Frank Sullivan, Uninterrupted
By Jack Farrar
About 30 seconds into my conversation with Frank Sullivan, I knew I would like the guy. An amiable manner, a ready smile, a nice Boston (actually Fall River) accent us cow-towners find so charming, a neatly trimmed moustache, a bushy but kempt pair of eyebrows.
He gave me the feeling, confirmed over the next hour and a half, that he was a straight shooter, tolerant of views of people with whom he disagrees, but unapologetic about his own. He was nostalgic about the Sixties/Seventies brand of liberalism that now appears to be in retreat.
Frank and his wife, Sylvia, moved into a two-story Colonial on 25th Avenue in 1969 not only because they liked the house, the stately old homes, and the trees, but because the simple act of moving into Park Hill was a sort of political statement. Their realtor actually tried to steer the Sullivans away from Park Hill, referred to as “Dark Hill” by particularly virulent racists, but they wanted to live in a diverse community where residents are fully invested in their homes and their neighborhoods, financially and socially.
“We found Park Hill to be very open to new ideas, new ways of looking at issues,” Sullivan says. “In southeast New England, where I grew up, people are very set in their ways, reactionary, and, frankly, racist. I miss the ocean and the Italian food. But I don’t miss the attitudes. Bill Russell, Hall-of-Fame NBA star, once said he loved the Celtics, loved Red Auerbach, but wouldn’t walk across the street to do anything for the city of Boston.”
The Sullivans have been involved with a great variety of political issues; most focusing on preservation of communities and resistance to large-scale projects that may appear to be logical and fiscally sound, but that chip away at the integrity of neighborhoods with large numbers of low-income citizens of color.
No current issue stirs Sullivan up more than the proposed widening of Interstate 70 through Denver alongside the old communities of Globeville, and Swansea/Elyria.
“You’re looking at 22 lanes of highway! That is an enormous impact!”
“I’ve thought all along that moving the I-70 project north, near the intersection of I-76 and I-270, would be less disruptive,” he continues. “But CDOT (the Colorado Department of Transportation) insists that their plan is less expensive and would cut back more on driving time.
“They’ve said an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been done that shows widening I-70 would also be gentler on the environment. But I’m not convinced that their EIS took into account all of the possible impacts on all of the communities. The widening of I-70 is a foregone conclusion. The powers-that-be want it done, so it is ordained. The whole thing is driven by big money interests.”
Here’s an interesting take on the I-70 thing that I never considered: Sullivan wants the “experts” to figure out the full, long-term impact of self-driving cars. “If cars are not spaced out as much, will fewer than 22 lanes be necessary?”
Sullivan joins thousands of other residents in wanting to “Ditch the Ditch,” including stopping the $1.2 billion widening project that some have called a boondoggle, and would include a companion city storm drainage project that would include removing hundreds of mature trees to install a detention area for stormwater in City Park Golf Course.
He strongly supports the lawsuit filed by Park Hillian and former Colorado Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane, which contends that the project violates city statutes and regulations regarding significant alterations in the core purpose of City Park property.
“Okay, I get that things change, we must accommodate growth and development,” Sullivan acknowledges. “But I just think we’re speeding along into projects we haven’t fully thought out.”
Sullivan supports the establishment of a Park Hill Historic District, and strict architectural and construction standards, although it appears the designation isn’t going to happen any time soon.
“I’m nostalgic, I admit it. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. Why can’t we slow down a little?”
His doctorate in physiology and his long career in the field, including a stint at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, has informed Sullivan’s involvement in two somewhat obscure causes. He recently retired as a member of the National Jewish Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee, which evaluates the care of animal research activities. Basically, the IACUC is an advocate for rats and mice.
Sullivan is also a member of the Emergency Medical Service Council of Denver Health, which, among other things, organizes CPR training throughout the metro area. Sullivan loves to garden, has a particular fondness for cactus, and has dabbled in genealogy. Sylvia volunteers as an organist at several churches in the area. Their son, John, lives in the Clayton neighborhood. Their daughter, Maryanne, lives in Evergreen.
Sullivan’s a longtime honcho in the Denver Democratic Party. He was a District Captain from 1974 to 1995 and for many years was chairman of the rules committee. The organization’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award is named after him.
A devout follower of Rooseveltian liberalism, he is frustrated with Democrats’ recent setbacks nationally and statewide, believing many of the wounds are self-inflicted.
“The leadership of the party seems to have drifted away from the base,” he says, “especially minorities and the poor. Money and influence drives everything.” (Sylvia also has long roots in the party. She was once a member of U.S. Senator Floyd Haskell’s staff.)
Not too surprisingly, Sullivan is not thrilled with the country’s current CEO. “Trump is crazy, but he has touched a sore spot. Many people believe that government doesn’t seem to care about them. We underestimated that frustration and anger.”
Could we see two Trump administrations? “I don’t think so,” Sullivan says. “Honestly, I think he’ll get bored after four years. He’ll want to move on. Been there. Done that.”
Jack Farrar is a longtime Park Hill resident and board member of the nonprofit Park Hill Community Bookstore, at 23rd and Dexter. This is an installment of a regular feature about people who help make the neighborhood great. Past Park Hill Character profiles can be read online at greaterparkhill.org.