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Rogers: Squirming a bit myself

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers
Courtesy photo

Squirm Night with the sheriff’s candidates was more squirmy, sure, but the undercard county commissioners contest was more intriguing if weighing your vote or, in my case, thinking about a career watching these forums up close in small towns across the country.

Both incumbent Pitkin County Comissoner Kelly McNicholas Kury and challenger Erin Smiddy live in APCHA housing. That’s about where the similarities between them end.

Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and rival Michael Buglione at times crackled with tension in their turn. I hadn’t seen the like before. Even the prison town city council back in upstate New York, the one where members once had a fist fight in executive session, even that didn’t match this for the angst played out under bright lights, studio desk for the panelists and candidates intimate as dinner in the kitchen, big historic American flag for a backdrop, and an audience whose faces faded into the darkness past the first row. 



This was less forum than family fallout played out on stage, dramatic as anything brought to Broadway — only this was live, unrehearsed.

What I see here is no real struggle over issues, no radical turn in direction, nothing like that.




No, this feels more like vendetta than campaign. The poison of the personal infecting the public has sickened this race, though we seem to have grown ever more used to that on the national scale.

With the passage of election night, at least, everyone will move on but the families at the core. For them, whoever wins also has lost something that doesn’t seem quite right to be witnessing and commenting on as if a boxing match. At least I’m cringing, as I did at the studio desk with the lights on and looking for cues to levity.

The commissioner candidates offered more regular elbows out on occasion and a clearer choice between an incumbent practiced at working the phones and longtime local straight from the front lines.

What is more needed on the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners in the next term? Here are two thoughtful and I think distinct choices.

Perhaps more than anywhere, the modern Pitkin County sheriff’s position requires a balance of Hollywood and hometown, at least since Hunter S. Thompson and the evolution of Aspen as the uber ski town.

The New West mythic — the easygoing, creative lawman who rides without a weapon — will continue with either DiSalvo or former brother-in-law Buglione. The only real question seems to be whether DiSalvo has grown weary or remains fired up for another term.

Granted, I rode into town like a minute ago. But I have observed a sheriff and police chief or two between California, upstate New York and stops between.

‘I’VE LIVED HERE FOR …’

Locals in every little town across America are bursting with pride about how long they’ve lived in one place. And there is value to roots. Giving our kids roots was a big reason we raised them in a ski community, ski towns being arguably the best places of all to grow up.

I say so because ski towns also are infused with newcomers and their fresh energy. There is value in that, too.

I thought about this as Kury and Smiddy debated the merits of hometown tenure. As a migratory editor, I worked in duller towns where you were the rare tourist if your grandparents didn’t know their grandparents since kindergarten. I also worked in at least one feckless community where everyone was new, ranchland suddenly blown up into a city of 90,000, all from somewhere else.

Smiddy can speak to the firsthand frustrations — and joys — of living here forever. Kury, with shallower roots, can tap that wider world more readily. But she also comes with those outer world conceits, which can work counter to what the county needs right now, just as insular ideas may limit a local’s sense of possibility.

Aspen and the Roaring Fork are blessed for the mix. County voters, for this seat anyway, have a choice between two candidates well versed in the issues, both thoughtful and caring people. In part, the choice between longtime-local sensibility and accomplished relative newcomer matters in each voter’s evaluation of what would be the best mix on the county board these next several years.

It will take me more than a minute to figure that one out for myself.  

BUCKET LIST

My collaborators and co-panelists were kind, giving me the lighter, easy servings of sherbet between squirmy dishings of the substantive questions for the camera, the broadcast, the studio audience and the scribes.

I was fortunate to work mostly in two-paper towns through the years, including Vail twice with short-lived daily rivals. Aspen and extending through Carbondale and Glenwood Springs is unique for the number of newspapers, along with Aspen Public Radio, Aspen Journalism and Grassroots TV, among the originals in community television and quietly celebrating 50 years.

Teaming up was awesome. Participating in the Squirm Night tradition was bucket list stuff.

I’ve done candidate forums alone. I’ve done them with competitors, chambers, groups such as the Women’s League of Voters, and sat back as observer happily deep into the dark rows of the audience.

Working with peers from the different entities on a forum with more of the qualities of a production, script, timed rehearsal, a more pointed approach to the questions and leeway for followup — I think this was the best yet.

I left this one with the clearest sense of the choices and what mine at least would come down to. Of course, that’s the whole point.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@aspentimes.com