Battle to the finish | VailDaily.com
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Battle to the finish

In the late rounds of a fight, when the boxers are tiring, that’s when clutching, gouging and hitting below the belt begins in earnest.To carry the analogy painfully forward, the local Democratic Party landed a hay-maker last week in the District 3 race for county commissioner, blindsiding incumbent Republican Tom Stone with a negative attack ad. Now just days before the Nov. 5 election, the gloves are off and things are getting ugly.For the record, Democrat challenger Gerry Sandberg disavows all previous knowledge of the ads, which have been running in local newspapers under the headline “Had enough of Tom Stone?” As of Thursday morning, Oct. 31, he says he still hasn’t even read them.”I had absolutely nothing to do with these ads that have come out; that’s not me, that’s not something I do,” Sandberg says, explaining they were placed by the party without his approval. “The thing about the Democratic party is it’s a party of freethinkers; for whatever reason, they elect to do what they do.”Stone, who says the ads are full of “lies, half truths and innuendoes,” wants Sandberg to denounce the smear campaign.”I think its disappointing that I have an opponent and his supporters who will try to win at any cost,” Stone says. “I attribute that to desperation on my opponent’s part and his advisors, and I would challenge my opponents to do the honest thing and denounce those ads.”One of those advisors is part-time Eagle County resident Ross Palmer, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations consultant who helped Stone get elected in 1998 and is now working for the Democrats.Palmer, in a recent guest editorial sent to local papers, called for the ouster of both Stone and his wife Henri, the chairwoman of the local Republican Party.”Four years of fractious, self-serving behavior from the Stones is all any of us should be forced to endure,” Palmer wrote. “Between the two of them, they have divided not only the Eagle County Republican Party, but our entire community.”Tom Stone scoffs at such accusations, saying he has bent over backwards to refrain from negative campaigning. Even Sandberg agrees the Republicans had kept things fairly clean to this point, but he says that’s because they can’t find the same kind of ethical ammunition to use against him.”My stance would be that it would be difficult for them to is find anything on me,” says Sandberg, an investigator with the District Attorney’s office who also served on the Eagle County School Board. “For the last 17 years in the DA’s office, I don’t have a lot of mud hanging off of me. But that doesn’t legitimize anyone throwing mud the other way.”Stone says Palmer goes where the money is, and since he helped Democratic commissioner Arn Menconi get elected in 2000, Palmer has become embittered by the heated rivalry between the two commissioners.”Ross, I think, sees himself as a king-maker,” Stone says. “I think that Ross is upset about the recall petition against his friend and candidate, Arn Menconi.”Palmer confirms that in his editorial: ” In what had to be the most tasteless attempt at a political hatchet job, Tom Stone used the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a platform to disparage a fellow county commissioner.”In an allegation that’s also in the ads, Palmer says Stone prompted and encouraged a recall drive by the local VFW when Menconi opted not to sign a resolution condemning the attacks and supporting President Bush. Menconi abstained on grounds of pacifism, and the recall attempt fizzled.Independent candidate Laurie Bower says the partisan bickering plays right into her hands, and she also blasts the 11th-hour negative campaigning by the Dems.”I think those ads against Stone are inappropriate. I don’t think (the Democrats) need to run them,” Bower says. “I’ve run into many people who are unhappy with Tom Stone, but they’ve come to their own conclusions; they don’t need me to tell them. It’s kind of an insult to voters.”Bower’s biggest slam on the Dems is that they’ve engaged in a smear campaign against her for allegedly splitting the liberal vote.”It’s surprising that the Democrats are trying to take my voters away from me now by saying any vote for me is a vote for Tom Stone,” Bower says. “Leave me out of this and let people think what they want. If the Democratic Party had a strong enough candidate, they wouldn’t have to go after my voters.”Stone praises Bower for abstaining from the negativity of the Democrats, but Bower takes her shots at the Republicans as well.”There is a desire to return integrity to that office, and I don’t see how it’s going to happen when we all know the kinds of contributions coming in, especially from big corporations,” Bower says of Stone. “It’s not too hard to follow the money trail, the contributions from big developers, and see what projects get approved.”Bower says that when all is said and done, she will spend about $3,000 on this campaign. Sandberg offered a ballpark figure of around $6,000, and Stone says only that he will spend less than the record $30,000 he spent in 1998.”I don’t have the money to compete with the Republicans,” Sandberg says of the incumbent, a realtor who has been dogged by charges of conflict of interest over the past four years. “Nobody’s buying my special interest because I have none.”While both blasting the negative ads, Bower and Sandberg also agree with Palmer’s assertion that Tom and Henri Stone’s “bull-in-a-china-shop” political tactics have alienated voters.”They have stepped on some toes,” Sandberg says, pointing to what he deems an embarrassing number of Stone campaign signs on private and public right-of-ways. “If you just go out and look at the proliferation of Stone signs and Allard signs, they have thrown a lot of money into this county.”Bower says the Stones are engaging in a war of intimidation when it comes to campaign signs.”I know a lot of people who won’t put my yard sign up but they’ll vote for me,” she says. “They’re afraid, and I think that’s why we need to have change. A friend of mine who put up a sign (in a private yard) was then approached by Henri and was made to feel uncomfortable.”Opponents of the Stones say their brand of attack-dog politics has ratcheted up the negativity and spending in recent years, turning a formerly pastoral political scene into a hotbed of partisanship. Stone dismisses that charge, and argues that Democrat James Johnson first introduced high-pressure tactics and spending in the mid 1990s.”When it really started is when James Johnson came into office,” Stone says. “James Johnson brought it to a totally new level of campaigning and new level of rhetoric. And Steve Miller ought to be ashamed of himself; the campaign he ran against James was disgraceful.”The 1996 commissioner race was one of the most negative on record, with Republican Miller and Democrat Johnson trading heated barbs, but the spending was nowhere near the level Stone introduced in 1998. Johnson spent less than $6,000 that year, far less than the $30,000 Stone spent when he first got elected.


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