Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Congratulations, Jack Johnson! What are you going to do now that you are a cinch to win the election for Pitkin County commissioner next month – govern Disneyland? Why not? You know what you’re getting into. Been there, done that, do it again. Good luck!
Yes, you read it right. I really did just declare Jack Johnson the winner of the upcoming county commissioner race even though the official vote won’t be certified until the wee hours of election night, Nov. 2, or sometime next summer if Marilyn Marks has anything left for another election lawsuit.
How do I know? Well, from history, of course. Some people who don’t know ours have repeated a huge mistake that will sink Rob Ittner’s ship. All that’s left is waiting around until history comes back around. It’s closing in.
But, I’m way ahead of myself. This story really began back in 1994 during the county commissioner race at that pivotal point on our timeline. It was a clash of local political heavyweights: Max Marolt against Mick Ireland.
The reigning champ was Ireland. Although he had never won a local election, he was appointed to fill the seat of former county commissioner Fred Crowley, who abruptly resigned the year before over some yet to be uncovered scandal or for personal reasons, I can’t remember which. Anyway, Mick had experience and the incumbency which made him the man to beat.
In the other corner was Max Marolt, no political slouch. He had been a Pitkin County commissioner in the ’70s and would later win a seat on the Aspen City Council. He may not have been the incumbent, but he had a track record and a following, which made him the man who could beat Ireland. He was also my father, which put him first on my ballot.
As you can imagine, in this politically charged town, in a race this evenly matched, at a time with so much on the line for this valley, things got intense. People argued in the bars, fought in front of the post office, and were distracted at church. The organized debates were heated. Candidates were desperate for each and every vote and competed door to door for them, snarling as they passed each other making the same rounds.
Through all of this fiercely fought battle, I am proud to say that neither candidate lost his head. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of some “supporters.” More unfortunately for Max Marolt, some of his most zealous supporters hid anonymously behind the shield of their own political action committee to run a rouge campaign “on his behalf.” It came at the time when many felt that Max had gained the upper hand. It was flung mud hitting the fan and, as you may have guessed, it may as well have been … well, let’s just say the word I’m thinking of rhymes with “nit” and “wit.”
I remember the day about two weeks before the election when the full-page ad appeared in the local newspapers. It contained an unflattering caricature of Mick dressed like Napoleon and the headline read, “Mick Ireland, The Little Dicktator.” After that, the rest of what it said didn’t matter. Talk about stupidity! My jaw dropped. I was absolutely incredulous. So was most of the rest of town. It was cruel. It was dirty. It was exaggerated. It wasn’t Aspen.
I stopped by my parents’ house that evening. My father was sitting at the dinner table with my mother. He took one look at my face and he knew what was on my mind. He dropped his gaze to the table and just shook his head in total disbelief. He had been betrayed by his own supporters, and he knew it.
Looking back, Max should have made an effort to denounce the Dicktator heads. He thought he could diffuse the situation by ignoring it. Maybe he was afraid of losing critical votes if he criticized them. What he failed to recognize is that he could have completely called them out without worry. They were never voting for him in the first place. They were purely voting against Mick, and nothing would have changed that!
The rest is the history that I am sure we are repeating. Mick beat Max by just 43 votes, and it launched his local political tenure that has stretched to 17 years and counting. The irony, of course, is that the people who hated Mick so badly actually ensured his locally unmatched political success. It has seemed to me that ever since that time, people running against Mick have been tainted, fairly or not, as mean spirited and ruthless by Dicktatorgate. We know for certain that nobody has come close to beating him since.
Two things are worth noting for would-be candidates about that incident. First, running a campaign that is purely and totally against the other candidate is 100 percent negative by definition. Nobody likes that! And, it just can’t work in a small town, besides. Innuendo has a hard time sticking when any ordinary citizen can talk to any ordinary candidate on any ordinary street corner or in the produce section of City Market any old time.
Second, and more importantly, the Little Dicktator thing completely lacked integrity and substance, and that is not what Aspen is about. We can fight, and scream, and yell with the best of them, but when that fighting dives beneath the bar of common decency this community has a way of shoving it right past and out the double-hinged, swinging doors back into the gutter where it crawled out of.
So, now we have Jack Johnson against Rob Ittner for county commissioner. It is a fierce battle. We have a small group of rogue Ittner “supporters” whose stated purpose is solely to make sure Jack Johnson doesn’t get elected. They create a brutal website (and initially deny doing so) that doesn’t give us one reason to vote for Ittner; its only purpose is to embarrass Johnson. It is barely two weeks before the election, and Ittner, while belatedly asking for the website to be shut down, has yet to disassociate himself from the “supporters” who created it. See anything familiar here?
Like I said, congratulations, Jack Johnson.
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