Zuker drops out of sheriff’s race in Pitkin County
July 20, 2010
ASPEN – Citing a campaign season marred by “vitriol and false accusations directed at me,” Hugh Zuker withdrew from the race for Pitkin County sheriff Monday.
Zuker posted what he called “an open letter to the community” on his campaign website and Facebook page, and also sent the announcement to Aspen’s newspapers (see letters). On his Facebook page, Zuker said he made the decision “after much thought and angst.”
His exit comes three weeks before the Aug. 10 primary contest, which is down to candidates Pitkin County Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo, former Florida and New York lawman Patrick “Rick” Leonard, and Rick Magnuson, a patrol officer with the Aspen Police Department. The top two vote-getters in next month’s primary will advance to the November election.
Zuker, 54, declined to comment about his departure, saying in an e-mail to The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News that he would “have no further comments on my decision or any aspect of the race.”
In the letter, Zuker said that “meaningful discussions of the issues facing the community” were being distracted by allegations against him and his family. The letter does not elaborate on the accusations.
“I had hoped for a friendly competition, but I now recognize that this is but a small taste of what I can expect my family to be put through if I were to move forward,” he wrote. “I will not continue to put my family in this position.”
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Last week, it was reported that the Zuker campaign had acquired the website domain joedisalvoforsheriff.com. Visitors to the site were rerouted to Zuker’s campaign site. Zuker later disabled the joedisalvoforsheriff.com site, which had been registered in the name of his wife, Pamela Zuker.
One letter writer called for Zuker to step down from the race, and another, Michael Cleverly, fired off two letters panning Zuker, including one that falsely said he is a registered Republican. At least one letter writer – blogger and radio talk-show host Michael Conniff, also a member of Zuker’s campaign team – defended the candidate and demanded that Cleverly apologize. He didn’t.
As of Friday, Zuker appeared as if he remained on the stump for sheriff. He was interviewed that day on KSPN, and the day before he had submitted a candidate questionnaire to the Times, which appeared in Sunday’s Aspen Times Weekly. And Monday – the same day he announced his withdrawal – his campaign postcard hit local mailboxes. But he canceled a scheduled Saturday interview with Andrew Kole, citing sickness.
Many observers had considered Zuker the biggest threat to DiSalvo, who has secured the endorsement of outgoing Sheriff Bob Braudis, as well as a number of officers who staged a float – Deputies for DiSalvo -in the recent Fourth of July parade through downtown Aspen.
Zuker had touted his experience in management and public safety. He also campaigned on the vow that he would be tougher on drugs and DUI enforcement, improve public safety and oversee a tighter budget at the sheriff’s office.
The three other candidates said that Zuker, who is also a part-time deputy and president of Mountain Rescue Aspen, notified them Monday that he was dropping out.
“In one respect, I think it’s the gentlemanly thing to do,” Leonard said.
A subject of intense scrutiny in his 2006 bid to unseat Braudis, Magnuson said he could empathize with Zuker.
“It’s too bad because I thought he was a good candidate,” Magnuson said. “It requires very thick skin to put yourself out there.”
DiSalvo said, “Hugh mentioned he wanted to direct energy back to his family, and I understand that. That’s his choice.”
None of the candidates said Zuker’s exit would change their campaign strategy heading into the primary.
“I don’t think anything is going to change,” DiSalvo said. “I’m still running like I’m behind and I want this job. I’m not going to change. I’m going to keep working hard and raising money.”
Magnuson said it’s likely the August primary will come down to him and Leonard for the second spot, with DiSalvo advancing as the top vote-getter.
“It couldn’t hurt my chances. With two [vying for the second spot] you have a better chance than three,” he said.
Leonard said he feels his chances to advance to November have improved, “but I’m not sure how much because I know Rick Magnuson, while he doesn’t have a huge following, has a loyal following.”