Wink’ Jaffee dead at dead at age 77
April 24, 2003
Wilton “Wink” Jaffee, one of the more colorful and contentious characters in Aspen’s recent political history, died on Tuesday in Boulder, of prostate cancer. He was 77 years old.
As the owner of the W/J Ranch on McLain Flats Road near Woody Creek, Jaffee was well-known for the lively community rodeos he held at the ranch. He was also well-known for the cavalier attitude he took toward government regulations, his support of employee housing on his ranch and for his caustic criticism of Pitkin County elected officials and staff.
“He was a pain in the ass, but people loved him,” said his wife of 16 years, Melissa Jaffee. “There was no one like him.”
Wink Jaffee was originally from New York City, where he was a successful commodities trader and one of the youngest people to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1958, he and his father, Wilton Jaffee, bought what would become the W/J Ranch from Albert Duroux. The ranch is set on a series of mesas that step up from the Roaring Fork River. The upper bench, just above McLain Flats Road, is a beautiful meadow with sweeping views of the high country.
“He loved that piece of property,” Melissa Jaffee said.
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Jeanne Jaffee, wife of the late Wilton Jaffee, once said her husband and Duroux talked openly about how the ranch would never end up in the hands of developers. And to this day, gaining approval from Pitkin County to develop the property has proven elusive for a series of owners.
Father and son – Wilton and Wink – split the ranch in 1962, leaving the younger Wink with the bulk of the property and its water rights.
In 1994, Wink Jaffee moved to Boulder with his wife and his two young children after apparently selling the ranch to water attorney John Musick, although he may have retained an ownership stake in a complicated transfer of the property.
His wife’s family lived in the Boulder area, and Jaffee took the opportunity to get involved at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he was a guest lecturer in Roman history, a subject he had long studied.
And while Jaffee may have loved the W/J Ranch, throughout much of the time he was there he wrangled with Pitkin County and resisted government regulation.
“Wink just didn’t like anybody telling him what to do with his property,” Melissa Jaffee said. “He just didn’t want to be told what to do. But he loved the community. He loved the people here. And he loved the employees.”
Jaffee constructed 62 affordable rental units on the middle bench of land at W/J Ranch, and he did so without much government oversight in either the planning and permitting process or in regard to the below-market rental rates he charged.
“He just understood the need for housing for people who needed to work in Aspen,” Melissa Jaffee said. Today, the housing units that he built are owned by working locals.
But Jaffee refused to ever work in concert with Pitkin County and often railed against the local political system and what he once called “Aspen’s professional bullshit.”
In 1980, when Jaffee ran for a Pitkin County commissioner seat, The Aspen Times reported that he had provided 250 units of affordable housing, including W/J, an apartment complex and housing units he owned in Carbondale.
Jaffee’s “Think Wink” campaign called for more affordable housing and for community decisions by referendum, and he attacked the growth-control measures instituted by commissioners.
In a four-way race, Jaffee sought the commission seat occupied by rancher Bob Child. After a rancorous campaign, Child held his seat.
Jaffee was known to have contributed to several pro-highway construction and anti-transit political campaigns. He backed a recall campaign against the county commissioners in 1976 – and another one in the late 1990s, when he offered support for the campaign to recall Commissioner Mick Ireland over the construction of the Maroon Creek roundabout.
In 1995, the Pitkin County commissioners admonished Jaffee for building what looked a lot like a luxury house on property he owned in the rural Carbondale area – after he had received approval to build a barn.
After one of many contentious meetings with the commissioners about the ranch, Jaffee was quoted as saying, “Can they turn us down today? You bet you, they can. Can we go to court and win? You bet you, we can. And Pitkin County citizens will pay for the litigation.”
And in what was one of the more outlandish of Jaffee’s broadsides against the county’s politicians, he once leveled a charge of anti-Semitism against an elected official and went so far as to write a letter to an attorney in the U.S. Civil Rights Division making his case.
In an editorial about the letter, The Aspen Times noted that “Mr. Jaffee, as the owner of the W/J Ranch, was for a long time a prominent figure in the Aspen political scene. Known for his bluster, his personal attacks on those he did not agree with and his cheerful and almost total disregard of government regulations, Mr. Jaffee often provided some not-unwelcome comic relief.
“This week’s letter, however, went far beyond amusement, far beyond even the relaxed bounds of what is acceptable in Aspen politics.”
Jaffee, when not stirring the pot locally, worked trading commodities from his bank of computers in his home office. He once told Musick to visualize him as a great raven, flying over fields of soybeans and corn, noting the location of inefficiencies in the market.
In addition to his wife, Melissa, Jaffee is survived by their daughter, Catherine, and son, Arthur; sons by previous marriages, Robert, of Chicago, Edward, of Connecticut, and Alexander, of Arizona; and sister, Barbara, of Denver.
A service will be conducted on Sunday, April 27, in Boulder at noon.