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The opening frames of this video by the Denver Stapleton Neighborhood group won't have to be changed.
The opening frames of this video by the Denver Stapleton Neighborhood group won't have to be changed.

Stapleton Residents Vote to Keep Name Despite KKK Ties

The results are in, and the residents of Stapleton have overwhelmingly voted to retain the neighborhood's name despite an energetic campaign arguing that the area be rebranded because of the moniker's association with past Denver mayor Benjamin Stapleton, great-grandfather of former Colorado treasurer and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton and a onetime member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the end, the contest wasn't particularly close. In the vote, open only to property owners in the neighborhood that grew up around the land once occupied by Stapleton Airport, approximately 65 percent of voters were in favor of keeping the name, with around 35 percent opposed.

According to the Stapleton Master Community Association, which oversaw the process in conjunction with attorney David Firmin of Altitude Community Law, the turnout was impressive. The 34 percent of home owners in the neighborhood who returned ballots is said to be more than triple the number of typical Stapleton MCA elections.

As for Rename St*pleton for All, the organization that has been pushing for a new handle, it posted a response to the vote that reads in part: "We are disappointed and saddened by these results, but we are not especially surprised. The Master Community Association (MCA) initiated and administered this referendum; Rename St*pleton for All did not. In fact, we had asked the MCA to delay sending ballots because we believed that more conversations to promote understanding and community outreach on the issue should have occurred for all residents — renters and owners alike — before members or delegates were asked to vote." (The complete statement is shared below.)

In the December 2017 "Seven New Names for Stapleton," longtime Westword contributor and onetime Stapleton resident Teague Bohlen noted that the naming effort had started more than two years earlier and that the heritage of the onetime mayor, who served in the office for two long stretches (1923 to 1931 and 1935 to 1947), continued to linger. "The neighborhood that bears his name is over 80 percent white — a significantly higher percentage than in the surrounding areas, or even Denver as a whole," Bohlen pointed out. "When I lived in Stapleton, I encountered racist attitudes far too often; they were the expectation, not the exception."

With such attitudes in mind, Rename St*pleton for All requested that assorted stakeholder groups in the community remove Stapleton from their names — and the Colorado Independent reports that during 2017 and 2018, several did. In May 2018, the Stapleton United Neighbors board asked residents to vote on whether the organization should follow suit, and while a majority favored a switch to Central Park United Neighbors, the level of participation didn't hit the 66 percent mark required to make the switch permanent.

This development didn't dissuade Rename St*pleton for All from arguing in favor of more sweeping alterations. The group's website summarizes its mission with this: "We advocate for renaming public spaces that honor Denver’s former Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, a member, supporter and agent of the Ku Klux Klan, by educating the public, stakeholders, community organizations, leaders, and schools about the local history of white supremacy and the legacy of the KKK in present day Colorado."

The message resonated with just over a third of the Stapleton voters, as you can see:

This tally isn't the final word on the subject, but close. As explained by the Stapleton MCA, delegates "will send a non-binding recommendation on the name change to be determined by a final vote of the MCA Board of Directors. Brookfield, the master developer, has the power to veto the Board’s decision, but has publicly committed to accept the Board recommendation."

Such a veto would be a shock, and the Stapleton MCA has never been enthusiastic about a name change. Most comments by its representatives during public forums on the topic have focused on costs and legal challenges. But other outfits are shying away from the Stapleton brand. Last week, for example, Denver Parks and Recreation agreed to rename the Stapleton Recreation Center in Globeville, and this spring, the name of the Denver School of Science and Technology's original campus went from DSST Stapleton to DSST Montview.

As Patricia Calhoun reported in her June post about an effort to rename Mount Evans (whose namesake, second territorial governor John Evans, was forced to resign his post in 1865 because of his role in the Sand Creek Massacre), other local attempts at changing historically problematic names have found success, too. "This spring, the Cherry Hills Village City Council gave the name of Old Cherry Hills to a subdivision that had started as Swastika Acres, long before the Nazis adopted the symbol as their own," she wrote.

Here's the Rename St*pleton for All statement:

The majority of ballots cast by Stapleton property owners have voted against removing the name of a Klansman from the community name.

We are disappointed and saddened by these results, but we are not especially surprised. The Master Community Association (MCA) initiated and administered this referendum; Rename St*pleton for All did not. In fact, we had asked the MCA to delay sending ballots because we believed that more conversations to promote understanding and community outreach on the issue should have occurred for all residents — renters and owners alike — before members or delegates were asked to vote.

That said, we are grateful to those in our community who did reach out to their neighbors and had patient, honest, and brave conversations about whether our community name should continue to honor a Klansman. We thank our dozens of volunteers who distributed educational flyers throughout the neighborhood and who participated in our Community Conversation events in July. We also thank the many residents, community members, public officials, and organizations who raised their voices in support of renaming our neighborhood. And we especially thank all of our neighbors who were able to step out of their own experiences, who listened with empathy, and who voted accordingly.

Let’s build on this foundation. The outcome of this vote and a recent incident of racist graffiti in one of our parks point to a real need within the community and in Denver at large to educate ourselves about the times of Mayor Stapleton, the role of the KKK in Colorado politics, and the legacy that communities of color and difference in our city still live under today. The newly renamed DSST Montview has provided us with a roadmap for incorporating these lessons into school curricula. And as this vote has made clear, adults in our community could also benefit from this education; to that end, permanent exhibits or memorials would be some ways of achieving this. Acknowledging this history and bringing it to light are especially important if, for the time being, the name "Stapleton" will continue to designate the place where we raise our children.

Our work is not done. We love our neighborhood, and we invite all supporters to join us in doing the work to make our community one that truly welcomes and includes all.

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