Thursday, September 17, 2015

An Appropriate Memorial - Opinion by Phil Goodstein

 For years, Denver never named public facilities after members of city council. Beginning with the dubbing of the land near 15th Street and Cleveland PlaceMacIntosh Plaza” in the early 1980s, this started to become a trend. It recalled the establishment stalwart who had served on council from 1959 to 1980, never challenging the worst of the status quo. Then, in 1990, council had honored the city’s first black member of the body, Elvin Caldwell, with a small plaza at 26th Avenue and Emerson Street adjacent to the Five Points Community Center. The Blair-Caldwell Library, opened nearby in 2003, further honored him. By this time, the city had memorialized former councilmen Hiawatha Davis and Bill Scheitler with existing recreation centers.

The man who defeated Davis in the race to replace Caldwell on council in 1980, King Trimble, was honored in 2004 with the “Economic Prosperity Center” at 2980 Curtis Street. Failing to bring prosperity to the neighborhood, it soon became the home of a charter school. Elbra Wedgeworth, who was Mayor Wellington Webb’s handpicked candidate to succeed Davis in the seat in 1999, was always a dependable supporter of the administration and the estab-lishment. The city honored her in 2014 by designating a major wing of the Five Points Community Center for her.
Shortly after his death in 2005, Denver Public Schools recalled black Park Hill city councilman Bill Roberts (1971–90) with a charter school near Montview Boulevard and Akron Street. For some years, Roberts clashed with Caldwell. Eventually, he was a right-hand man of Federico Peña, especially in pushing through Denver International Airport. By that time, his early crusades against a racist establishment had long disappeared, especially when he was on the receiving end of numerous government efforts to reward black entrepreneurs who heralded working within the system.
Besides being the political patron of Davis, Caldwell was also something of the godfather of Wellington Webb. As mayor, the latter showed himself an egomaniac. Despite a statute prohibiting naming public buildings for an incumbent, he got his rubber-stamp city council to designate a new city office building for him. For the most part, it was sealed to the public, complete with extremely unfriendly private guards whose primary function was to keep everyday citizens out of the public space. The naming was indicative of a thoroughly insecure politician afraid that he would not have a legacy without having his name attached to a building.
Webb had a point. Lacking buildings recalling them, it is doubtful if many would remember Scheitler or Davis, both of whom served on council under Webb. In office, neither stood out as crusaders working to change bad policies and reorient the direction of the city. Indeed, it is hard to recall any memorable acts associated with their careers on council. To his credit, Davis had been a draft resister who preferred prison to joining the military during the Vietnam War era. In the early 1970s, he had loudly opposed Caldwell when he projected himself as a most militant black nationalist. None of this was part of dedicating what had been the Skyland Recreation Center in his memory.

Now a push is underway to christen a long-delayed, well-over budget, and far less than promised Capitol Hill recreation center for Carla Madison.

She won the seat of Caldwell–Trimble–Davis– Wedgeworth in 2007. The white victor was something of a darkhorse against the black establishment candidate, Sharon Bailey—the latter ran a hideously bad campaign.  Despite suffering from cancer, Madison had an excellent record of attending council sessions until her untimely death just before the 2011 balloting.  In office, she never took on the administration.  At no time did Madison stand out as a bold opponent of the status quo, offering alternative programs that eventually emerged as triumphant.  No more than Davis or Scheitler did she leave behind a legacy as a model for those seeking relief from the 17th Street domination of the city. 
Part of Madison’s district included North Capitol Hill.  The only modern member of council from that neighborhood who came close to showing the possibility of a different approach from business as usual was Cathy Donohue.  She ran as a rebel in 1975.  On council, she joined with other insurgents in challenging the Bill McNichols administration, eventually besting the mayor on some crucial issues. Nor did Donohue go along with the corporate orientation of the Federico Peña administration.  Eventually, she made her peace with Webb in 1994, taking a city job to assure she had a good pension.  In retirement, she has again voiced her views, challenging city policies that have virtually given parks away to politically well-connected business interests. 
If politicos urgently believe they have to name the Capitol Hill center for one of their own, an even better choice than Madison would be Donohue’s immediate predecessor in district #10, Bob Koch.  He was the personification of the bozos who have long led many to mock council as a dead end for drunks.  An affluent oil man who was a vestige of conservative, elite Capitol Hill, he committed suicide just before the end of his term to avoid having to report to jail for a hit-and run accident and lying about it.  Or there was C. Paul Harrington, a backer of the Chamber of Commerce who represented central Capitol Hill on council from 1933 to 1959.  He lost his re-election bid during the latter year when the United States attorney’s office announced a grand jury had indicted him for income tax evasion the day before the runoff balloting. 
Madison, who was most responsible in attending endless committee meetings and dealing with the nuts-and-bolts concerns of most of her constituents, was far and away above the tradition of Harrington and Koch.  Still, she did nothing to deserve the honor of being memorialized by a city building.  On the contrary, she was essentially an echo of then Mayor John Hickenlooper with his commitment to the corporate control of the government.  Additionally, she was with the mayor in backing the broken-window theory of policing, an effort essentially making poverty a crime. 
The councilwoman was also a personification of the mayor’s claim that a “creative class” should be the heart of the city.  This was the snobbish rhetoric appealing to people who consider themselves highly enlightened.  Generally, they have all the wit of those who participate in coffeehouse poetry readings in believing they are on the cutting edge of fine literature.  Even at that, Madison was a skilled artist.  Typical of her personality was that her wedding was a joint venture in Denver and Las Vegas, the latter city being the epitome of empty illusion of faux sophisticates.  Even so, Madison was, far and away, the most colorful member of council, a body otherwise dominated by professional politicians, some of whom had never had a real job outside of the government. 
Madison’s one big initiative on council was working to privatize the parks.  In particular, collaborating with Chuck Morris of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, she called for fencing off City Park to the public so a private corporation could profit by endlessly blasting noise through the green as part of the Mile High Music Festival.  The Zoo vetoed the event, realizing the ear-splitting racket would endanger its animals.  This protection of public peace and tranquility was beyond the councilwoman.  Far from discussing her views with constituents, she refused to speak to some of the critics of the event, especially when they brought out she had made a video backing the event before the Anschutz Entertainment Group had publicly announced the venture. 
The drive to name the recreation center for Madison (led by her husband, who, with Madison, had no understanding of the concept of  conflict-of-interest) says nothing about the highly dubious real estate deal by which the city acquired the property for it at Colfax Avenue and Josephine Street from a crony of Mayor Hickenlooper.  Nor does it explain Mayor Michael Hancock’s sudden 180-degree reversal on building it.  He found the money for it when he urgently needed the vote of Capitol Hill councilwoman Jeannie Robb for his highly dubious park policies and purge of the parks and recreation advisory board.  As it is, Taxpayer Sucker Recreation Center is the most descriptive title for the facility. 


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