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Dems split but endorse candidate

Pitkin County Democrats proved they like a family feud Thursday night when they gave conditional permission to controversial ski instructor/lumberjack Tim Mooney to run for county commissioner with the party designation.Delegates to the Democratic Party county assembly spent an hour in sometimes heated debate on whether Mooney deserved to carry the party banner in a race against incumbent Patti Clapper, an independent. Some called into question his character, primarily because of a well-publicized criminal case against him for cutting timber without permission on Aspen Mountain about five years ago.Stan Clauson, a delegate to the Democrats’ assembly, questioned if that tree-cutting incident would “discredit” the party if Mooney is its candidate.Mooney said he merely cleared some deadfall from an “alley” in a grove between the Aztec trail on Aspen Mountain and the bottom of the Ruthie’s chairlift. He said he did the work to make conditions “safer” for his clients, he said. Mooney insisted he didn’t cut any live trees.Mooney was a ski instructor for the Aspen Skiing Co. for more than 20 years. He and the company parted ways after the incident, and he is an instructor elsewhere. Mooney also pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and received a deferred sentence. By avoiding further trouble with the law, the conviction was wiped from his record, he said.Other delegates, including former Aspen City Councilman Frank Peters, also questioned Mooney’s fitness to run as a Democrat. He said he helped appoint Mooney to the Aspen planning commission in the 1990s but soon regretted it. He said he didn’t find Mooney’s work “constructive” and sometimes found him irrational.But Mooney also had supporters. Former County Commissioner Dwight Shellman moved to give the designation to Mooney because he said he embodies the ideals of the party in Pitkin County. He said Mooney worked with him to defeat a business community proposal to allow larger jet aircraft to fly into the Aspen airport.Shellman said his second reason for backing Mooney is he wants to field a Democrat in the race against Clapper. “I think her performance is pathetic,” Shellman said.The debate even spurred Aspen Daily News assistant editor Troy Hooper to drop his impartiality to provide a character reference for Mooney in a speech to the delegates.

Other delegates, including former Aspen City Councilman Frank Peters, also questioned Mooney’s fitness to run as a Democrat. He said he helped appoint Mooney to the Aspen planning commission in the 1990s but soon regretted it. He said he didn’t find Mooney’s work “constructive” and sometimes found him irrational.But Mooney also had supporters. Former County Commissioner Dwight Shellman moved to give the designation to Mooney because he said he embodies the ideals of the party in Pitkin County. He said Mooney worked with him to defeat a business community proposal to allow larger jet aircraft to fly into the Aspen airport.Shellman said his second reason for backing Mooney is he wants to field a Democrat in the race against Clapper. “I think her performance is pathetic,” Shellman said.The debate even spurred Aspen Daily News assistant editor Troy Hooper to drop his impartiality to provide a character reference for Mooney in a speech to the delegates.

“I’m definitely crossing a line here as a journalist,” Hooper said.In his own pitch to the delegates, Mooney said he would work to preserve the upper valley he has known and loved for so long.”I want to serve. I want your vote. I want to be a Democrat on the ballot,” Mooney said.Eight of the delegates voted to give him the nod while 13 were against. However, Mooney needed an endorsement from only 30 percent of the delegates to earn the party designation. He cleared that threshold.The designation came with conditions. He must fix potential campaign regulation infractions with the state and with the Colorado Democratic Party. Camilla Auger claimed there is a dispute between Mooney and the Pitkin County clerk on whether he met a deadline regarding his candidacy.

Auger questioned whether Mooney can “cure” the problems in time to run as a Democrat officially. “I can’t say this will be effective, based on any rules I’m familiar with,” she said.Mooney was unsuccessful in a 2002 bid to unseat Clapper.While the Democrats duked it out over Mooney’s designation, they avoided a skirmish over the candidacies of Rachel Richards and Jim True in the county commissioner District 2 race.Richards, an Aspen city councilwoman, and True, a former county commissioner, both wanted the party designation in the race for the seat Mick Ireland must vacate this year. Both Richards and True have proven in past elections they have substantial support, within the party and with voters at large.

That set up a potential showdown for the Democrats’ designation. “It’s not my intent to split the party by seeking this designation,” True told the delegates.He didn’t have to. Delegates in Richards’ camp made a motion to give both candidates the designation. That won unanimous approval.Pitkin County elections are nonpartisan, so Richards and True could both advance through the August primary, which will whittle the number of candidates to two regardless of party. Candidates typically seek party designation to gain support from a bloc of voters.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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