Smiddy ready to bear down as Pitkin County commissioner
As for why she’s running for Pitkin County commissioner, it’s not that she disagrees so much with incumbent Kelly McNicholas Kury
Here’s what to remember about Erin Smiddy’s encounter in a party dress with the bear: She punched back and kept swinging.
The full-grown bruin trapped her in a downtown alley in late July 2014, stood on his hind legs and swatted at her, mostly missing and landing heavily.
“I smacked him on the snout, like a dog” she remembered with a laugh. She also was yelling ‘No!” and kicked him, thankful for her cowgirl boots, the kind with sharp points. She escaped with a scratch on her belly and a cut needing 17 stitches on an upper leg.
The bear got more than it could have asked for, and she figured it wasn’t ready for a real fight anyway. That’s not how the bears of Aspen roll, and she would know. She’s lived here since she was 6.
Besides, she’s handled tougher situations than that in her life. Like joining the Aspen Fire Department as a volunteer when the older guys weren’t exactly crazy about working with young women, then rising to captain. Like beating out 117 other applicants to become a sheriff’s deputy. Like taming rowdy fellow board members at APCHA, then becoming the chairperson.
All with a twinkle in the eye, the look of a someone who grew up with older brothers, that twinkle, a barest hint that this might have been the biggest challenge of all.
As for why she’s running for Pitkin County commissioner, it’s not that she disagrees so much with incumbent Kelly McNicholas Kury. They share a focus on housing, child care, and the working-class locals.
She’s said more than once she thought Kury was doing a “nice” or a “good” job.
No, her issue with Kury isn’t ideas. In a sense, it’s fight, though not so much of the pointy boot kind.
“She advocates for a lot of things and she has a lot of ideas, and they don’t get done. She’s not persuading her fellow board members,” said Smiddy, who recalled her early days on the APCHA board with strong personalities she was able to bring together first as a new board member and then as the chair. This was much the same as showing the old goats at the fire department she belonged and then supervising many of them while a woman in her 30s.
She sees Kury’s approach as relying too much on facts and figures and too little on relating to fellow board members.
“I just think I have a more friendly, relatable approach,” Smiddy said. “And I’ve lived the situations in this town. I can give real life stories as to why. I like Kelly, but Kelly has had it way too easy here.” Kury arrived in 2013 to work in the city of Aspen elections office and has served as a Pitkin County commissioner since running unopposed in 2018.
The crux of Smiddy’s pitch is that she and Kury share core values and priorities on the issues, but Smiddy will get more actually done.
“I’m muzzle deficient,” she said with a laugh. Friendly, relatable but also unrelenting as she bears down especially on housing issues. The county owning only 17 affordable housing units is unacceptable to her. They can and need to do a lot more.
“And I hope, you know, if Kelly does get re-elected that it’s not four years of the same thing. Just ideas, talking, and the rest of the board not going along,” Smiddy said. “I’ll be outrageously aggressive about housing.”
She sees plainly that the county has land well suited to building affordable housing, and the neighboring municipalities have plenty of money, so there is a lot of potential for teaming up more on appropriate projects.
As she spoke about top priorities — child care, traffic, quality of life for local working people — she added collaboration among the municipalities and county, saying she saw room for improvement there. Enough so to include this in her big three with housing and child care.
Her birth father was out of the picture around the time she was born in New York City. She and three brothers moved to Vermont and then Eagle by the time she was 3. When she was 6, they moved to Aspen in a station wagon when her mother took a transfer with her job at Colorado Mountain College. Even then it was hard to find housing. She estimated they moved eight or nine times before her mother was able to buy a three-bedroom at Williams Ranch employee housing during her sophomore year at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She was able to buy it 10 years ago when her mom and stepdad moved out and became frequent visitors.
Aspen has changed, true, she said, in part from longtime locals moving out. That’s not her plan; she wants to be part of keeping the community’s character intact. She’s closing on 20 years volunteering with the fire department, a bucket list item, along with serving as a sheriff’s deputy. She’s also helped run a brother’s limo company and took a job with the onset of Covid at Clark’s Market in Snowmass.
Serving as a county commissioner is another bucket list item, but it’s public service that’s really her jam. She said she wants to be a good citizen, serve the community and take work she feels real passion for.
The bear that night rose eye to eye with the 6’2″ Smiddy, who once contemplated basketball scholarships. She didn’t retreat, at least not far, mainly because she couldn’t. She would rather have talked the bear down if she could, as an animal lover among all else. But she wasn’t afraid to give the beast more than it could handle in other ways if it came to that.
In her life, she’s always found the grit to get what’s important to her done.
While new restaurants enter the Aspen scene, there are several spaces that will remain empty this winter. Meanwhile, the retail market remains extremely hot.