Aspen mayor won’t seek seat on City Council |

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Aspen mayor won’t seek seat on City Council

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland

ASPEN – Ending months of speculation, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland announced Thursday that he isn’t going to run for a City Council seat.

Ireland, 63, who has held public office as a Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen’s mayor for most of the past 20 years, stopped short of saying that he would rule out any future election bid.

Ireland first was elected mayor in 2007. He is serving his third two-year term but cannot seek re-election because of term limits. He considered running for a four-year council term this year after City Attorney Jim True offered an opinion that the city’s election laws don’t prevent a term-limited mayor from seeking a council seat.

During an afternoon news conference at his home off Lone Pine Road, Ireland, a tax attorney and political consultant, said he wants to concentrate on working toward retirement.

He did, however, make other political news during his session with reporters. He endorsed Councilman Steve Skadron for the mayor’s post and Historic Preservation Commission Chairwoman Ann Mullins and attorney Art Daily for the two council seats up for grabs this year. The election for the three offices will take place May 7; runoffs, if necessary, would be June 4.

“The time has come, in my opinion, for others to do for themselves what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, and for that reason, and others, I won’t be running for council this year,” Ireland said. “I hesitated for a long time, just wanting to make sure there would be council candidates who would uphold some of the values that I’ve worked so hard for 20 years.”

Ireland then listed those values: “a protected environment, housing opportunities for people to live here as opposed to just working here, and a quality of life that is unparalleled in the country.”

He said there are many qualified candidates for office in Aspen this year and stressed that his endorsements were not based on the theory of “the lesser of two evils” but “the better of many goods.”

He said he would work hard to help Skadron, Mullins and Daily get elected. He said he didn’t always agree with Skadron but that the second-term councilman had voted “courageously” on a number of issues, supporting height limitations and restrictions on free-market development for buildings downtown last year and opposing the Aspen Art Museum project in 2010.

“He differed with me on the Aspen Art Museum, but he did so from a position of courage and concern about the character of our downtown,” Ireland said of Skadron.

Downtown Aspen should be about fun, noise, laughter and food, Ireland said, “not closed-off residential property where people can store their gains from overseas transactions or bank payouts or whatever.”

Ireland didn’t directly answer the question of whether intense criticism from political opponents, sometimes personal and biting, played a role in his decision not to seek a council seat. Still, he addressed the issue itself.

“I’ve spent the night in solitary confinement for my own safety, so I’m not unfamiliar with threats and so on,” he said. “I appreciate what some people have done in educating me about my own faults and about the nature of life. I have to say I feel a lot of compassion for people who are so filled with anger that they can’t help themselves and it spills out constantly.

“I am sorry to say that my departure will not end that. That anger will continue to be put upon people who dare to cross the agendas of certain people. But I feel compassion for them because I know what it’s like to be angry and just consumed by a need to hit back. I know what it’s like; I’ve done my best to restrain myself, and I think I have.”

The deadline for potential candidates to turn in signed petitions to the City Clerk’s Office in order to qualify for the mayor or council races is 5 p.m. Friday.

Though Mayor Mick Ireland announced Thursday that he won’t seek a City Council seat this spring, he left open the possibility that he might try for some other elected position in the future – under the right conditions.

Still, Ireland’s announcement at his home off Lone Pine Road – he baked brownies for the press – carried a hint of political retirement. Ireland spoke of his nearly 20 years in public office as a Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen mayor and reflected on some of the ups and downs of elected life.

Here are a few samplings of his comments:

• On his supporters: “The thanks begin with my family that stood by me through some pretty dark and even threatening times and my friends, like David Bentley, who knocked thousands of doors with me and the support of the community at large that did provide affordable housing, without which I and many of my friends would not have been able to live in this community and contribute.”

• Highlights during his time in government: “We have two open space programs. We have (the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority). We have a trail going to Glenwood Springs. We own Smuggler Mountain. We have created affordable housing, a mill levy for health and human services. There is the bike race (USA Pro Challenge), which I think now is going to be a fixture because of how well this community has responded to that. With environmental initiatives, we are now at about 89 percent renewable sources with the city (electricity) utility district, and I think that’s remarkable, and it might be one of the highest in the country.”

• The disparity between the “Aspen dream” and recent deaths: “This casts a dark shadow on our community and recently we have had three or four local residents fall into that shadow. This isn’t a problem that’s amenable to a government solution, but there is a need for a community response to that despair. Some of that despair is related to alcohol and drugs, partying, and there’s a cautionary tale for all of us. Those are things to be reckoned with, not through prohibition, not through scolding or shaming, but recognizing that there are consequences to behavior and that we do need to be supportive of people who have fallen into various modes of despair, unable to grasp the life that they think Aspen offers.”

• On whether he is “fatigued”: “No. It’s time to move on. You do something for 20 years, … I think it was (former U.S. Rep. Sam Rayburn, D-Texas) who said, ‘An honest politician will die broke.’ Sam Rayburn died with $15,000. The man was speaker of the House of Representatives for as long as anybody had been before that. Extraordinarily powerful person, respected. I don’t want to end with $15,000. I don’t believe that ‘the most toys wins,’ but I do not want to be destitute in my retirement, and so I do need to work.”

A tax attorney, political consultant and cycling enthusiast, Ireland first was elected mayor in 2007 and is now serving his third consecutive term. Term limits bar him from seeking the mayor’s office in 2013.

– Andre Salvail