|03-02-2007, 01:41 AM||#1|
Never say Always
Join Date: Jan 2003
Low Down in Mile High
Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007
Low Down in Mile High
By Bob Diddlebock
Ah, Colorado. Snow-tipped peaks, perfect powder, second-home heaven. Then there's Denver. Modern yet still Western, sunny, livable.
Of late, though, that idyllic picture of Mother Nature's playground has been sullied by a string of unconnected calamities, adding up to one long winter of discontent. Meteorological disasters, shocking deaths, bureaucratic fumbles and other improbabilities, all separate but equal in their impact, have confounded natives and newcomers alike.
First, the weather. Unusually heavy snowstorms have been hammering Denver since a Christmas-week monster stranded thousands, jamming many of the city's 14,000 blocks with huge chunks of ice and leaving golden-boy Mayor John Hickenlooper with a mile-high mound of woe. Seems that the city's snowplow corps didn't have enough muscle to handle the Buffalo-level cleanups. The response from ticked-off locals and the city-council president: "Hey, Mayor, wake the *&^%^@# up, will ya?"
Amid that, the high priests of Rocky Mountain football--the Denver Broncos--lost defensive back Darrent Williams early and violently on New Year's Day when he was gunned down driving along a city street hours after his underachieving team was eliminated from the National Football League playoffs. No one has been arrested, but police hint that the slaying may be gang related, spotlighting a problem that has been at a slow boil for years. Then, on Feb. 24, another Broncos player, Damien Nash, collapsed and died. More grisly but no less shocking was the death that same day of a Denver Zoo employee, Ashlee Pfaff, 27, who was mauled by a jaguar. "It has just been relentless," says Carey Zier, a Denver contractor who has lived in the city for all 50 of his years. "I've never seen anything like it. Very unsettling."
Political life has been unsettling too. Software failures and gaffes committed by the city's election commission bollixed last Nov. 7's election. The upshot: hundreds of perplexed and angry voters couldn't cast ballots. In January, days after moving into the Governor's office, the ever smiling Bill Ritter--a Democrat, of all things--stood accused of reneging on a campaign pledge, socking union leaders by vetoing a bill that would have made it easier to organize workers.
Denver has also lost its shine as an employment engine. Although economists are predicting 40,000 new jobs this year regionwide, Colorado still has a way to go to replace the 100,000 topflight postings plowed under during the tech bust a few years back. One consequence of slow job growth: Denver is among the nation's leaders in home foreclosures.
And the folks who do hold jobs have had to deal with federal investigators in a recently stepped-up effort to round up undocumented aliens. A bust at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley allegedly turned up several hundred illegals not long ago. That, coupled with the often scrambled remarks on immigration from Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, has strained what historically has been civil relations between Hispanics, now 20% of Colorado's 4.7 million population, and whites.
"I've ascribed our headline-making ability to various factors--the long-term effects of breathing rarefied air, the wind blowing in from the Rocky Flats [nuclear plant] cleanup, an apparent backlash from our isolation in the Mountain time zone," says G. Brown, a long-time Denver journalist and author. "Now, I just figure it's our responsibility to keep the wild in the Wild West."
Hickenlooper doesn't feel so obligated, and he isn't offering any theories about the string of events that have strung Denver out for months, diverting cocktail chatter away from the usual Range Rovers, real estate, skiing and where to get the best carrot juice. Major crime is down, the 2008 Democratic National Convention is coming to town, and the polls have been kind, so the mayor says he's feeling fine. He does remark that even "with all this bad news, people still like to live here."
Trouble is, the bad news may not be over. March is often the snowiest month of the year.
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