by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
Castle Rock, Colorado
Sept. 12, 2007
DENVER MAYOR VOWS 'NO VIOLENCE,' BUT LAWSUIT LOOMS OVER SECURITY PLANS
DENVER, Colo., Sept. 12, 2007 -- In an exclusive interview with the American Reporter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper today vowed to keep the people of Denver and delegates to the Democratic National Convention safe, warning that he will tolerate "no violence and no disruption" and will try to protect the rights of anyone "engaged in lawful protests."
Hickenlooper has not revealed the city's security plans for the Aug. 25-28 event, but at least one protest organizer has told the American Reporter that his organization is prepared to take the city to court to force it to disclose security measures the city has planned.
Meanwhile, the Hickenlooper also rejected a Republican party leader's assertion that Denver's resources would be stretched too thin by the cost and logistics of the convention.
"We hope everyone has an opportunity to be seen and heard, but we must maintain the highest level of security. It's difficult," Hickenlooper admitted in an interview following a forum. "Our government demands a significant respect for free speech but how can we have security and dissent is the question." Though vague on specific plans for protestors, the hugely popular mayor told The American Reporter, "I hope all the people can be seen and heard."
Seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2004 Boston Democratic convention's reviled "free speech zone," Hickenlooper and Leah D. Daughtry, CEO of the DNC Committee, showcased the new face of the Democratic Party in the West - pro-business and pro-environment - while assuring critics their views and suggestions will be heard. Speaking at the first Community Forum in the "Convention Conversations" series, he told the forum that for the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) and Denver, "our highest priority is safety.
"The federal government's goal is zero percent risk," Hickenlooper said. Conceding that the U.S. Secret Service, whose job it is to provide security for presidential candidates and other dignitaries, will make the final call on security, he joked his goal would be "maybe zero point zero one percent."
Protestors' plans are not so vague. A spokesman for "Recreate '68," a group formed to "make sure our First Amendment rights are protected," told the American Reporter his group plans to demonstrate every day of the four-day convention.
"We're calling it the 'Four Day Festival of Democracy,'" Mark Cohen said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We're going to have music, food, workshops and training at a site removed from the Pepsi Center (convention site). "We're going to provide support for everyone coming to the convention, and we're planning the festival as an alternative to the current corrupt two-party system."
Cohen said the city is not doing enough to prevent a repeat of the barbed wire and cages of the past conventions and is frustrated by what he said was the city's "stonewalling" his group on specific plans for security. After many fruitless meetings with convention officials, police and even the U.S. Secret Service, he said he would not rule out legal action to force the city to reveal proposed security measures.
"It's in the city's' best interest to inform the public," he said. If necessary, he added, "we will force them to" reveal the plans in court. He cited numerous "seven-figure lawsuits" stemming from illegal and arbitrary arrests and incarcerations at the Boston and New York Democratic conventions that might erode the $160 million windfall expected from the convention.
In his interview with The American Reporter, Hickenlooper countered that his office is talking with all the groups involved and that planning was ongoing. "This will be as open as humanly possible," he said. "Denver Public Works is working with the police and Secret Service to ensure the safety of all participants."
Asked why an organization would protest at the premier event of a political party whose views almost mirror their own, Cohen said his group wants to bring attention to issues like immigration, end the Iraq war and universal health care, the building blocks of the Democratic assault on Republican candidates throughout the country.
"The troops are still in Iraq," he said. "They want a guest worker program, while we want to give foreign workers an opportunity to become legalized citizens. We want a single-payer health care system the same as every other industrialized country in the world has without the insurance company middlemen. The Democrats' plan will not meet the peoples' needs or control costs," Cohen said.
One forum attendee Wednesday said she had been at the Boston convention's so-called free speech zone. "It wasn't a very free or safe place to protest. What are we doing to make sure there are no incarcerations like in New York City and to make sure there are no infringements on our rights, " she asked.
The forum did provide a platform for both community issues as well as business interests. The committee announced a new online vendor directory to help Denver-area business owners connect with opportunities associated with the convention. Businesspeople were largely enthusiastic, thrilled to be part of a historic event and anxious to provide goods and services to the Convention crowds.
"I'm excited by the presence of the Democratic process," said Francie Fowler, of Group Sales Colorado, a group ticket agent. "I'm delighted and I think Denver businesses will benefit."
Hickenlooper bristled at a Republican party leader's claims that Denver will be stretched too thin and would end up losing money. Mary Smith, chairwoman of the Denver Republican Party, said in email to the American Reporter, "I think the convention coming here will stretch the city's resources and I challenge you to cover things like the outrageous amount of waste and litter that occur at events like this."
"We have not spent one penny of the city's money," Hickenlooper responded. "We're spending federal money and contributions, and even if there is a cost involved, there could be more than $250,000 a day in tax revenues for the city.
"Maybe the Republicans can say that I'm spending taxpayers' money raising funds for the convention in other areas of the city, but Denver does not have enough corporations to contribute," he said. "But my time spent fund raising is very beneficial because I'm promoting Denver around the country. It's like free advertising. No Republican could say that doesn't help Denver. This is not about the political parties," he told The American Reporter after the two-hour forum.
During the meeting, Hickenlooper tried to reassure those concerned about traffic and crowds. "We have handled major events like the Pope's visit, the NBA All-Star game and the Grand Prix and they all went smoothly, he said. "On nights when we have multiple sporting events we handle 150,000 to 180,00 people with no problems. There is no reason people should not be able to come down and participate. We will not make the mistake of persuading people to avoid downtown," he said.
There is one group, however, who might be afraid to show their faces. Randall Loeb, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, asked the DNCC to open a dialogue involving both the delegates and the homeless to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
"These people living rough are scared," he cautioned. Loeb, formerly homeless himself, said the street people wonder what will happen to them. "I would like to see you listen to the views of the homeless," said Loeb, addressing the committee, "and work toward ending the scourge of being homeless, and actually do something about it, not just sweep it under the radar."
Hickenlooper cited statistics showing a 36-percent drop in chronic homelessness in the last few years, along with efforts to get the people off the streets and into job training or drug rehabilitation programs. "This saves the community money and that's the kind of model we want the rest of the world to see," he said. Loeb disagreed with the mayor's numbers.
"Homelessness is still a problem and it's getting worse with all the foreclosures and more people coming into the area," he complained. "The traditional method is to move these people out, and they may not have any choice. If it's a kid or someone just out of a program or someone with no ID, they will be arrested. The issue is, they feel vulnerable."
Cohen agreed with Loeb, noting that the city is planning to open more shelters "just to sweep the homeless off the streets." He said his group plans to provide places for people to go, free food and health and legal clinics.
While there was tension surrounding some issues, Hickenlooper and Daughtry were upbeat at the forum. "We are going to ensure that all of Denver's communities have an opportunity to get a piece of the pie," Daughtry said.
"There will be 35,000 delegates, 15,000 international visitors and countless journalists," Hickenlooper said. "We want to fill their eyes with images of Denver and the West. We want to show the world how people here in the Rocky Mountain region can do anything." He encouraged everyone to get involved to make the convention a success.
"Every one of us has to be talking to friends and family and let them know about this and encourage participation," he said, echoing the "grassroots" push from the Democrats. "If we are not talking, reaching out to the whole state and region, we are leaving something on the table," advised Hickenlooper, a successful businessman and restaurant owner.
"This is going to be fun. I really believe this time next year we will be looking back on the most incredible experience in our lives - the greenest, most innovative, most exciting convention ever."
Daughtry added that the "secret" of conventions is that most delegates have nothing to do until the gavel opens the convention; he called the time frame "an untapped resource." Hickenlooper encouraged businesses to let everyone know about the convention.
"We're working with some innovative things never done before," the mayor said. The DNCC has arranged for major search engines to provide information to local business owners about how to increase their online presence in the run-up to the Convention. He added that efforts would not be limited to the Denver metropolitan area.
"People are losing faith with the Republicans," he said. "We will be selling western core values, urban and rural. Anyone can achieve anything. That is the story tied to our rural areas. I have talked to the governors of all the western states about their relevance in this moment of time.
"If we take our ranching history out of Denver," he said, "we are just Cincinnati or Indianapolis."