Hugh Zuker drops out of Aspen sheriff's race

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenJuly 19, 2010
Hugh Zuker has dropped out of Aspen's sheriff race.

Zuker, a Pitkin County sheriff's deputy and president of Mountain Rescue Aspen, was widely considered the most formidable opponent to his boss, Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo. Suspicion that Zuker's campaign was on the ropes arose Saturday when he canceled a radio and TV interview with local gab-flies Andrew Kole and Don Chaney. He then canceled a scheduled taping at GrassRoots TV. He confirmed his withdrawal to Real Aspen on Monday evening and released the following statement on his website:
Hugh Zuker with his son

Though I deeply regret disappointing all those who support me, and particularly those who encouraged me to run for Sheriff, I have decided to exit the race.I entered the race to offer a real alternative to the status quo while maintaining the Sheriff’s department’s philosophy of respecting human dignity – a value I share with the department. I had thought that 10-plus years of public service to this community would at least allow for a fair hearing, and engender a discussion that I believe is needed regarding public safety.We have three times the suicide rate of the rest of the country and too many of our children struggle with substance abuse. The Sheriff’s department should be innovative and work proactively with educators and other local organizations to prevent children from getting involved with drugs (including alcohol and prescription medications) and to prevent adults from abusing them.

We need to develop better strategies and fresh ideas for helping people with civil disputes, mental health-related issues and drug problems. We need to create a culture of concern and cooperation in order to make Pitkin County as safe as possible. Even if it is not a strict jurisdictional responsibility, the Sheriff, as an elected official, has the responsibility to take a leadership role in engaging all the relevant organizations, and facilitating the best possible outcomes for the community.

I realize now, in part because of my own error, I can no longer champion this effort. The amount of vitriol and false accusations directed at me, and especially at my family, will continue to distract from a meaningful discussion of the issues facing the community.

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. I will not continue to put my family in this position. I wish to express my deep gratitude to all my friends and supporters who worked so hard on my behalf, and all the wonderful, fair minded members of our community who stood up for me and my family, despite our errors and imperfections.

I am grateful for the new friends I made and the strengthening of old friendships during this process.

I will return to helping where I can as a private citizen.

Respectfully submitted,

Hugh Zuker

The decision to drop out follows controversy that erupted over a website registered to his wife, Pamela, called, which re-routed visitors to Zuker's website. The local papers broke the story, one carrying the headline "Playing the domain name game in the race for Pitkin County Sheriff." After the stories published, the domain name was quickly disabled and Zuker issued the following statement:

“The website was grabbed about a week ago and pointed to by someone on my team who took some bad advice from a campaign strategist. I'm not someone who will try to spin a bad thing into a good thing, so I'll just take full responsibility for this error in judgment. The link has been disabled and if Joey wants the site, he can have it.”

But the issue didn't die. Woody Creek resident Michael Cleverly attacked Zuker's campaign in letters to the editor, and Zuker's team tried to fight back.

Now, according to his campaign statement, Zuker has had enough of local politics. Zuker, who is well respected and liked by many in the community, promised to return helping where he can as "a private citizen."

It is unclear whether he will stay a deputy.

DiSalvo, the undersheriff and frontrunner in the race, said Zuker informed him that he was dropping out of the race on Monday morning.

"Based on his statement, it sounds like he is giving up public service but we didn't talk about his future with the sheriff's office," DiSalvo said. "I asked him specifically if I or any member of my campaign crew prompted him to make this decision and he said no. He mentioned Michael Cleverly and I said we hired him as an artist but he doesn't speak for me." (Cleverly was commissioned to produce an original oil painting for the campaign.)

DiSalvo indicated he was disappointed Zuker won't be running against him.

"I'm sorry he's out. I was looking forward to debating the issues and some of the values he brought to the table," DiSalvo said. "Now I'm not going to have that opportunity."

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