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Here's a little riddle for you: What do the Taliban, George W. Bush, and our very own City Council have in common?

Let's see: The Taliban, the latest gang of remorseless thugs to control Afghanistan, have set about to destroy the visible evidence of that country's splendid past.

George W. Bush, disturbed that the United States presently imports 56 percent of its annual crude oil consumption, has decided to reduce that figure to a mere 50 percent by, among other things, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And closer to home, our slothful Council is just about ready to rip down the historic Udick Building on Nevada Avenue next to First Presbyterian Church so that Council members can have their very own executive parking lot.

So what's the common thread? Politicians, be they semiliterate former guerrillas, or oligarchs born to the purple, or decent, church-going small-town doctors and shopkeepers, quickly learn that there are two kinds of people that they can wholly ignore: those who are dead, and those who are yet unborn.

That's why George W. and his pals in the oil patch are ready to vandalize one of the world's last remaining intact wilderness areas in order to fuel our SUV's for a few more months; if you steal from the future, you'll never get caught. And that's why our own Council care little for the past; the dead neither vote nor fight back. And that's why it's so difficult to persuade politicians both to respect the past and to act for the future.

A few days ago, at a press conference, I buttonholed Council candidates Tim Pleasant, Sallie Clark and Margaret Radford. Subject: Red Rocks. The question: Would they support the city's acquisition of the entire 700-plus acres of this spectacular property on the west side of town as open space?

Their answers were strikingly similar. "We don't know how we could finance it." "We still haven't seen the master plan." "If we do annex [the property] we have to make sure that the city bears no financial burden, blah, blah, blah." It was politician speak -- a language in which I was once embarrassingly fluent. You neither affirm nor deny, neither commit nor withdraw.

But when it was suggested that a purchase could easily be financed by using the $2.5 million that the city now allocates to the visitor industry's private trade association (the so-called Convention & Visitor's Bureau), our candidates did not shy away from the specific. Radford and Clark were horrified at the very suggestion: "That's not what that tax was intended for. That's why the [tourist] industry asked to be taxed."

And what did they mean by that? They meant that the Bed and Car tax, which is levied on auto rentals and hotel room rentals, was instituted at the suggestion of the visitor industry, which wanted a way to tap government's power of taxation for its own ends. And now that the city doles out close to $3 million a year to the CVB, the beneficiaries of this largesse are both powerful and numerous.

So you don't mess with 'em; after all, doing so might cost you the election, and then where would you be?

Like Council members a few years ago who were either hostile or indifferent to the Trails Open Space and Parks (TOPS) initiative until a grassroots movement forced it on the public agenda, this year's crop of candidates is equally drawn to risk-free "leadership." The TOPS forum is coming up on March 8; wouldn't it be amazing to hear just one of the candidates say that he or she would fight for Red Rocks until the last dog's dead?

Or even to hear one of 'em say to the preservationists: "Get lost -- we've got plenty of goddamn open space, and Red Rocks'll make a great development!" Don't hold your breath; Clark and Radford, once steely, uncompromising, charismatic neighborhood advocates have metamorphosed into politicians. It's not a particularly pleasant spectacle; it's as if the butterfly became a caterpillar.

So how do you vote, if Red Rocks is your issue? Since none of the candidates, be they incumbents or challengers, are willing to commit to preservation, you just have to go with your gut.

Look, listen and decide: Which one will respect the past, honor the future, and cheerfully double-cross his or her big-bucks supporters? Hard to figure out; they'll give you sympathetic nods, firm handshakes and private assurances, but we know where the rubber meets the road -- or, in this case, the executive parking lot.


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