Outspoken Aspenite Mike McGarry dies
January 24, 2012
ASPEN – Longtime Aspenite Michael “Buzz” McGarry, best known for his outspoken views on immigration reform, died of cancer on Jan. 22 in California.
McGarry, a 2001 City Council candidate, lived in Aspen for 41 years and worked for A-1 Maintenance for 17 years. He died at the home of his sister and brother-in-law in Fountain Valley, Calif., where he moved in October after his cancer was diagnosed. He chose not to undergo extensive treatment, which only would prolong the terminal illness, according to his friend, Fred Elbel, of Denver, who served with McGarry as co-director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform starting in the late 1990s.
Though the alliance favors immigration at reduced levels and advocates enforcement of immigration laws, McGarry was often the target of criticism from those who interpreted his stance as anti-immigrant or, worse, racist.
“He had both the understanding of the issue and the courage to take a stand, and I admired him for that,” Elbel said.
McGarry likely represented the views of a contingent of Aspenites, though few spoke up so fervently on the subject, his critics acknowledged.
He was a frequent contributor of letters to the editor on the subject of immigration and could skewer his detractors with a keen wit and pointed sarcasm.
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In 1999, McGarry was instrumental in bringing former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm to Aspen, where the men discussed immigration at what was then known as the Friday Men’s Lunch Club. Lamm was back in Aspen in 2006 to discuss Defend Colorado Now, an initiative focused on stopping illegal entry into the U.S.
McGarry also formed a local organization, the Valley Alliance for Social and Environmental Responsibility, aimed at checking population growth and immigration of foreign nationals to the Roaring Fork Valley. And he took issue with local government support for Roaring Fork Legal Services, which he said advised undocumented workers.
Elsewhere, according to Elbel, McGarry’s efforts included spearheading the Stop Amnesty project, for which he solely organized a New York City news conference with Tom Tancredo, then a congressman from Colorado and an opponent of illegal immigration. McGarry also organized several immigration debates, including one in 2003 with panelist Michelle Malkin, a conservative newspaper columnist, Elbel said.
McGarry was among a field of nine candidates who sought election to the Aspen City Council in 2001; he lost, coming in sixth. Andrew Kole also unsuccessfully sought a council post that year and remembers McGarry frequenting the talk show Kole hosted on local television.
“I liked Mike McGarry, but I don’t think I agreed with him very often,” Kole said. “He would come down anytime. He was always willing to debate.”
Kole said he recalls phoning McGarry while his show was on the air and getting McGarry’s voice message, which indicated he was unavailable – unless it was Kole calling. McGarry thought Kole might call and left a phone number where he could be reached.
“He anticipated my call. It was funny as all get-out,” Kole said.
Kole was calling about a letter to the editor McGarry had penned recently. He wrote many, and he didn’t pull punches. Aspen Times columnist Roger Marolt, also a seasoned writer, occasionally traded barbs with McGarry.
“I just really disagreed with him on his immigration stand,” Marolt said. “But he could hold his own, for sure. I don’t think he was ever just talking off the cuff. He thought things through. He was a clever and witty guy.”
McGarry also was involved in occasional legal wranglings with local government and, in 2002, accused the five-county Rural Resort Region, which includes Pitkin County, of violating the Colorado Open Meetings Law. Then-Aspen City Councilman Terry Paulson and McGarry, as part of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, filed suit along with four other Colorado residents. The litigation arose from the Rural Resort Region’s annual summit, held in Snowmass Village, where liberalizing immigration laws was discussed. Charging an admission fee to attend the summit discouraged participation by members of the public opposed to liberalizing existing immigration laws and violated the so-called Sunshine Law, the suit contended.
In a settlement, the defendants were required to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees and the Rural Resort Region agreed any actions discussed at the summit would not be acted upon without a future meeting held in compliance with the law.
Afterward, McGarry told The Aspen Times, “That summit was nothing less than a Stalinist show trial. They packed the house with all their like-minded, made sure they all had their admission fees paid for by governmental, employer and foundation sources, and then told us to pay up or butt out, as if we would just walk away from an invitation to a good brawl. That’s pretty funny.”