Meredith C. Carroll: Candidate Mesirow: more foam than beer?
January 30, 2019
Despite 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez serving as the U.S. representative from New York's 14th Congressional District for only 27 days, she's already managed to leave an indelible mark in Washington, D.C. Being an outspoken young woman who is also bright, tenacious, articulate and technologically savvy has set her apart not just from her new (older and mostly male) colleagues, but also others members of her oft-maligned millennial generation, which is frequently characterized as entitled and self-absorbed.
Aspen City Council candidate Skippy Mesirow, 32, is no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When he first ran unsuccessfully for a seat at the table in 2017, Red Ant blogger Elizabeth Milias wrote that instead of offering anything of substance, he gushed "flowery platitudes and a glittery view of utopian Aspen from 20,000 feet with a propensity towards "large doses of either naivety or intent to manipulate."
However, Mesirow's motive — at least in this year's race — appears neither guileless nor malevolent. He has spent several years volunteering his time doing the largely unsexy but important work on both Aspen's Planning and Zoning and Next Generation Advisory commissions. He succeeded in initiating a measure that passed with a comfortable margin in November aimed at increasing voter participation by moving Aspen's municipal elections from the spring offseason to the winter high season. He exudes no shortage of energy, enterprise and optimism, all of which have been glaringly absent from plenty of lesser characters who have previously (and, in some cases, currently) occupied the office.
Notwithstanding Mesirow's civic achievements, his style has a tendency to chafe rather than charm. It's not so much his bouffant hairdo, "Look at me! Look at me!" wardrobe or flair for appropriating more credit than he perhaps deserves for at least some of what he's accomplished. He also has eye-rolling taste in automatic out-of-office email replies ("Living a full and productive work life necessitates happiness and balance," read one from a few years ago. "To get there I need a regular shut down time. Time to hike. Time to rest. Time to laugh. And in this case, time to travel … Please bear with me as I recoup and recharge to be a better happier me.").
Then again, some of his other writing samples are on the bland side of generic ("I believe when you see a problem, you do something about it," he penned of his impetus into this year's council race. "However difficult or imperfect the solution, we must try something. If it doesn't work, correct course and try something else. We must allow for some failure or we will guarantee it.").
In an interview earlier this month, Mesirow first denied and then seemingly feigned forgetfulness about disguising his identity on the Next Gen Facebook page on more than one occasion for the purpose of promoting his own interests, moves that Aspen City Attorney Jim True characterize as noncompliant with the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act. Mesirow has outlined only a handful of goals for his first term in office should he get one, including making Aspen "the first city in the country with 100% voter participation," according to a recent Instagram post (that is most remarkable for how many "likes" it has not received, which, as of press time, was fewer than 20) — a cause no one has either clamored for or reasonably expects will ever happen.
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Yet while he may well be guilty of occasional poor judgment, grandstanding or lacking self-awareness, at the same time it's difficult to glean anything from his raison d'être that is other than genuine or benevolent. His challenge will be proving he can be as, if not more, effective than his fellow candidates. Because even if it's hard to think of any cause that incumbent Bert "No" Myrin has advanced during his time on council, more vexing for Mesirow will be going up against Rachel Richards and Linda Manning, both of whom have buckets of experience making meaningful progress on the city's behalf.
If Mesirow can swap out his cloyingly smooth approach for something with a more tangible crunch, though, it will be difficult to overlook his earnestness and track record of doing rather than simply talking. The fact is that his hustle is real, as is his drive to effect change. When you add to that the relationships he's cultivated with his thoughtful, driven and community-minded contemporaries as well as some of Aspen's business leaders — not to mention his willingness to sit down and talk with anyone who requests an audience — and then throw in his clear desire and determination to muddle through the employee housing swamp, he has the potential to make a positive and lasting local impact.
Mesirow would do his candidacy a favor by endeavoring to at least try and overcome the perception that his personal brand takes precedence over all else. But if the worst that can be said about him is that his tactics are uncomfortably kitschy, it's still not reason enough to deny him the opportunity to demonstrate how he can contribute to and not detract from the city's fundamental objectives.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.