The Dems Versus Labor in Denver

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Garrett W. Ellwood / NBAE / Getty

The Pepsi Center in Denver, future home of the DNC

The talk of Denver is how the 2008 Democratic Convention, which would be a perfect showcase for this newly left-leaning region, may be thwarted by a local labor leader so passionate he once picketed a Bruce Springsteen concert. That concert was being held in the city's Pepsi Center, and Jim Taylor, head of Local No. 7 International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, thought that the Boss shouldn't perform in an arena that refused to sanction unionized workers. The Pepsi Center still doesn't have union labor — and it is the proposed site of the Democratic Convention

Denver is the current favorite for the convention because the only other serious candidate, New York City, seems to be making only a half-hearted bid. The Mile High City is seen as a good jumping-off point for a West eyed hungrily by Democrats. Of course, Denver has long been a Democratic stronghold — with Mayors John Hickenlooper and Federico Pena and Congresswomen Pat Schroeder and Diana DeGette — though the state of Colorado can tilt red or blue, depending upon the whims of independents. The past election marked a transition from Republican Governor Bill Owens to Democrat Bill Ritter. Nevertheless, Denver's effort to win the '08 convention has been stalled because of Taylor's refusal to rule out demonstrations at the convention if he is not allowed to organize at the Pepsi Center. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean initially was going to announce Democrats' decision prior to Christmas but now has delayed it until later this month.

Debbie Willhite, executive director of the Denver 2008 Host Committee, says, "[Taylor feels he] should be able to get into the Pepsi Center to be able to organize. Pepsi Center is privately owned. He's trying to get some leverage." Taylor's protestations have also highlighted the way Republicans will profit from a Democratic convention in Denver. The Pepsi Center is is owned by Kroenke Sports Enterprises, a.k.a. Stanley and Ann Walton Kroenke. She is the niece of Sam Walton, the conservative Republican who founded Wal-Mart. The couple, residents of Columbia, Mo., have contributed generously to individual Republican campaigns as well as to the Republican National Committee. Denver Mayor Hickenlooper, while acknowledging the Kroenkes' Republican ties, defended the choice of the Pepsi Center, saying the enterprise "showcases our unique spirit of collaboration."

Taylor and Local No. 7 are the only labor holdouts to a deal. Says Willhite: "Mr. Taylor let me know from early on that he had some issues about the Pepsi Center. After Denver's labor federation voted to support the convention, we thought that took care of that, and all the unions would be supportive. But as we got down to the final parts of the package, one of them being a labor agreement signed by the unions that would be involved in the build-out and actual conduct of the convention, Jim said he couldn't sign it. We're now working with Mr. Taylor and other union officials to come to an agreement that Mr. Taylor will be able to sign." National labor leaders are reportedly leaning on him hard. "Jim's not talking to the press," said Taylor's office.

Hardly anyone wants to lose out on a convention that could generate hundreds of jobs and more than $150 million for the local economy. Denver officials hope to have everything straightened out by the end of the month. But first it has to get Jim Taylor to bend.