Joe DiSalvo for sheriff |

Joe DiSalvo for sheriff

An Aspen Times editorial

The departure of longtime Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis has created a wide-open race to become the top cop in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. At first, voters had four candidates to choose from, but recently Hugh Zuker, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen and a current sheriff’s deputy himself, dropped out of the race.

We are now left with three candidates: Joe DiSalvo, Braudis’ current undersheriff and an adherent to Braudis’ laid-back style of law enforcement; Rick Magnuson, an Aspen police officer and unsuccessful sheriff’s candidate in 2006; and Patrick “Rick” Leonard, an experienced lawman from Florida who recently relocated to Basalt.

Two of these candidates will advance from Tuesday’s primary election to the November general election, and the one who receives the fewest votes will drop out.

Honestly, this race is probably DiSalvo’s to lose. He’s the heir apparent to a popular sheriff who has loomed large in local politics, and DiSalvo himself is well-known and well-liked around town. He has made missteps over the years, including punching a man at Jimmy’s restaurant in 2004 who he felt to be threatening him (DiSalvo was off duty at the time). But the fact is the undersheriff has essentially run the sheriff’s office during Braudis’ recent extended absences, and he’s clearly spent most of his professional life preparing for this opportunity.

Twice now, Rick Magnuson has shown guts and intelligence in vying for this post. He has studied the workings of the sheriff’s office, presented compelling arguments for ways to better protect public safety, and proven that he’s a dedicated and serious public servant. We agree with Magnuson that the next sheriff can be much more proactive about preventing substance abuse, which is at the root of many local crimes. However, Magnuson has never managed a sizable staff or run a public or private organization; he has a solid but unremarkable tenure in a department with numerous problems, from evidence collection and storage to investigative procedures. We like Magnuson’s ideas, but aren’t convinced he’s ready for this post.

Leonard, on the other hand, has paid his dues in law enforcement, with years spent in New York and Florida as a patrol officer, investigator, detective and commander. He, too, offers compelling critiques of Braudis’ approach and leadership (or lack thereof), and he has good ideas to build bridges between the sheriff’s office and various elements of the community, from residents in the county’s remote corners to nonprofits working to prevent and treat substance abuse.

Still, we don’t sense that Leonard understands Pitkin County, at least not yet, and that he might bring a more urban style of policing to a county that has long preferred to do nearly all things, law enforcement and otherwise, in its own unique way. He also strikes us as being defensive and somewhat cold, qualities not becoming of a Pitkin County sheriff.

Which brings us back to DiSalvo, who has earned the trust of the community over more than two decades of service. He deserves, at the least, to advance to the November general election. We recommend a vote for the current undersheriff, and we would encourage him to kick it up a notch between now and November by committing to tougher traffic enforcement, substance abuse education and prevention, better public outreach (especially to outlying communities), and beefed-up courtroom security.

On Tuesday, vote Joe DiSalvo for Pitkin County sheriff.