Denver, CO -- Oct. 7 - 10, 2005

Rocky Mountain News
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Columbus Day sails rough sea

Mayor tries to steer compromise course on divisive holiday

By April M. Washington, Rocky Mountain News
October 7, 2003

Columbus Day activists on Monday urged Mayor John Hickenlooper to help move protesters and supporters beyond the racial hatred and divisiveness that, in the past, have surrounded the annual parade.

Hickenlooper met separately Monday with pro- and anti-Columbus Day groups, hoping to find common ground in advance of two parades and a protest Saturday.

The talks did little to soften the resolve of either side, although protesters and parade organizers characterized the conversations with Hickenlooper as frank and honest.

"The mayor asked, 'Is there any room for common ground?' " said George Vendegnia, a Columbus Day parade organizer. "They only way they'll be happy is if we remove the word 'Columbus.' That's not going to happen. What common ground is that if you take away our First Amendment right to celebrate our Italian heritage?"

American Indian activists urged Hickenlooper to cut back the number of police assigned to patrol Saturday's events.

Protesters also urged the mayor to begin denying parade organizers permits, arguing that the Columbus Day celebration represents a form of hate speech.

They complained that the Denver Police Department assigned more than 650 officers to keep the peace last year at cost of $250,000.

"This is a fine opportunity for the new administration to hold out Denver as a example of racial harmony and cultural sensitivity," said Glenn T. Morris of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, who helped organize the opposing Four Directions/All Nations March on Saturday. "The mayor needs to take the moral leadership of the city to move us beyond the hatred and division over the Columbus Day."

Said American Indian activist Russell Green: "We feel, based on our record of nonviolence, it's unnecessary for the police to dress in their turtle suits and have such a large presence."

Hickenlooper did not comment after the closed-door meetings.

Sarah Elliott, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, said Hickenlooper listened to both sides' concerns and felt encouraged that they could "work toward some type of resolution, although they disagree on what that might be."

Denver held the nation's first Columbus Day celebration near the turn of the 20th century.

The day became a federal holiday in 1971.

In recent years, Denver's Columbus Day events have become part of a debate over whether Christopher Columbus - a heroic explorer to some and murderer of native people to others - should be revered or hated.

Copyright 2003, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.