Battling it out in cyberspace | AspenTimes.com
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Battling it out in cyberspace

Illustration by Kayden Christensen
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ASPEN In an era when your friend inventory on MySpace tells how popular you are, and “Googleability” is tantamount to fame, blogs and websites are as important to political candidates as pressing the flesh and kissing babies.And Aspen’s mayoral campaign is no exception.Do a Google search for Bonnie Behrend, Mick Ireland, Tim Semrau or Torre and you’ll come up with long lists (OK, I recommend typing “Torre Aspen” for the candidate with one name) – with not just articles from Aspen papers, but online posts … and their own personal websites.Aspen’s mayoral candidates carefully manage their own web presence, maintain websites and say the Internet plays varying roles in their campaigns.Bonnie be onlineWith her cowboy hat dipped low to hide her gaze, blonde locks draped over a bare shoulder, Behrend almost jumps off the screen at http://www.bonniebehrend.com.Behrend is a do-it-yourselfer, posting an up-to-the-minute, personal blog about her life and the campaign. She tells of a recent visit to Vegas, accuses the Semrau campaign of pulling her off her job at Aspen TV, writes at length about the danger of swinging gondolas on Aspen Mountain and says she’s a big fan of Fox News.

And the day after I interviewed the longtime TV news reporter, she wrote about it online (check the site this afternoon for an update) and said she is uncomfortable being on the other side of the reporter’s pad.”I like to write … I love the Internet … I love my website,” Behrend said. And she writes every day because it’s fun; a place to “sound off” that serves as a “personal publishing page.””I’m sure I say some things on there that people don’t appreciate. But it’s about personal experiences and viewpoints,” Behrend said.Viewers from her CNBC reporting days read the blog, and like to follow the events of her life, as far back as the “sordid and rude” lawsuit over her dismissal from CNBC, she said. And fans send her “go for it” e-mails about her run for mayor.”I have a bit of a national following on it,” Behrend said.While other candidates might have websites, Behrend said none have a blog, which she called “free-flowing communication that is hot and live … like TV … not structured in this posturing, political, scripted way.””I can’t count on people to communicate my thoughts as clearly as I am,” Behrend said, and she fears being “lost in translation” in local print media. “I’m a reporter. So it’s odd to me to communicate through someone else.””The Semrau campaign complained and caused my firing,” Behrend said of her lost job at Aspen TV, and she said as a result her “voice has been removed.””I am no longer able to speak to Aspen residents directly, so I use my website,” Behrend said. She plans to add video clips of question and answer forums.Boys don’t blogBehrend’s competitors – Ireland, Semrau and Torre – all have sites with position papers on Aspen issues, news links and contact information, but no blogs. (Each male candidate said a version of: “I don’t have time.”)Ireland’s website, http://www.mickformayor.com, features detailed position papers, videos of interviews and links to articles about his campaign, but Ireland said the site is just a small part in his campaign, a chance for voters to view more detailed information about his positions if they’re interested.

“I’m not worried too much about the filtering [by media]. It’s the completeness,” Ireland said. The former reporter knows newspapers can only give so much space to each candidate’s positions. “They’re just not going to cover all that. It’s more about completeness than bias.”And streaming video on Ireland’s site is a chance to see Mick in action, at the podium announcing his candidacy or in informal session around his kitchen table.”It’s kind of the future of everything … We’re going to see more and more of that,” Ireland said.”It’s a good opportunity to give detailed proposals about things that might not come up in debate,” Ireland said.Ireland read Semrau’s position on the Entrance to Aspen on Semrau’s site, but said he doesn’t study his opponents’ websites closely.”My first rule is door-to-door. I’m a big believer in that,” Ireland said.Cyber Semrau”People assimilate information in different ways,” Semrau said. And Semrau called his website, http://www.timforaspen.com., “a fabulous method for people to get information,” with writing, streaming video and photos that give voters options.”You mean the press filters?” Semrau said sarcastically when asked if the site was a way to beat media bias.Semrau said the site is just a chance for voters to get a closer look at his policies – something they can do at their leisure.”It’s obviously going to be more important in the future,” Semrau said.



He’s seen his competitor’s sites, but said he doesn’t study them closely.”I found that the key is getting information to people in whatever way possible,” Semrau said. “The goal would be to meet every single voter and talk to them” and next comes phone calls, e-mail and the web.Torre be thy name”My opponents did not invent web campaigns,” Torre said, adding he created a website for an earlier mayoral bid. “But it plays a small role in my campaign. I prefer an on the ground approach … grassroots.”Torre’s website, http://www.torreformayor.com., is just a way for people to read some of his broader ideas and get a little bit more background information, he said.The thrust of his campaign are local debates and talking with voters directly.Torre uses the web to get information (and play Scrabble online), he said, and though he’s seen his competitor’s sites, he doesn’t check them regularly. “Mine is not a web-based campaign,” Torre said.Alan Caruba, a PR counselor from South Orange, NJ, said the Internet is vital to any campaign.”Anyone who’s running for office ought to have their own blog or website. It is increasingly the way people look for information,” Caruba said. “This is not just the future, this is the present and the future.”And candidates can refute inaccurate information immediately on a website, Caruba said. “If you have your own blog or website, you’re controlling the content.” Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.


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