A quiet primary campaign for an open seat on the board of Pitkin County commissioners will liven up this week, as mail-in voters receive ballots and the four candidates begin public debates.
Voters will narrow the field of four down to two in a June 26 primary election, with a general election to follow on Nov. 6.
Four well-known, longtime locals are competing for the seat being vacated by three-term District 4 commissioner Jack Hatfield. The district includes Snowmass Village, Old Snowmass and the Castle Creek Valley, but all registered county voters can cast ballots in the primary.
“I’ve been surprised there’s not been a whole lot of public eye activity from any of the candidates,” said candidate Steve Child, who picked up 1,000 copies of his first campaign mailer from the printer on Friday. “So you’ll probably see a flurry of activity in the next couple weeks.”
Child, a lifelong rancher and current chair of the land-use advisory subcommittee for the Snowmass/Capital Creek Caucus, is running against former Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob, Snowmass Councilman John Wilkinson, and former Snowmass Village Town Manager John B. Young.
The quartet will debate and discuss county issues together publicly for the first time on Tuesday, at a candidate forum sponsored by the Aspen Democracy Initiative. The forum, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at BB’s Kitchen, is free and open to the public. It’s followed by a second forum with the Snowmass/Capital Creek Caucus on Wednesday.
“It’s the most important week in the campaign so far,” said Young.
Tuesday also marks the first campaign finance filing deadline for the candidates, though none of them said they’ve been aggressively fundraising this spring and their cash-on-hand balances are expected to be modest.
On Friday, candidates said they expect the airport master plan, the proposed Wexner land swap, the tourism economy and water issues to be the defining issues of the primary campaign in its remaining three weeks.
Child, who has been raising cows on his family ranch in Old Snowmass for upwards of 50 years, said he’s met with department heads and county commissioners, as well as Aspen Skiing Co. executives, to gain perspective on pressing issues.
Along with the airport and other land use issues, he cited tourism and the poor health of the Crystal River as pressing problems he expects the county to grapple with in the next four years.
As a full-time rancher who works close to the land, he also stressed the urgency of dealing with the ongoing drought and protecting local water rights. Though this is his first run for public office, local politics is in his blood. He is the son of former Commissioner Bob Child.
“It’s exciting being involved in a campaign like this,” Child said, “because it’s how democracy works.”
Grob, the Aspen fire chief from 1994 to 2010, has lived in the area since returning from active duty in the Vietnam War. He said he will be holding a series of meet-and-greet events around the county in coming weeks.
Since declaring his candidacy in March, the Snowmass Village resident has met with caucuses and county officials. He has also tapped four locals to serve on his election advisory committee: former Aspen Councilman and Related Colorado President Dwayne Romero, real estate broker Rick Griffin, fire board member and affordable housing advocate Pam Cunningham, and shop owner Shirley Tipton.
“They are taskmasters and my homework has been relentless,” he said, adding that it’s included studying the Aspen Area Community Plan, airport master plan, and the county home rule charter.
Wilkinson, a Snowmass Village councilman for the last eight years, has been focused on meeting voters in person.
An avid bicyclist, he’s taken to wearing a T-shirt touting his candidacy on rides on Skyline Ridge Trail, Smuggler Mountain and elsewhere. In past races for Snowmass council, he said, he rode up and down the town’s subdivisions knocking on doors and meeting voters. He said he’s attempting to bring that strategy to the whole county.
“My modus operandi is meeting people face-to-face and talking about my experience as an elected official,” he said.
Wilkinson is stressing his experience on the Snowmass council, and local boards including the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Elected Officials Transportation Committee, along with his work on the purchase and management of Sky Mountain Park. He also serves as treasurer for the Pitkin County Library, and supports the ongoing efforts to expand the facility.
“I believe there’s a broad base of support for me in this community,” he said. “Talking to people here gives you faith that this is a good community that I’d be proud to represent.”
Young, a Snowmass Village resident, said his campaign will stress his mix of government and private business experience as an asset to deal with economic issues facing Pitkin County. He began placing campaign lawn signs around the county last week, and has been distributing flyers including one outlining his campaign platform.
He served as the first town manager for Snowmass Village starting in 1979, the trails manager for the county, and assistant airport manager at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. He’s spent recent years in the private sector, including work in the ski industry and development. He’s currently developing a resort affordable housing plan in Tusayan, Ariz., near the Grand Canyon.
Young ran against Hatfield 12 years ago, losing a tight 52-48 percent vote in the November 2000 election. Despite that, and his nearly four decades living in the Aspen area, he said he’s been surprised how many of the names he didn’t recognize while studying the local voter rolls.
“We all think we’re really known, but when you look at the voter rolls you realize how many people you don’t know,” he said.
In the next few weeks, he said, he’ll be doing his best to reach them all.