DiSalvo wins Pitkin County sheriff’s race

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesPitkin County Sheriff-elect Joe DiSalvo, center, watches results come in at Jimmy's on Tuesday.

ASPEN – Joe DiSalvo commanded 79 percent of the vote in a landslide win over Patrick “Rick” Leonard in Tuesday’s election, leaving little doubt about who Pitkin County voters want as their next sheriff.

DiSalvo, 50, reeled in 5,182 votes, compared to 1,358 for Leonard. The results, tallied by the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Elections Department, were unofficial.

DiSalvo’s triumph sent the apparent message that Pitkin County residents are satisfied with the method of law enforcement that’s been employed since Dick Keinast took office in 1977 after being elected in 1976.

Like Keinast and his successor, six-term Sheriff Bob Braudis, DiSalvo has followed the mantra of treating drug problems as a health – not criminal – issue. DiSalvo ran on a platform that was essentially an extension of Keinast and Braudis’ law enforcement philosophy, vowing to make a relatively seamless transition into the sheriff’s post when he’s sworn in Jan. 11.

“The thing I’m really proud of,” DiSalvo said, “is this is a credit to this whole department that we’ve created over the last 30 years.

“Bob and I are lucky to have 60 people that work their asses off for us every day and are very well aware of the philosophical history that we represent, and have a really good grasp on what I want in the future.”

From the time DiSalvo declared his candidacy for sheriff in April – days after Braudis announced his retirement – a legion of influential community members wielded their support. That included Braudis, arguably the most popular elected official in Pitkin County since he took office in 1987, and with whom DiSalvo worked closely under over the years, most recently as undersheriff.

By contrast, Leonard was a relative unknown to Pitkin County voters, having moved to Basalt 4 1/2 years ago and earning his 20-plus years of law-enforcement stripes in Florida and New York.

Their positions on the issues, however, were the most distinguishable differences between the two.

Leonard pounced on DiSalvo’s overall approach to law enforcement, and promised to beef up law enforcement in Pitkin County, whether it was on the highways or if it came to the point of enlisting undercover drug agents.

Leonard said he felt he raised the level of discussion about the sheriff’s office and its practices during the campaign.

“I got a lot of support from people who are concerned about drug issues and a lot of people feel that law enforcement here in the valley could be more aggressive in their approach to enforcing the drug laws,” he said, “particularly the people that have suffered some sort of loss or personal experience with some members of their family or friends whose lives were destroyed by drugs.”

DiSalvo said little will change when he takes the helm. It will be at least two weeks before he announces any administrative changes at the sheriff’s office, he said.

“The service people got today is the same they will get tomorrow,” he said. “The changes that we’re going to make are not going to affect service to the public. Nothing will be done with a big, wide brush. It’s going to be done slowly, over time.”

If the Aug. 10 primary election results were any indication, there was little doubt how Election Day would turn out. DiSalvo garnered 2,314, of 77.5 percent, of the votes in the primary contest. Leonard eked out a second-place showing, collecting 358 votes, or 12 percent, compared to Rick Magnuson’s 314 votes, or 10.5 percent.

Leonard said he understood that he had an uphill battle. He also said he was misunderstood by many in the community, particularly local newspaper opinion writers, whom he said took his positions out of context without doing their homework.

“I wasn’t really proposing any draconian law enforcement,” he said. “I tried to stay on message; I tried to stay positive and keep it on the issues.”

Leonard, who retired from policing in 2003, said he was recharged by the campaign.

“I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me that might be interested in having me apply for a job, so I’ll research that,” he said, adding that the employment prospects are not in the immediate area.

If Leonard sticks around the valley, he said he might enter the 2014 sheriff’s election.

“I’d love to take another crack at it,” he said.

In the meantime, Leonard extended congratulations to DiSalvo for his triumph.

“I wish Joe and all the deputies on his staff the best,” he said. “I really do.”

Likewise, DiSalvo commended Leonard for entering the race.

“He had a lot of courage to run and I think he ran a clean race,” DiSalvo said. “We both spoke a few times and we made an agreement with each other to keep it clean and I think it shows the character of him. I really thank him for getting into this.

“He’s had a very honorable career and I think it showed.”