That was then … this is now
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Tony Hershey was bummed in a big way four years ago when he lost a runoff election to Torre for an Aspen City Council seat. Today, he considers it one of the luckiest days of his life.”I joke the only thing worse than losing that race would have been winning it,” he said.Losing the political battle derailed Hershey’s direction, but ultimately led him to a career he finds rewarding, and, observers say, he does well.Hershey, 42, is a deputy district attorney in the Garfield County’s Ninth Judicial District, handling juvenile court cases for District Attorney Martin Beeson. Hershey said he’s doing something he enjoys, and something that makes a difference in many young lives.Those defense attorneys who line up against Hershey credited him with professionalism and a genuine interest in helping troubled youth.”He shows a compassion that is important for a prosecutor in juvenile court to have, and I respected it,” said Aspen attorney James R. True.In court last week, Hershey recommended supervised probation – complete with treatment for substance use and random drug testing – for a young man popped for possessing a small amount of cocaine and, thus, violating probation just five days after he was sentenced in another juvenile court matter.Hershey could have made life difficult for the man – who recently turned 18 – by taking a more hard-line position. Instead, Hershey offered a plea bargain, allowing him to “avoid some serious consequences,” noted Garfield County Judge Paul Metzger.The man was apologetic to the judge for violating probation, vowing to clean-up his act now that he’s an adult – realizing he will go to jail if he doesn’t. He shook Hershey’s hand, thanking him as he left the courtroom.
The man’s attorney, Mark Rubenstein, later said his client realized Hershey was trying to give him a chance to straighten out his life.Rubenstein handled three cases that day, all of which Hershey was prosecuting. He characterized Hershey as “very fair; very impartial; very concerned about the well-being of juveniles in general.”He said Hershey fully discusses a case before deciding what direction to take. “Some prosecutors have the reputation of saying ‘take it or leave it.'” Rubenstein added that Hershey isn’t heavy-handed – he’s fair and firm. “You can’t roll him over, so to speak,” he said.Hershey said Rubenstein’s client was taking responsibility for his actions and making what Hershey felt were constructive efforts to change.That’s what Hershey said he likes best about the job: the opportunity – like teachers and youth counselors – to improve someone’s life.”My job is to get them back on track so that when they reach 18, they don’t get arrested,” he said.
Some familiar with Hershey’s six years in the limelight of Aspen politics may be surprised by his current level of professionalism and compassion. But the dichotomy shouldn’t come as a shock, he said, and his politics are far-removed from his career as a prosecutor, he said. Hershey was the mouth that roared in Aspen from 1999 to 2003. After voters booted him from city council, some felt he wielded a more powerful pen as a columnist for the Aspen Daily News.He was a moderate Republican swimming in a sea of liberal Democrats. Hershey not only offered alternative views, he often flaunted them. (The headline on his first column after the 2004 presidential election said, “Ha-ha, Bush won.”)Hershey is a details man. He does his homework, researches positions carefully and is bright, all qualities serving him well in 1998 when he was writing letters to newspapers explaining why a commuter train wouldn’t work in the valley. His position and ability to articulate drew attention. People asked him to run for council. He won a seat, much to his surprise, based on his opposition to rail systems and those elected officials supporting it.Hershey grew up in Aspen. His father, Martin Hershey, was once police chief. But, despite the familiarity with the town, he said he “was unprepared for the realities of Aspen politics.”
Hershey seemed to take pleasure duking it out with city council colleagues Rachel Richards and Terry Paulson. In hindsight, he said, his behavior was “rude and abrasive,” noting that he would sometimes shake his head or show disinterest when a member of the council or audience expressed a view counter to his own. He also insulted civic gadfly Toni Kronberg at public meetings.”You can’t yell at constituents,” he said.But Hershey also said he was the target of as much harsh treatment as he dished out, believing he was unfairly labeled. “I think people misunderstood me,” he said.He’s proud he “shook things up,” often offering an alternative view on the council. He feels he was part of a “functional majority” with Mayor Helen Klanderud and former councilman Tim Semrau in 2001 until May 2003.He does regret some of his actions. “You have to be polite” as a council member, he said, noting the position warrants the same level of professionalism he displays as an attorney in court.Hershey said his behavior came back to haunt him in the 2003 city election, when Torre “destroyed” him. Having your name associated with an “R” – as in Republican – doesn’t help either in a town like Aspen, he said.
The Aspen Daily News offered Hershey a weekly columnist slot soon after he lost election. Hershey snapped the opportunity to keep an alternative voice out there.While he said he doesn’t exactly regret some of the things he wrote, he would eliminate some of the personal attacks against people like Richards and former Pitkin County commissioner Mick Ireland.”I wrote what I wanted to write. Sometimes I took it too far,” he said. “That stuff’s in print and it’s there forever.”Hershey talked to Ireland about some of the things he wrote, but he won’t repeat what was said. He said he tried to joke with Richards about the column, but isn’t sure she was ready to let it go.As with his tenure on council, Hershey believes he was misunderstood in a way as a columnist. He wanted to be read. He wanted to get a rise out of people, so he took on a persona that was sometimes exaggerated. Picking on Ireland by publishing a countdown each week of how many days he had left in office “was calculated,” he said.Hershey has mended fences with many of his Aspen foes in a saga that proves true the cliché about politics making strange bedfellows. Hershey worked for former District Attorney Colleen Truden and initially stayed loyal to the embattled prosecutor when a recall attempt was launched. But the way he was treated drove him from the office, and he joined the recall effort, collecting signatures for a petition to place the recall on the ballot.”I felt like John Dean,” he said, referring to President Nixon’s White House attorney who provided damaging testimony in Watergate hearings. “I’m the administration whistle blower.”
The effort allied him with people like Ireland and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis. Other people who vilified him as a councilman praised him for helping expose Truden and influencing the election.”I’m, all of sudden, the darling of the liberals,” Hershey said. “I sort of liked it because [some of those] people were so mean to me.”Truden’s recall was successful and Beeson offered Hershey a position as deputy district attorney. Prosecutors typically progress from county court to juvenile court to district court – and sometimes they do a bit of everything – but for now, Hershey enjoys working with juveniles. “Maybe I found my little niche,” he said.If he had topped Torre in that May 2003 runoff election, Hershey would be ending his second term. He isn’t looking back, at least not with remorse.”All of these opportunities came out of me losing that election,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.