Property and business owners in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood, named after a former mayor who was a Ku Klux Klan member nearly a century ago, have opted against nixing the title.
Of the nearly 3,600 people who cast ballots in a referendum held by the Stapleton Master Community Association, about 65% voted to keep the name, according to results posted to the association's website on Monday.
About 1,200 people, or nearly 35% of voters, wanted the neighborhood to drop its name — after Benjamin F. Stapleton, who was Denver’s mayor twice in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.
Turnout in the election was 34%. That's a rarity for the neighborhood, where turnout in other community association elections has seldom reached 10%, according to the MCA website.
The election was conducted by the community group and not by the city.
Supporters of the change felt that Ben Stapleton’s involvement with the racist institution in the early 1920s didn’t match the neighborhood’s values of diversity and inclusion.
"We're disappointed but not entirely surprised by the results because we believed that the MCA had sent out the ballots prematurely," said Liz Stalnaker, chairwoman of Rename St*pleton for All, which pushed for the change.
The citizen group said in a Facebook post that it had requested that the community association delay mailing ballots to residents to provide time for “more conversations to promote understanding and community outreach on the issue."
"The facts that were true yesterday are still true today: Benjamin Stapleton was a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. Our community name honors him. We believe that's a problem," said Stalnaker, who added that the group views the election outcome as "a speed bump."
Supporters of the name change plan to reconvene to discuss the results, although it's too early to tell what their next move will be, she said.
The ballots were distributed in June to residents of the community, which spans some 4,700 acres where Stapleton International Airport once stood. Voting ended July 31.
"While residents continue to associate Stapleton with the former airport, activists within and outside the community led the call for a name change, citing the airport namesake’s historic association with the Ku Klux Klan," the Master Community Association said on its website.
The association selected a law firm to independently manage the election. The results were reported by an Aurora accounting firm.
"Under current rules, MCA delegates will send a non-binding recommendation on the name change to be determined by a final vote of the MCA Board of Directors," the post on the association's website states. "Brookfield, the master developer, has the power to veto the board’s decision but has publicly committed to accept the board recommendation."
Opposition to the use of the Stapleton name goes almost as far back as the early day of developing the former airport property. Several black activists from the neighborhoods near the airport made their objections known to executives with the developer, Forest City.
The name endured. But in 2003, Forest City amended its community declaration to include a process by which the name could be changed.
In 2015, a group of Black Lives Matter 5280 activists distributed flyers to the community that cited Ben Stapleton’s history with the Klan and urged that the name be changed.
Several other local organizations that once used the word Stapleton have since re-examined their use of the name.
The Stapleton Foundation, a nonprofit that was created in 1990 to draft a plan for the former airport, changed its name in 2018 to The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities.
The Denver School of Science and Technology in Stapleton also removed the neighborhood name from its title. In May, it became DSST: Montview, taking its new name from the boulevard that runs through northeast Denver.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 1 p.m. Aug. 21 to correct the spelling of the klan's name.