Incivility, our local election and a change of heart

by Doug Allen, Aspen Daily News Columnist
The local election season is finally here, and it’s sure to be even more contentious than the recent national election that resulted in Monday’s second inauguration for President Barack Obama. I love our local elections and all the fiery emotion they elicit, and I can’t wait to see how the members of the so-called “civility initiative” handle themselves during what is sure to be another disappointing election season for them.

For those who aren’t paying attention yet, all four of Aspen’s sitting City Council members have said they’re considering a run for mayor in May’s election. I’m an avid City Council meeting viewer on Grassroots TV, and last week’s meeting was one of the best I’ve seen in a while. All four of the mayoral wannabees were posturing and projecting their very best “look what a great mayor I’d make” personas. It was Aspen’s version of “Must-See TV.”

I have some pretty strong opinions on which councilmen are and are not qualified to be mayor, but I’ll save them for a later column. What has my attention now is Mayor Mick Ireland’s announcement that he may run for a seat at the City Council table, as term limits are forcing him out of the mayor’s office after six years. Mick’s announcement didn’t sit well with his detractors.

Ward Hauenstein fired the first uncivil shot of the war with a recent letter to the editor (“Time for some new voices,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 10) in which he berated Mick for (gasp!) daring to volunteer for public service. Hauenstein attempts to make the case for Mick to “step aside” and let some as-yet-unnamed new people have a chance. He uses inflammatory phrases like, “Just when we thought there was light at the end of the dark tunnel of overbearing City Council leadership …” and, “The era of suppression of expression of divergent views through tactics of belittlement and scorn must end.” He also compares Mick to Richard Nixon.

That may be the way it looks from where Hauenstein sits, but from where I (and many others) sit, it seems that the ones who are “overbearing” and using “tactics of belittlement and scorn” are the ones on his side of the imaginary aisle, and he appears to be volunteering as head attack dog this year. He declares, “Civility, respect and diplomacy need to return to City Hall,” in the most uncivil and disrespectful letter I’ve ever seen from him. If he was trying to match Elizabeth Milias’ and Marilyn Marks’ level of bile in public communications, he certainly hit his mark.

But my favorite part of his letter, or nine favorite parts (I counted), is where Hauenstein repeatedly accuses Ireland of violating the law. That’s a serious accusation against a sitting mayor, and if you don’t bother to do your own research, you might believe his rant. He writes as though it’s fact and not his own unfounded opinion based on a rabid hatred of Mick. In three paragraphs plus one sentence, he accuses Mick of breaking the law, or intending to break the law, nine times.

The truth is, there’s no law that forbids a mayor from running for City Council after leaving the mayor’s office. Period. As much as Hauenstein and others may not like it, it’s Mick’s choice to run for City Council if he wants, and it’s the voters’ choice to elect him if they want. Which brings me to my second favorite part of his letter, where he says, “The era of imagining what the law is and demanding everyone follow those fictitious laws must end,” to support his belief that Mick should follow the fictitious law Hauenstein himself dreamed up.

In essence, Hauenstein’s position is that Aspen voters should have fewer choices on the ballot, not more. How that squares with an open democracy is anyone’s guess, since he doesn’t address that directly. He thinks Mick should “step aside” so some nameless, faceless citizens, who are somehow being kept from running due to Mick’s potential candidacy (they’re not), can have the seat he assumes Mick will win.

Keep in mind Hauenstein is the same guy who spent last year cage-fighting City Hall to kill the hydro project. Many questioned his motivations at that time. Was he really trying to “save our stream” that nobody was trying to kill? Or was he driven by a hysterical hatred for Mick and his policies? His current crusade indicates the later.

•••

I wrote the preceding on Tuesday. As I edited it (a few hours past deadline) on Thursday, I saw the kinder, gentler Hauenstein’s latest letter (“A piece of fowl pie,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 24) in which he apologizes to Mick, council and the people of Aspen for using language that was “offensive and uncivil.” He stands by his view that Mick’s City Council race considerations are against the spirit of the state constitution’s term limits (they’re not), and he promises to “… continue to express my views, but I will strive to always be civil and respectful.”

I, too, stand behind everything I wrote above. But I also respect a person who’s willing to admit when he’s gone too far and apologize for it. I like to think of myself as someone who’s the first to admit when I’m wrong, and we’ll test that theory if I’m ever wrong about something.

In the meantime, it’s nice to see anyone in this town willing to eat a big piece of humble pie when necessary. We’ve all had moments we wish we could erase. Hauenstein’s apology is impressive and unprecedented in recent memory, and he deserves respect for manning up to his mistake. I doubt the rest of his cohorts are on board, or that it will change the tenor of local politics in any way, but maybe I’m wrong. Time will tell.

Doug Allen expects “Sick of Mick version 2.0” to hit the streets of Aspen any day now. He can be reached at doug.allen75@yahoo.com.