Mailing attacks Garfield County candidates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A fake newspaper reporting false and libelous attacks on Democratic Garfield County commissioner candidates has appeared in thousands of mailboxes throughout the county, according to candidate Stephen Bershenyi.
Bershenyi, a Democrat, is running against three-term Republican incumbent John Martin. Democratic candidate Steve Carter is competing for another county commission seat against Republican Mike Samson.
The newspaper-like mailing is the latest in a series of negative mailings and ads funded from sources outside the county.
“I had hoped that it wouldn’t be a part of this race,” Bershenyi said at a press conference in his home held in response to the mailing on Sunday. “This is the very kind of thing that keeps good people from running, and I am very glad to say to the citizens of Garfield County that I am equal to the task.”
The mailing is appears similar to a newspaper, with four pages and a masthead that says “The Garfield County Post.” The first issue anyone can recall ever seeing came out this weekend, but the mailing printed its publication date as Nov. 2, 2008, and says it is issue 80 of volume 64 of the publication. The newspaper-like mailing says it’s paid for by Western Slope Independent, and it lists a post office box in “Delores.” Dolores is a small town in southwestern Colorado near Cortez. Western Slope Independent is not incorporated and hasn’t reported any campaign contributions with the Secretary of State.
The lead article accuses Bershenyi of opposing a 2003 Red Feather Ridge development to increase the value of his family’s ranch, which subsequently sold for $8.4 million to an Illinois developer who planned to “pave it over with 270 homes.”
But Bershenyi said the fake news article failed to distinguish between a ranch his family owned on County Road 125, also called Dry Park Road, and another his fourth cousin, John Wilson Bershenyi, owned at Four Mile Creek. People drive through that property on the way to Sunlight Mountain Resort.
John and his wife, Alice, sold the ranch at Four Mile in 2007 to Elk Meadow Properties LLC, according to the candidate and Alice Bershenyi.
“It had nothing to do with my family’s holdings, and my family has nothing to do with that parcel of property, but there have been lies spread in this county,” Stephen Bershenyi said. “It’s a totally separate branch of my family, and I have no interest in it nor does anyone on my side of the family have anything to gain from that particular situation.”
Alice Bershenyi said, “He didn’t have anything to do with that ranch. He’s from a different family altogether. I don’t know where that came from. … I just don’t understand people coming out with stuff that they don’t even know anything about. It’s too bad people don’t have anything better to do with their lives.”
Bershenyi said he was part of a citizens group that opposed the Red Feather Ridge project due to concerns about high-density growth spreading into the Four Mile Creek area. He said that group received no outside funding.
The article suggests Bershenyi is a “well to do” multimillionaire. But Bershenyi, a blacksmith and artist, said he has a second job of driving a school bus near Basalt to help pay for his family’s health insurance. He thought the negative mailing is a sign of desperation.
“I think it’s probably the result of a situation where special interests realized they were about to lose control of the chairmanship of the Garfield County commission,” he said. “In their desperation, their only approach is to try to tear someone apart and destroy their character and discredit them as a human being, and to me it’s almost beneath comment.”
He said he will probably file a complaint with the Secretary of State after Tuesday’s election regarding the newspaper mailing.
Commissioner Martin said he’s also been the subject of negative campaigning, but he doesn’t bother to respond to it. He said negative campaigning hurts everyone’s campaign.
“Somebody who sends that kind of stuff out is just being dishonorable,” Martin said.
Another article in the mailing accuses candidate Steve Carter of promising to make Garfield County a “sanctuary county for illegal aliens.”
Carter said in an e-mail that this latest smear mailing was funded by “shadowy political outsiders and energy industry (CEOs).”
“They’re reaching a new low,” he said. “I have always said that the way to reduce illegal immigration is to reduce the demand. Undocumented workers will not move to Garfield County if they can’t get work. Contractors must abide by the law prohibiting hiring illegal aliens, and Garfield County must enforce those laws.”
Samson has been critical of the questionable campaign ads financed by outsiders this year.
Overall, five groups outside the county spent around $45,700 in the past couple of months to influence this year’s two county commission races as of Oct. 24. About $31,500 went to ads supporting the Republican candidates or attacking Democratic candidates, while around $14,200 went to ads supporting the Democratic candidates or bashing Republican candidates.
A group of area mayors has endorsed the Democratic candidates and decried outside spending on ads attacking them. They said much of the funding came from the energy industry to support Republican candidates and was done by groups that failed to properly register or report the source of funds. Martin has said the mayors are hypocritical if they don’t form a political action committee because they endorsed candidates as a group and in political ads.
The weekend mailing, which looked very much like a newspaper, also included a story about the arrest of an “illegal Mexican alien,” but the article misspelled Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario’s last name.
There was also a “Meet the Candidates” graphic that stated that Carter and Bershenyi refused to answer a variety of issue-based questions, while it listed yes or no responses from Martin and Samson.
It also included a small sports section with high school football scores from three of the five high schools in the county. Correct scores and records from the season (except Friday night’s results) for Glenwood Springs, Grand Valley and Rifle were printed, but Roaring Fork and Coal Ridge high schools were not included.
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