- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

DENVER — Mayor John Hickenlooper, like many in his city, is “sick and tired” of the flap between American Indians and Italian Americans over the annual Columbus Day Parade.

But his suggestion that organizers replace the heavily protested event — set for Saturday — with an Italian heritage festival has transformed the debate’s focus from the relative merits of Christopher Columbus to the First Amendment rights of paradegoers.

Elected officials, radio talk-show hosts and op-ed columnists have leaped to the defense of the Columbus Day Parade Committee, accusing Mr. Hickenlooper of brushing aside the organizers’ free-speech rights in an effort to placate activists with the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Talk-show host Dan Caplis of KHOW-AM said the mayor’s suggestion would effectively hand a victory to AIM members Glenn Morris and Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who made headlines earlier this year for comparing September 11 victims to Nazis.

“I really think this is outrageous for a mayor to say to the parade organizers — who followed the law, got the permits, they haven’t done anything wrong — to say, ‘It’s unfortunate for the entire community that you want to go ahead with the parade,’ and to criticize them for exercising their First Amendment rights,’” Mr. Caplis said.

George Vendegnia, president of the Columbus Day Parade Committee, rejected the mayor’s idea, adding that Mr. Hickenlooper was “out of line and out of place. It’s not his role to take sides.”

But Mr. Morris, a member of the AIM Leadership Council and a University of Colorado political-science professor, said the mayor should use his position to promote a “moral stand” against the celebration of Columbus Day.

AIM leaders have long held that the holiday is intrinsically racist because it honors the conquest of American Indians. In recent years, the Denver event has drawn hundreds of protesters, often outnumbering parade participants.

On Monday, AIM offered to stop the protest if the city agreed to four proposals, including a declaration that the Columbus Day parade should end and an agreement to use the money saved on police protection for American Indian health and education projects.

Mr. Hickenlooper rejected the proposal, saying, “Our primary focus remains the protection of public safety and First Amendment rights.”

Mr. Churchill, who is under investigation at the university for plagiarism, has said he won’t participate in Saturday’s parade because his presence might be a distraction. This year’s parade marks the 100th anniversary of the Columbus Day celebration, which began in Colorado.

Mr. Morris said the protest will proceed as planned, but demonstrators could receive a cooler welcome this year. At last year’s parade, 240 protesters, including Mr. Morris and Mr. Churchill, were arrested for blocking the parade route, but charges were later dropped.

In response, the Denver City Council passed laws making it illegal to obstruct public routes or disrupt lawful events.

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