McNicholas Kury prepared for Pitkin County commissioner job after going unopposed
Kelly McNicholas Kury had a vague idea that eventually she would run for public office.
With her background as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa — where she said she learned the value of good governance — to her graduate degree in international studies with a concentration in democracy and governance to her current job as Pitkin County’s elections manager, McNicholas Kury’s future as an elected official seemed inevitable.
“I figured I’d probably consider it and attempt to do it at some point,” she said during a recent interview. “I thought maybe I’d run for Janice’s job when she retires.”
Janice Vos Caudill is Pitkin County’s clerk and recorder and McNicholas Kury’s boss.
But with Commissioner Rachel Richards’ impending retirement, McNicholas Kury said she began thinking about running for the seat last winter. At first she began encouraging other people to run for the seat, though they turned it back on her and asked why she didn’t consider running for the job herself.
“Rachel’s seat was term-limited, and I was wanting to have a woman stay in that seat,” said McNicholas Kury, 40, a resident of Burlingame.
So she officially declared her candidacy at the Pitkin County Democrats assembly in late March. Then she waited to find out who she’d be running against.
About a month later — after the deadline to gather signatures and turn in petitions to be on the November ballot passed — no one else stepped up to run for the District 2 seat.
The job, which pays $84,665 a year, was and is hers come the new year.
“I was very surprised when I heard (no one else was running),” McNicholas Kury said. “I fully expected (competition).”
Vos Caudill also said she expected other candidates to file for the seat.
“We are all surprised it’s not contested,” she said. “I knew other candidates were interested but I don’t know why they didn’t file.”
Commissioner Patti Clapper, who is running for re-election this year against Rob Ittner, said she’s gotten to know McNicholas Kury over the past five years after volunteering as an election judge and thinks highly of her.
“No one can fill Rachel’s shoes,” said Clapper, noting her colleague’s stints as Aspen mayor, city councilwoman and three terms as commissioner. “But I think the community will be very lucky to have Kelly sitting on the Board of County Commissioners.”
McNicholas Kury spent her childhood outside Cleveland before moving with her family to Connecticut, where she finished high school in the town of Avon outside Hartford.
She spent two years in the Peace Corps in Niger, where she was the lone volunteer in a rural area in the northern part of the country on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
“I was hours away from the nearest (Peace Corps) volunteer,” McNicholas Kury said. “I was sort of an outpost volunteer.”
She specialized in natural resource management and oversaw projects that focused on food security and income generation. She said she worked with women’s cooperatives to develop rainy season gardens and help diversify income sources.
Her stint in the Peace Corps ended in 2009 and McNicholas Kury said she began looking at graduate school programs. She focused on the University of Denver, where an adviser she liked who specialized in democracy and societies transitioning to democracy worked.
McNicholas Kury graduated in 2012 and applied for a job with Pitkin County’s Elections Department. She was hired and moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2013.
Almost immediately, she met her future husband, Scott. The two were married atop Aspen Mountain in 2015 and now have an 18-month-old daughter, Brigid.
McNicholas Kury has the endorsement of the local Democratic Party and said she’s a progressive when it comes to her political philosophy.
“I think you need to always treat people fairly,” she said.
She’s particularly interested in the issue of affordable housing and would like to see the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority become stronger. The lack of day care options in the valley also is high on her list, she said.
“There is such a need and I think we need to do more (about day care),” McNicholas Kury said. “We need to look at upping the services.”
She’d also like to concentrate on open space and the wilderness and wants to see water quality and wildlife issues come more to the forefront before adding more trails.
“I don’t want to see the Central Rockies suburbanized,” McNicholas Kury said. “We need to prioritize keeping public lands pristine.”
Along those lines, her campaign tagline is “Families, Workers and Wilderness.”
“I’m ready to hear from or talk to anyone,” McNicholas Kury said. “I want that to be the core thrust of my tenure.”
Her current boss believes McNicholas Kury will excel in her new job.
“She’s done a phenomenal job as elections manager,” Vos Caudill said. “I think she’ll be an excellent commissioner.”
Aspen’s Fourth of July festivities came to a close after the sun had set on Monday with a laser light show.
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