When there were no candidate forums for the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors election in the spring of 2016, Howard Wallach organized one himself.
When Pitkin County Democrats staged rallies in the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the Oval Office, Wallach, as chairman of the organization, helped engineer the effort to draw speakers and marchers.
Informally known as “Howie,” Wallach also has moderated debates and done the dirty work — the seemingly endless phone calls and meetings, working his party’s booth at the Aspen Saturday Markets, hosting fund-raisers and candidate meet-and-greets at his Aspen residence, door-knocking during campaigns, organizing caucuses and hitting the road for conventions — that goes with heading the county’s Democratic party.
“Howie is the only person besides Mick Ireland that does more door-to-door than me,” said Blanca O’Leary, the former chair of the county Democrats whom Wallach succeeded.
On March 9, the Colorado Democrats second Annual Obama Dinner, to be held at Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel, will honor Wallach, as well as Eagle County Democrat Party leader Joy Harrison, with the Rural Outreach Award.
The honor, according to the Colorado Democrats’ website, is given “to individuals who have gone above and beyond to help the Democratic Party build and strengthen outreach relationships with diverse communities across Colorado, particularly outside of the Front Range.”
Wallach, 72, said he is appreciative of the recognition, but he’s also not a one-man show. His wife, Betty, also is committed to her husband’s party’s efforts and is a mainstay behind the scenes and in the public.
“Betty does an enormous amount of the work, all of the communications, all of the organizing and the paperwork,” he said. “Her title is administrative vice chair and she really is the administrator.”
Howard Wallach preaches collaboration: “I like being with Democrats, working with Democrats, talking to Democrats. I get the award, but it’s nothing if I was doing this by myself.”
He heaps praise on such individuals as Carl Heck, a firebrand liberal who is “an incredibly reliable partner,” he said.
He refers to Ireland, another Aspen Democrat and also former mayor, city councilman and county commissioner, as “the scholar of elections in Pitkin County. He knows more about data and campaign strategies and all the doors that I knock, they’re in consultation with him.”
Other key people with the Pitkin County Democrats include its outreach director, Gladys Martinez-Augello, treasurer Patty Kravitz and secretary and second vice-chair Wes Graham.
“That’s the team,” Wallach said, adding that their son, David, also plays a part.
“It’s a seven-day-a-week job,” Wallach said, “and it doesn’t let up.”
The rewards come at the ballot box, whether it’s when a Democrat is elected or when voter turnout is solid, such as the November midterms in which Pitkin County had a 65.2 percent showing. That was the best showing for a non-presidential election year this decade, and Wallach also points out that 84 percent of residents who received ballots voted.
On Election Day, Nov. 8, Pitkin County’s electorate was 38 percent registered Democrat, 17 percent Republican and 43 percent unaffiliated, according to the county’s election department.
The county’s blue hue was on display that day, when 72.6 percent of the vote went to Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in her race to unseat Rep. Scott Tipton from District 3. She lost.
Nearly 74 of county voters supported Jared Polis in his successful bid for governor, while Jenna Griswold benefited from 72.3 percent of county support while unseating Wayne Williams as state secretary. All three are Democrats.
Democrats in other state races carried at least 70 percent of the tally in the Pitkin County midterms.
“That’s what this award recognizes,” Wallach said.
The work is all volunteer.
“No one gets a penny,” Wallach said, noting they often spend their own money for their cause.
The party doesn’t wield the same level of influence in the city because council candidates don’t run on their party affiliation, unlike county commissioner candidates.
“We help them to the extent they’re willing to be helped,” Wallach said. “But we don’t do endorsements.”
He added: “We support Democratic values — local jobs, affordable housing, stuff like that.”
Wallach is up for re-election Tuesday as party chair; he said he is running unopposed.
“There’s a limit to how long a person can do this crazy thing,” he said.
O’Leary, who as a member of the Colorado Democrats organization nominated Wallach for the award, said “it’s super well-deserved.”
“Normally the Democrats on the Western Slope aren’t very acknowledged for their hard work,” she said.
Wallach’s dogged persistence on the campaign trail and his grassroots work make him the ideal recipient, O’Leary said, calling him “one of the hardest-working Democratic Party County chairs in Colorado.”
Wallach said, “Betty says all politics is personal. It is also a contact sport, especially around here. It’s one vote a time, it’s one person at a time, it’s one discussion at a time, one issue at a time. You have to be able to stand and talk to people, or sit and talk with people.”
Wallach, who has been the party chair since February 2015, is a retired teacher from Brooklyn, New York.
“I think this award, which is for rural organization and goes to a Brooklyn boy, I get a real kick out of that,” he said.