Keeping an eye on things 

Local leaders like to hail Colorado Springs as a "World Class City," but in reality it's a mad, mad, mad, mad town.

That doesn't mean that nothing happy happens here, so please all you Chamber types, don't start fuming. But our city experiences more than it's share of wackiness -- and sometimes less-than-exemplary behavior -- and one has to look no further than the local media for proof.

Let's consider Chuck Baker. The longtime radio talk show host really knew how rile 'em up. In his heyday during the early-'90s, Baker milked the anti-government citizen militia movement for all it was worth. One of his guests, movement leader Linda Thompson, went on the airwaves and claimed that the city's new traffic cameras were there only so Big Brother could watch you. She advised people to "shoot-'em out." So they did, causing thousands of taxpayers' dollars worth of damage.

Another time, one of Baker's regular listeners, Francisco Duran, got so carried away with the talk jock's show that he drove all the way to Washington D.C. and started shooting at the White House. When his radio show was implicated, Baker got so mad that he took a 12-day vacation.

In the mid-1990s, it was unclear whether longtime Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Isaac would run for reelection. So Baker offered to step up to the plate: "I'm very serious that if Bob Isaac does not run ... I am a declared candidate," Baker told his listeners. "And one of my biggest planks, in fact most of my platform is...to get the endorsement of other individuals in the city and the county and to form a Colorado Springs militia."

Earlier this year, Baker's show was cancelled due to low ratings.

Over the years, the city's daily newspaper has been a frequent target of the Public Eye, so much so as to lead its former Editor Steven A. Smith to complain that we had an unhealthy obsession with the goings-on at 30 S. Prospect. In truth, we were more bedeviled, sometimes disgusted by their antics, and often compelled to provide a fuller public accounting than the Gazette is sometimes willing to do.

One classic example occurred in October, 2000, during a heated public debate over Amendment 22, the statewide initiative designed to close gun-show loopholes which was ultimately approved by a landslide. The event to offer pro-con arguments was held at Centennial Hall and attracted a cadre of Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition members and other gun advocates whose behavior was downright vile. One of the amendment's chief proponents, Arnie Grossman, had traveled to Colorado Springs from Denver for the debate. He was heckled and flipped off so many times during his presentation that he twice asked the audience to please, treat him with civility and respect. Afterward, as Grossman made his way through the hostile crowd, he was accosted by a man who got in his face and loudly demanded to know whether Grossman is Jewish. When Grossman asked, "Are you an anti-Semite?" the man replied "Yes I am. I hate you and I hate all Jews. The gun control movement is just a bunch of liberal Jews."

Then, in the presence of numerous PPFC members, the man started loudly ranting about how the Jews broke God's covenant. No one breathed a word of protest. Fearing for his personal safety, Grossman made his way to the lobby and immediately recounted what had happened to a Gazette reporter in the presence of several witnesses, including an armed security guard -- who turned his back and walked away. Grossman urged the reporter to notify her readers what had happened, and, accompanied only by a campaign supporter, walked out into the dark night to his car for the long drive home.

The daily newspaper did not report the hate incident. But we did, offering a much-deserved public apology to Grossman on behalf of the people of Colorado Springs and El Paso County. The Gazette's editor at the time, Terri Fleming, subsequently dispatched a bizarre letter to the editor accusing the Independent of "purposeful twisting of facts and mockery of journalistic standards." Of course, by denying the hate incident even occurred, Fleming was also calling Grossman a liar, as well as the several on-the-record sources who had witnessed the exchange.

Upon reading what had happened, Doug Dean, then Colorado's speaker of the House of Representatives, forwarded an eloquent letter of apology. "I personally repudiate the attacks on Mr. Grossman and apologize to him on behalf of the vast majority of Second Amendment supporters who do not condone this type of behavior," Dean wrote.

We believe it is important to expose such public debacles in an effort to stop hate from happening in our town -- which has over the past decade too-often found itself in embarrassing positions in the glare of the national media.

But sometimes the attention can be downright exhilarating, even rowdy. In this category squarely falls KKTV Channel 11 anchor Eric Singer, who saved our city on Jan. 24, 2001 by smoking out, with the help of the city's finest, the two remaining Texas Seven fugitives from a hotel room off Interstate 25.

The nationwide manhunt began in late 2000, after seven Texas prisoners escaped, killed a police officer on the lam and then disappeared. All seven of them turned up living in a mobile home park near Woodland Park, going to Bible study and partying down at the local discos. When police moved in, one of the fugitives shot himself and four others were taken into custody. The remaining two, cornered in a Colorado Springs hotel room, agreed to surrender if they first got some free airtime on their local TV station of choice, KKTV Channel 11. Enter Eric Singer who, on-the-air live, calmly got the fellows talking about what color they had dyed their hair. After five minutes of riveting television, Singer coaxed them out, and the fugitives were hauled away.

In his trademark low-key fashion, Singer later downplayed his role. We've since given him some ribbing. But he is still our hero.

-- degette@csindy.com


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