Is Denver ready for a close encounter?


Forget sky-high unemployment and those two wars overseas. Jeff Peckman has more earthly concerns:

For one thing, if extraterrestrials were to descend on Denver, what’s the best way to welcome them?

Thanks to Peckman’s tireless efforts and taste for the limelight, Denver voters will be asked in 2010 to boldly approve what no electorate has approved before: an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission.

This week, Denver officials announced that Peckman had gathered about 4,000 valid signatures needed to place the issue before the 350,000 registered voters of the Colorado state capital.

If approved, the city panel would promote “harmonious, peaceful, mutually respectful and beneficial coexistence” between earthlings and extraterrestrials, in part by developing protocols for “diplomatic contact.”

Its seven members would include an expert in taking testimony from people who’ve survived “direct personal close encounters” with aliens.

And in what certainly is good news for residents of Colorado Springs or Boulder who might feel left out, the initiative says: “Members who are not Denver residents may participate from anywhere in the universe.”

When Peckman first launched the commission proposal last spring, it prompted some civic sniggering, even as he hit the talk shows, including David Letterman, to promote the idea.

“Ballot plan wants E.T. to dial 303,” wrote the Denver Post. But now it’s on the ballot, embarrassing just about everyone -- except Peckman.

“What would a commission demand of us as a city? Do they want to go to a conference on Mars?” deadpanned Councilman Charlie Brown. “We’ll pay for a one-way trip.”

That Peckman needed only 3,974 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot is a sign, Brown said, that the bar for initiative petitions is far too low in Denver.

“If someone was looking to locate a business here, they’d think, ‘What kind of city is this?’ ” Brown said Wednesday. (What indeed? Peckman submitted 10,274 signatures.)

Colorado, Brown said, hardly needed another “E.T.”-inspired effort so soon after a Fort Collins family turned one of its sons -- with the aid of a silver floating saucer -- into “Balloon Boy.”

“It’s like saying you’re going to have a ballot initiative about the existence of Bigfoot,” said Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine.

Peckman, 55, is undaunted. He’s used to setbacks. He had grown discouraged in recent months with President Obama, whom he hoped would release information revealing what the government knows about extraterrestrial beings.

So Peckman dreamed up a donation-funded commission to act as both an investigative body and an information clearinghouse -- a panel that would also display Denver’s ability to “think big.”

This is his second close encounter with politics. A 2003 ballot initiative he promoted would have required Denver to adopt stress-reduction techniques, such as mass meditation sessions. It was soundly rejected by voters.

The self-described entrepreneur, who expects to run the latest campaign on a shoestring budget, said he had only spotted a UFO once: the day Michael Jackson died.

Peckman was standing downtown, chatting on a cellphone, when a green ball of light flashed by.

“It didn’t fizzle out like a meteorite. I just stood there awe-struck,” he said. “The next morning, I read someone had seen a green ball of light over Neverland.”

His vision of Denver’s alien visitors: benevolent and highly intelligent beings. No word on whether they might be Broncos fans.

Peckman’s electoral quest has already gone farther than a similar proposal years ago in Missouri. Bruce Widaman, then a spokesman for the state chapter of Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, fell short in trying to brand 2000 as the Year of UFO Awareness and press Congress to convene hearings on unidentified flying objects.

“This is not an April Fools’ joke,” said an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Though Colorado is less of a UFO enthusiast hub than New Mexico (home to Roswell) or Nevada (home to Area 51), it’s not inconceivable that the measure could pass. The Denver electorate has little appetite for oddball initiatives, but primaries are typically low-turnout affairs.

Still, some UFO groups, rather than cheering Peckman, wish the campaign would disappear into a black hole.

The proposed commission would duplicate existing programs and undermine attempts to be regarded as more than a punch line, said Mark Easter, a spokesman for MUFON, which is based in Fort Collins.

“God, this is really desperate to put something on the ballot,” said Julie Shuster, executive director of the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell.

Peckman pooh-poohed the criticism, saying the UFO groups don’t get into the realm of extraterrestrial civilization. It’s also safe to assume that, in some way, he believes the force is with him.

Correll writes for The Times.