Aspen city spokeswoman gets political, takes on Sen. Cory Gardner
Part of Mitzi Rapkin’s job as the city’s director of community relations is having public officials engage with people and return phone calls to residents and the media. She’s using her private time to hold Sen. Cory Gardner to that standard and others.
Rapkin is on a mission to raise $18,000 to buy a full-page ad in The Denver Post to call out the Colorado Republican lawmaker for what she claims is Gardner’s failure to respond to his constituents and marching in political lockstep with President Donald Trump. A mock-up of the ad, which is posted on a GoFundMe page soliciting donations, accuses the first-term senator from Yuma of not returning phone calls or being accessible to the voters.
Her efforts are allowed under Aspen’s ethics code for city workers, but Rapkin’s endeavor has at least one city watchdog concerned about the perception of the city’s spokesperson weighing in publicly on national politics.
“I know most of you are resisting the demagoguery coming out of D.C. with all your might,” Rapkin wrote in a recent blast email from her personal account in an effort to raise the funds. “I strongly believe we have to be creative and do everything we can think of to fight this regime and the hypocritical Republican leadership who, at every turn, condone racist, bigoted, sexist, short-sighted, immature, and menial-minded behavior and policy. One of my latest efforts in the fight is to raise money for a full-page ad in The Denver Post about Colorado Senator Cory Gardner’s appalling voting record, behavior and insistence that the thousands calling him are paid protestors.”
In her role as community relations director for the Aspen government, Rapkin is also an organizer of civic events and a liaison to the media.
It is a nonpartisan position, and Rapkin cannot mix outside politics with her job. So long as her political activism is performed on her own time, Rapkin — who participated in the Million Woman March last month in Washington, D.C. — can “privately and publicly express an opinion on political subjects and candidates,” the code says. That includes being a member of a political party, signing petitions and donating to campaigns, among other political functions.
“I know the city rules, and it’s always been clear that you can take political action on your own time,” she said last week, careful that she talked about her fundraising efforts while not on the city’s clock.
City Attorney Jim True said, “She’s doing it on her time, and our rules say very clearly what people can do on their own time.”
That Rapkin is playing by the rules, however, is not the point, said Elizabeth Milias, a City Hall critic and author of the conservative Red Ant blog.
“Of course it’s legal,” she said. “Of course she has the right to political speech. But the fact that she is the chief information officer for the city, I think that inherently when she speaks, she speaks for the city. I just think it’s a slippery slope, and the optics are bad.”
As of 10 a.m. Sunday, the GoFundMe account, which went active the middle of last week, had raised $4,520. Among the 165 contributors are Basalt Town Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle ($10) and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, whose $10 donation included the words: “Good leaders listen to the need and challenges of their communities.”
The ad says “We the People of Colorado” paid for it, and makes no reference to Rapkin’s involvement. Rapkin said We the People of Colorado simply refers to the financial contributors to the ad.
According to the Colorado Campaign and Political Finance manual, paid-for-by statements are required “for communications that meet the definition of an independent expenditure or communications made by issue committees supporting or opposing statewide ballot measures.”
The Gardner ad, rather, is a political statement and not related to any ballot measure or campaign.
Rapkin said her frustration with Gardner and Washington politics would not allow her to sit by idly.
“I just had the idea (for the ad) after really being frustrated with not getting through to Cory Gardner’s office and not getting responses to my emails,” she said. “I believe we should be able to reach out to our representatives, and he seems unreachable.”
She added, “I help people talk to the mayor and the council all the time. I think government people should be approachable, and he does not seem to be approachable.”
Regardless of her political leanings, Rapkin said they do not bleed into her city job when it comes to dealing with the public.
“Some people come to City Hall who like cats, but I like dogs,” she said. “That’s just a metaphor for the fact that we can get along without having the same views.”
Broadcaster Jim Williams of KSPN and KNFO is leaving the valley after eight years of serving as the voice of Aspen, Basalt and Roaring Fork high school’s sports.