guides. Luthy recalls that soon after the bids were received by the accounting firm, he learned that Hirschfeld already knew the results--even before they had been reported to JWJ, which was letting the contract.