Cheap shots – an honored tradition
Well, it seems this year’s Aspen election is finally heating up. A few cheap shots, a few potshots, a couple of insults, a handful of misquotes and … sha-zam! It feels like an election.
We newspaper people love it, of course. It gives us something to put on the front page. (You always suspected that, didn’t you?) But, as a just plain citizen, I find the nasty stuff a little depressing.
I got a double dose of that feeling when I realized how many of this year’s election issues are the same ones we fought over last time around: Burlingame, the Entrance to Aspen.
It’s doubly depressing because it seems as if nasty fights never fade away – and because that last election campaign was a particularly unpleasant one.
I found myself thinking back to the fight over the Entrance to Aspen, remembering how vicious it got. I remembered my feeling back then that I was particularly amazed at the efforts of the anti-Straight-Shot people.
They were the ones who wanted to keep the highway on the current, S-curve alignment and I remember that they ran a particularly vicious campaign.
There were personal attacks, unfounded allegations … really, there were what seemed to be plain old flat-out lies – all in an effort to keep the highway right where it is.
And what really bothered me was the fact that these people seemed to be – certainly claimed to be – the “good-old, longtime locals.”
Actually, I knew most of them and they really were people who had been around for a long time.
That bothered me because, I confess, I tend to be one of those “remember the good old days” types and I’m enough of an Aspen chauvinist to feel that good-old longtime locals ought to be, you know, groovy.
I mean, people who have lived here a long time ought to be relaxed and happy and honest and intelligent. They ought to feel passionately about the issues, of course, but vicious personal attacks during a political campaign … well, it just didn’t feel right.
All that came back to me this week.
It bothered me. And then I remembered the very first Aspen political campaign I was ever involved in.
And that made me feel a lot better.
It was back in 1973. A group of us young idealistic types (pretty new in town, I must admit) had decided that the old guard that was running the city were too much in favor of development.
The way we saw it, they were looking to get as rich as possible, as quick as possible, and they didn’t care if they destroyed the town in the process.
We decided that Aspen had to be saved. So we got a friend of ours, a mountain-climbing ski bum who tended bar at Little Annie’s, to run for mayor.
In fact, this ski-bum bartender had a background in planning, with impressive academic credentials. He was the perfect candidate – young, smart, idealistic.
We ran a pretty strong campaign that focused on “issues” and “vision” and stuff like that.
The other candidate was a certified representative of the Old Guard, exactly the kind of guy who, we knew, was eager to sell the town down the river and let the developers run wild.
We felt like we were doing pretty well. We ran a lot of ads. We got a lot of endorsements. We were concentrating on Aspen’s future.
And then, not very many days before the election, I was amazed – shocked, really – to learn about a campaign mailing that had been sent out by a member of Aspen’s longtime local, intellectual, artistic community.
These were people, we were sure, who ought to absolutely understand and support our campaign and our candidate. These were people who ought to share our vision of protecting Aspen from runaway development.
So I was upset that this mailing was in support of our opponent.
But I was even more upset that it was vicious, a personal attack on our candidate that had nothing to do with any of the election issues.
And, because it had been sent out anonymously, it was actually illegal.
An illegal, anonymous, vicious personal attack. In support of the wrong candidate.
It really upset me.
In the end, our guy won the election. He served several terms as mayor through the mid-1970s – and Aspen either was or was not “saved.” Take your pick.
But, in any case, that personal attack didn’t really make any difference.
And, this week, when I thought back to that episode from 30 years ago, it cheered me up.
Not because we had won, despite the dirty politics.
It cheered me up because it reminded me that, in fact, nasty politics are a good-old, longtime Aspen tradition.
My friends who got so nasty about the Straight Shot/S-Curves vote weren’t betraying the Aspen Spirit. They were keeping it alive.
So carry on – and let the cheap shots fall where they may.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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