Chair of Pitkin County Democratic Party to step down
The end of the political line for Howie Wallach; wife Betty to keep her eyes on the road
When it comes to the future of the Pitkin County Democratic Party, it could be said that it’s the same boss as the old boss even though the organization’s chair of eight years, Howie Wallach, is stepping down.
His wife and secretary of the local party, Betty Wallach, plans to succeed him, when ballots are cast in February by the county’s elected officials and the party’s officers and precinct representatives.
She said she’s already making moves to form teams within the party to help with volunteering and organizing events, campaigns, manning the Saturday Farmers Market booth and everything else that requires boosting candidates and the Democratic values that the Wallachs have been stumping for decades.
“I will not be able to do it alone,” Betty said. “I am looking to the precinct officers and electeds to help.”
At 73 years old, she is looking for young participants and has found a couple precinct officers who are in their 30s willing to step up.
“I am seeding the future because I can’t do this forever,” Betty said, adding she will be relying on her husband to mentor her. “Howie has done extraordinary, stupendous, astounding, amazing work.”
Wallach, 76, who was honored by the Colorado Democrats in 2019 for his dedication and endless hours of work for the party, said it’s time to hang it up.
He said he wanted to be done two years ago, before this last election cycle but the state party and statewide candidates like Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Treasurer Dave Young and Gov.Jared Polis asked for his help to lock in Pitkin County.
“Who can say no to that?” Wallach said.
The Pitkin County Dems were largely successful in last month’s election bringing the support and getting the win on statewide and local ballot measures, as well as the candidates, including giving Republican Lauren Boebert a run for her money with Aspen’s Adam Frisch challenging her for the 3rd Congressional District and losing by fewer than 600 votes.
Frisch received 79.25% of the Democratic vote in Pitkin County and was able to win the votes of Republicans in other areas of the district.
“We took positions on everything, and we certainly delivered the freight here,” Wallach said. “We saw that there were GOP votes up for grabs and I knew that Adam could talk to them, so I didn’t think it was a long shot at all.”
Wallach was the recipient of the Rural Outreach Award by the state party for all the on-the-ground, grassroots work that he has done since 2015 to prop up candidates and win ballot measures.
He’s moderated debates, made thousands of phone calls, hosted fundraisers, organized meet-and-greets and caucuses, knocked on countless doors and road-tripped to conventions.
“On a slow day it’s four to six hours a day and 14 or 15 hours a day, seven days a week when it’s busy,” said Wallach.
Known as one of the most successful high school photography teachers in the country during his long tenure in New York City before retiring in 2003, Wallach said he worked 12- and 13-hour days and that’s how he’s handled politics, as well.
“I have always had high standards,” he said. “Teaching and politics, I see them as the same. It’s about social justice, fairness and helping people make their way through the world.”
He noted that one of the low points of his tenure as chair of the Pitkin County Dems is just the pure exhaustion of doing the work, some of which can be dangerous.
This past Fourth of July, Wallach fell out of the bed of the truck that was used in the parade.
“When that was over, I felt like and looked like, or worse, someone who lives at (the senior center Whitcomb Terrace),” he said.
He suffered another blow in 2019 when he was punched, kicked and thrown down a flight of stairs while canvassing and knocking on doors.
Wallach said he hasn’t had too many altercations on the job, except for a couple times at the farmers market booth — once during the Obama administration when a man made a racial slur about the sitting president and another this past fall between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Mick Ireland, a former Aspen City Council member and mayor and county commissioner who is an active Democrat and supported DiSalvo’s challenger Michael Buglione, who ended up winning by 425 votes with the local party’s endorsement.
The sheriff’s race got heated at times, as the two candidates are former brothers-in-law and Wallach zeroed in on DiSalvo’s friendship with Lance Armstrong, former professional cyclist who was stripped of his titles after he was found using performing enhancing drugs.
DiSalvo’s 5% interest in Lift Vodka, a percentage that Armstrong gifted him, also took center stage in Buglione’s campaign, and was dubbed a “dubious gift from one of the most notorious cheaters in the history of the sport…,” reads a Nov. 4 email letter to voters by Wallach.
Some members of the Democratic Party were turned off by that kind of vitriol, or the name calling of Boebert in that same email as the “loathsome congresswoman.”
Wallach said he is aware of at least one member of the party who was turned off by the email, but that letter wasn’t sent to just one person, but rather all registered Democrats in Pitkin County.
“I have no problem calling her that,” he said, adding the mass email letters served the greater good.
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