Ireland target of Hershey’s threats
Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey recently tried to “muzzle” a private citizen by using political threats against a fellow elected official.
In an e-mail message sent to Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland on April 28, Hershey wrote, “I don’t like Frank Peters [a former Aspen city councilman] and he does not like me.” He then demanded that Ireland “tell Frank and his Gestapo to back off me and my friends.”
Hershey told Ireland to “put a muzzle” on Peters and threatened to get actively involved in the recall campaign against Ireland if he didn’t get Peters to shut up, alleging that he could swing “400 or 500 votes” against the county commissioner.
Hershey initially declined to reveal what sparked his anti-Peters tirade, and objected to a public airing of the message. “It was intended as a private conversation between me and Mick,” he said.
The e-mail was forwarded to The Aspen Times by Peters, who received it from Ireland. In his forwarding message to Peters, Ireland wrote, “I am not in the muzzle business.”
Hershey acknowledged this week that it was a recent encounter between Peters and local attorney Millard Zimet – and apparently an unfriendly exchange over Zimet’s role in the recall campaign – that partially drove him to write to Ireland. He said he is unwilling to talk directly to Peters, but has an e-mail relationship with Ireland that allows the two to discuss local issues even though they are political antagonists.
Hershey’s e-mail refers to the recall campaign. “I have kept out of this recall effort despite the fact that some of my political allies are involved in it and support it,” he wrote. “I did sign it, but that is as far as I will go unless you don’t tell Frank and his Gestapo to back off me and my friends.
“Can I swing 400 or 500 votes either way? Who knows? But you don’t want to find out. Put a muzzle on that guy or this will get even more ugly than it is already.”
Peters, in an e-mail to the Times, recounted his conversation with Zimet.
“I told him I thought the recall was despicable,” wrote Peters, “and that I hoped his own personal behavior would be held up to the same type of public examination he was so intent on reserving for Mick.
“I was, of course, referring to Mr. Zimet’s attempt to extract land concessions from Rose Bingham, who at the time was recently widowed.” That property dispute took place in 1994, when Bingham and Zimet were neighbors in the Cemetery Lane area.
Hershey said another factor in his decision to write the e-mail was that he heard, from an unnamed source, that Peters made “some veiled political threats” to expose information from Hershey’s past if he runs for election to the Board of County Commissioners.
Peters denied the allegation. “Oh, geez, this is getting absurd. I really haven’t been thinking about Tony,” he said.
Hershey, for his part, said he has no plans to run for a county board seat.
“We all have skeletons in our closets,” Hershey added, freely declaring that “one of mine” is a bankruptcy at some point in his past. “I don’t know what he would raise about my personal life,” Hershey added.
Hershey at first denied that he was threatening Ireland with political retribution, saying he has exchanged subsequent e-mails with Ireland and that “it’s cleared up … that wasn’t what I meant.” Ireland confirmed that further e-mails were exchanged, but that he still felt Hershey made “an inappropriate attempt to compel me to do something I didn’t want to do.”
Hershey later conceded the point, asking rhetorically, “Can it be perceived as threats against Mick and going down to the same level as Frank? Yes.”
He said he regrets his use of certain phrases in the e-mail about Peters, explaining, “I know I handled it very poorly.”
But, he added, “To refer to him as Gestapo? I think a lot of people would agree with me. He has a reputation of being a nasty guy in local politics. But that doesn’t mean he’s a member of the Gestapo.”
The Gestapo were the secret police of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government.
This is not the first time that intemperate remarks have gotten Hershey in hot water.
In the spring of 1999, shortly after Hershey was first elected to the City Council and John Bennett had retired from the mayor’s office, Hershey was quoted in a news story as calling Bennett an “erudite prick.” The two had been bitter political enemies.
The recall campaign against Ireland was launched by local citizens angry that he had referred to some area residents as “liars and greedheads” in an e-mail.
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