Rick Carroll: Above the Fold
Ryan Summerlin January 28, 2013
Whenever the idea of yet another story about Lee Mulcahy comes up in newsroom discussions, the conversation usually isn’t about if we’ll cover the story but who will do it.
Mulcahy is one of those subjects that we feel obligated to write about because, for better or worse, his antics have had an impact on the community.
Some readers certainly will disagree and contend that his campaign is not one for social justice but to prolong his 15 minutes of fame. Many readers have said that if Mulcahy truly has problems with such businesses as Aspen Skiing Co. and nonprofits like the Aspen Art Museum, then he should just get out of town.
And that’s what he’s doing. If you are to believe Mulcahy, this spring he’ll be living temporarily in his home state of Texas.
“I’m retreating,” he said last week. “I’m going to be back with my family and lick my wounds.”
Mulcahy said he’ll be there for the next year, except when he returns to the valley to fight his court battles against Aspen Skiing Co. He’s still building a home at the Burlingame Ranch affordable-housing neighborhood, with plans to finish construction later this spring and rent the unit out, provided he gets the Housing Authority’s blessing.
It’s hard not to blame Mulcahy for leaving town, even though he’s brought a lot of this grief on himself.
Just last month, the Aspen Institute obtained a permanent protection order against him after he posted the following niceties on its Facebook page: “Be fair to us little people, or you’re gonna have pitchforks and guns at your doors. Yes, some of us white trash at Occupy Aspen believe in the NRA too.”
Skico has banned Mulcahy, a former ski instructor it fired for performance issues in 2011, from all of the properties it operates. (Mulcahy contends he was terminated because he criticized company practices and pay and talked to other instructors about forming a union.)
He’s not allowed at the Aspen Art Museum, either.
For sure, it’s hard for Mulcahy to swing a ski pole without hitting someone he’s either offended, frightened or troubled.
Here at the Times, another occasional object of Mulcahy’s chagrin, we’ve often grappled with just how to cover this guy. And there have been those few instances when we shrugged off stories involving him that he insisted were newsworthy.
Mulcahy often has accused the Times of having a cozy relationship with the big players in town like Skico and the Art Museum. In Mulcahy’s world, we too are members of the elite society that kowtows to big-money interests.
“I know you have restrictions on how you cover them because they’ll pull their ads,” he told me last week.
Evidently Mulcahy is in possession of a memo none of us in the newsroom has seen.
Mulcahy is a special breed: On the one hand, he’s intimidated and menaced a number of Aspen residents and institutions. On the other hand, I’ve had numerous conversations with him in which I found him annoyingly charming.
Aspen journalists regard Mulcahy as a quote factory – nothing is canned, scripted or politically correct with the person who once referred to himself as “the Rosa Parks of Aspen.” We also realize that whenever we write about him, he’ll usually find some fault with the story and accuse us of siding with his opponents and being willing participants of the mainstream-media machine.
In Mulcahy’s world, those people he annoys should just lighten up.
“I’m really a funny person,” he said. “I can laugh at myself, and people know I’m funny. And it’s also very sad that the Crowns (the family that owns Skico) are such a vampire squid. … My support is deep in this community, and anywhere I go, I can always find a friend, and that’s because I’ve put in a lot of volunteer hours trying to undo the damage that Skico and the Crowns have done to me.”
But humor is a subjective thing. Mulcahy might think that his handwritten signs with such messages as “Dear CEOs Be Fair Remember the Alamo” are funny, especially when the sign stands on a trailer hitched to a pickup truck that’s parked in front of Skico’s office. Unsurprisingly, Skico failed to find the punch line in that message, but its lawyers still couldn’t convince a judge to grant a permanent protection order against Mulcahy.
For some strange reason, I’m going to miss Mulcahy. Sort of. There’s no question he grates on the nerves of many people with his abrasive approach, lack of tact and ignorant insults. But Aspen’s reputation, in part, has been built on its characters who go against convention. Mulcahy deserves a spot on that list.
The smart money, however, says Mulcahy will return to Aspen sooner rather than later. And the reason is simple: He just can’t help himself.
Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at email@example.com or 970-429-9141.