Ecko Goes Head To Head With Denver Over Graffiti
As reported earlier, Ecko's attorney David Lane emailed a letter to city officials on April 8 expressing concern that a city ordinance would interfere with a graffiti festival Ecko hoped to bring to Denver. That ordinance makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to possess the tools of graffiti, including spray paint outside of their homes.
In that letter, Lane states: "It is Mr. Ecko's contention that this statute is overbroad and is violative of his and his company's rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the First Amendment rights of any juveniles who wish to express their artistic creativity through the use of spray paint. Indeed, Mr. Ecko has sought to protect these rights in previous litigation and has prevailed. See Ecko.Complex LLC v. Bloomberg, 382 F. Supp.2d 627 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (enjoining New York City from interfering with graffiti-themed block party). Unless this ordinance is either repealed or satisfactorily modified, the Ecko Unltd. event cannot go forward. If this statute is not modified or repealed no later than April 17, 2006, Ecko Unltd. will have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado seeking a judicial determination of unconstitutionality and any other remedies available."
Rodriguez and a number of Denver residents responded by holding a press conference on April 10 arguing that graffiti plagues their communities and that undermining the ordinance would worsen the situation.
"In my opinion, his (threatened) lawsuit is frivolous and publicity mongering," said Rodriguez.
Ecko's April 17th deadline for the city to modify the anti-graffiti ordinance passed this week and no changes have been made to the Denver city ordinance. Scott Hutchings, an aide to Council President Rodriguez said that Ecko has indeed filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that the ordinance is in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which allows Freedom of Expression. "The council can no longer comment on that because it's with the City Attorney's office now," Hutchings said.
"Her office was correct. We are in the process of putting our suit against the City of Denver together," Clint Cantwell, Director of Corporate Communications for Marc Ecko Enterprises, confirmed.
Cantwell and Hutchings both provided an April 19th letter from Lane, Ecko's lawyer, contacting Denver City Attorney Cole Finegan formally requesting permission to hold a graffiti festival on June 18, 2006 in SkylinePark on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. The letter in question specifically asked Finegan for assurances that "any juveniles will not be arrested going to or leaving the festival in possession of spray paint or broad tipped markers."
Ecko's plan for the festival includes an art exhibition of works produced in advance of the festival to be displayed on the mall. Marc Ecko will judge the competition and the winning entry will have his or her art put on an Ecko T-shirt. All proceeds from the sale of that shirt will go to a scholarship for the winning contestant.
In related news, Councilwoman Rodriguez was recently the target of harassment by a local gang. According to the Denver Post, the outside of Rodriguez's office was marked with a big X in duct tape on Thursday, April 13, while the councilwoman was in Washington, D.C. The perpetrators also taped threatening words and a gang name to the outside wall of the city and county building.
"They absolutely were targeting the councilwoman," said Hutchings in reference to the incident. "She's gotten so much press fighting Ecko on this, it's pretty obvious."
City Attorney Finegan's office did not respond to inquiries from at press time.