Stone: A thank-you to that smart gawky lunatic on a bike
By the time you read this, Aspen may have elected itself a new mayor, barring a not-unlikely runoff.
But right now, on election day, as I write, I have no idea what the results will be. Which makes this an excellent time to think about Aspen’s soon-to-be-ex-mayor, Mick Ireland.
What a strange character he is. Strange beyond strange.
And that strangeness is part of what has made him the perfect mayor for Aspen.
Whoever replaces Mick may do good things for the city or may do terrible things to the city — but, come what may, he will never be as great a representative of Aspen as Mick Ireland has been.
Now I can hear a lot of you scoffing (or making far less polite noises), but I’m not backing down.
I know what you scoffers have to say: Mick has been arrogant and intolerant of dissent. He is too damn smart for his own good, and he doesn’t hesitate to make sure everyone knows it.
Worse yet, to a lot of people, he is not the “Aspen sophisticate.” Not even close. He is weird-looking and awkward in his ill-fitting bike shorts or running gear.
He’s not the least bit polite. He’s geeky and gawky and just plain odd.
Sorry, Mick, that’s the way I see it — but I also see this: That smart, gawky lunatic on a bike is the perfect representative of Aspen, Colorado.
Aspen is not now, never has been, and should never be turned into a sleek, shiny fortress of careful good manners and politeness, dressed up and polished and ready for its real estate brochure close-up.
What has made Aspen special has been its spirit, its refusal to settle down and be polite and ordinary.
The best of Aspen is not its billionaires. The best of Aspen has always been its creative spirits, rich or poor: its musicians and actors and artists and writers. Its mountain climbers and ski racers. Its physicists. Its rebels. Its troublemakers.
And none of those people are necessarily smooth, settled or sophisticated.
People are constantly trying to claim that Aspen needs some adult supervision, but when I think of the “adults” who have served as Aspen’s mayors … well, I’m not going to mention any names, but I am not pleased with what the adults have done to this town.
Let me jump back in history for a moment here, back to a man who was mayor before most of us — including me — lived here.
That man was Dr. Robert “Bugsy” Barnard.
He was a rebel, and he was a maverick, and he made a lot of enemies during his two terms as mayor of Aspen in the late 1960s. (Actually, he made a lot of enemies before and after his career in politics, but we’ll skip that.)
Barnard was criticized (“reviled” might be a better word) as rude, belligerent and pigheaded. He bulldozed his way through council meetings, scattering the shards of proper procedure left and right.
But, as Martie Sterling wrote in The Aspen Times in 1982, “Above everything, he cared about his community. … Bugsy was sure in his mind what needed doing, and by hook or by crook he was bound to have his way.”
Sounds like Mick Ireland, doesn’t he?
Bugsy Barnard fought for low-cost employee housing and against condominiums and unlimited development. He worked to establish Aspen’s first water-treatment plant, paved a lot of the city streets and moved the dump from a spot near Maroon Creek at the edge of town to its present downvalley location.
And, again according to Sterling, “People muttered that he was … ‘costing the taxpayers a fortune,’ ‘wrapped up in damnfool concerns over germs and beautification.’”
Those grumblings sound familiar, don’t they?
But here’s why I’m really thinking about Bugsy: He will be best remembered for leading the (very illegal) posse that patrolled Highway 82 by night with chain saws, cutting down every billboard they could find between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
Think about that for a moment: Aspen’s mayor, in the dark, cutting down billboards with a chain saw.
Now that was a real mayor, a real representative of this town.
Aspen’s greatness was born from its refusal to be entirely ordinary. Or polite. Or adult. Like Bugsy Barnard. Or Mick Ireland.
And that greatness lives on — if it does live on — in the continuation of those very same qualities.
Polite, settled maturity, with its comfort and certainty is the exact opposite of the wild, creative spirit that made Aspen what it is — and brought so many wonderful wild, crazy people here.
Now I’m not saying that you have to be young (which I’m not) or childish (which I probably am) — or anything else — to live here. (You’re welcome.)
I’m just saying that Aspen is not and should not be not like anyplace else — and so the mayor of this town should not be like the mayor of anyplace else.
And that, my friends, is certainly Mick Ireland.
He once rode his bike something like 60 miles to a regional government meeting — because he loved to ride, because he thought people shouldn’t drive their cars so much and because he didn’t care if he showed up for that meeting looking like a bike geek and covered in sweat.
Mick Ireland is perhaps the least likely politician that anyone could imagine. He has sharp edges and prickly spines, and I do not think he will ever be truly domesticated.
He is — and he has been — the perfect mayor for Aspen.
He is absolutely dedicated to Aspen: not as an investment, not as a real estate deal but as a community and as his home.
He is easy to disagree with. Easy to fight with. Easy to hate. (I personally have done at least two of those — if not all three.)
He is also smart. Determined. Brave.
Aspen has been lucky to have him.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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