Mayor Mick Ireland announced on Thursday that he is taking a break from elected office and will not be running for an Aspen City Council seat in the May election.
Over a pan of brownies that he baked at his home in the Common Ground affordable housing complex, he told a small group of journalists that he’s done with elected office but not necessarily politics.
He is endorsing Councilman Steve Skadron for mayor, and Ann Mullins and Art Daily for the two open council seats. He plans to help all three with their campaigns.
Ireland said he is supporting them because he has faith that they will uphold some of his and the community’s values, including protecting the environment, affordable housing and the quality of life here.
Mullins and Daily, “to me at least, have a willingness to show some restraint in the demands of the marketplace to turn this community into a resort like many others,” he said. “Steve has shown extraordinary character ... in his votes and his articulation of his positions, and I think he is beyond reproach.”
Ireland, who cannot run again for mayor due to term limits, said he doesn’t have plans to seek appointment to Skadron’s council seat if he is elected mayor; the councilman has two years left of a four-year term.
“If that becomes open I have another box of brownies on the shelf, and you can come by and share some and find out then,” he said. “Right now, I have no idea.”
It’s not likely he will seek the appointment — Ireland said he wants to enjoy life in Aspen for the moment.
“My plan for the present is after 20 years and no vacation longer than 10 days and many years without any vacation, I’m hoping to take the summer off and see Aspen from a different perspective,” he said.
Ireland had considered running for council but wanted to wait to see how the field shaped up. Besides Mullins and Daily, former councilman Dwayne Romero is seeking one of the two open seats, which will be vacated by Torre and Derek Johnson, who also are running for mayor. Maurice Emmer, Councilman Adam Frisch and city planning and zoning commissioner L.J. Erspamer also have entered the mayoral race.
Ireland has been in elected office as either a Pitkin County commissioner or mayor of Aspen for the better part of two decades.
His somewhat gruff style and politics have drawn the ire of many people who don’t agree with him, causing divisiveness between certain segments of the community and City Hall. Ireland said he doesn’t see that ending once he leaves elected office in June.
“I’ve spent the night in solitary confinement, as it were, for my own safety so I’m not unfamiliar with threats and so on,” he said. “I actually have to say I appreciate what some people have done in educating me about my own faults … and I have to say I feel a lot of compassion for people who are so filled with anger that they can’t help themselves and it spills out constantly.
“I’m sorry to say that my departure will not end that, that anger will continue to be put upon people who dare to cross the agendas for certain people.”
As a tax attorney, he said it’s time to start working again and save for retirement.
He referenced former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sam Rayburn, who said that “an honest politician will die broke.” Ireland said Rayburn died with $15,000 to his name.
“It’s time to move on,” he said. “I don’t want to end with $15,000 … I do not want to be destitute in my retirement. I do need to work.”
He shrugged off any question of running for a seat in the state Legislature or federal government.
“That’s highly unlikely,” he said.
He also said he doesn’t plan to return to his old job of county commissioner.
“We have commissioners who are doing a satisfactory job,” he said.
Ireland thanked his family and supporters who have propped him up through his political career and noted the community should be proud of many accomplishments. That includes two open space programs, the Rio Grande Trail, the purchase of Smuggler Mountain, the bus system, affordable housing, the USA Pro Cycling race, a strong school system, a voter-approved property tax for health and human services and the city’s renewable energy efforts.
“We’ve all done that, and mostly that has come about because people have been willing to make sacrifices that are meaningful,” he said. “People have taxed themselves repeatedly to do the right thing, and when you go to the voters with the right question you rarely lose.”
And while he said he is proud of the community, there are some dark clouds over the landscape, making it increasingly difficult to raise a family here.
That includes losing local populations in neighborhoods and the gentrification of the community.
“We now see that 58 percent of our single-family homes are owned by people who do not live here,” Ireland said.
He also lamented about losing the character and vitality of the downtown, which was partly a result of infill codes a decade ago. New zoning rules paved the way for large buildings and free-market condos that served the interests of the real estate industry and thus, created class warfare between the haves and have-nots.
“I beg that people will consider the impacts of what we did before we do it again,” he said.
Another shadow that Ireland noted was the disparity of the dream people seek by living here, citing three local residents who committed suicide since January.
“There is a need for a community response to that despair,” he said. “Some of that despair is related to alcohol, drugs, partying. There is a cautionary tale for all of us.
“We need to be supportive of the people who have fallen in various modes of despair, unable to progress the life that they think Aspen offers.”