100 days to DNC day, Denver says it will be ready
Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DENVER (AP) ” Outside the Pepsi Center, it doesn’t look like much is happening. But with 100 days to go to the opening session of the Democratic National Convention, Denver says it will be ready.
Audio, lighting and scenic designs for the center are complete, and initial designs for the podium and stage have been drawn up. Denver hired a veteran in emergency preparedness to draw up plans for any contingency during the event, including civil unrest like the protests that shook Seattle during a World Trade Organization meeting in 1999.
“We are on time and on target,” insisted Katherine Archuleta, spokeswoman for the city’s convention office.
Natalie Wyeth, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee, said the real construction work won’t begin at the Pepsi Center until July 7, when the committee takes control of the building. But she insists everything is on schedule.
All the city is waiting for now is a nominee, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battle it out for the delegates needed to win.
“Once we have a nominee, our production team is ready to put the nominee’s stamp on the look and feel of the convention hall,” Wyeth said.
The Aug. 25-28 convention is expected to draw nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates and thousands more family members, media, lobbyists, protesters and others.
Denver last hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1908, when the party nominated William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska in his third unsuccessful effort to become president.
The past year and a half have not been without problems and controversy.
Soon after the convention site was announced, labor unions, a backbone of the Democratic Party, revolted over the lack of union workers at Denver-area hotels, problems over contracts with stage hands, and the temporary use of union labor at a nonunion venue, the Pepsi Center.
Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter stepped in, meeting with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and promising to work with him to resolve problems.
State AFL-CIO executive director Mike Cerbo said most of the issues have been worked out, including a contract negotiated with the main hotel and a guarantee union labor will be used at the convention site. Cerbo expressed confidence the others will be resolved before thousands of union members begin arriving in August as convention delegates.
Fundraising remains a problem for Colorado Democrats, who are committed to raising $40.6 million to stage the event. Mayor John Hickenlooper told the Denver City Council this week that organizers have about $25 million in cash and another $5.5 million in firm commitments. But with a deadline of June 16, Hickenlooper ” who’s traveled tirelessly around the country soliciting funds ” said he’s worried the city will fall short because time is rapidly running out.
The extended Obama-Clinton race has complicated matters, siphoning donations that could have gone to the convention.
Armed with $50 million in federal security funds, Denver also is planning for protests.
The city hired Ellis M. Stanley Sr., a veteran in emergency preparedness, to direct its Office of Emergency Management work for the convention. Stanley supervised planning for the 1988 Democratic convention and the 1996 Olympic Games, both held in Atlanta.
One protest group, Recreate 68, vows to occupy one of Denver’s most prominent parks with thousands of demonstrators the same day the convention’s host committee holds an event there. Recreate 68, a coalition of grass-roots organizations that opposes the two-party system, has pledged nonviolent protest and was awarded two other days at the same park.
Permits to hold events at 12 downtown parks during the convention were awarded by lottery.
Protest march routes are on hold until the Secret Service and a host of other federal, state and local agencies devise a security cordon around the convention site and establish parade routes.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit seeking to expedite that process and to ensure demonstrators have close access to the convention. Cage-like areas for protesters ” made of concrete barricades, netting and razor wire ” were used to control crowds at the 2004 convention in Boston, and the ACLU said it hopes to prevent their use.
Colorado political consultant Floyd Ciruli said convention planners may have underestimated the number of people who will show up and may not have the resources needed to deal with them. He noted that Democratic Party caucuses and primaries saw unprecedented turnout and warned that could also happen during the convention.
“They based their planning on normal conventions in Boston and Los Angeles, but this campaign has been anything but normal. It’s had twice the turnout and twice the passion. To that extent, I don’t think they can feel comfortable,” he said.
John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said it’s unlikely Denver would respond to civil unrest with the violence that rocked Chicago in 1968 and he believes Denver has done all it can to prepare.
“I think they’re probably as ready as you can get,” he said.
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Recreation and travel in Glenwood Canyon will be much more hazardous due to the potential rockfall and debris flows originating from destabilized ground, rock and weakened trees burned by the Grizzly Creek Fire last summer.