Before Republican Realtor Tom Stone rode into town in 1998, Eagle County was a largely nonpartisan place, leaning more to the right but a difficult place to tell the Dems and the members of the GOP apart.
Stone, who Friday threw his hat in the ring to chair the state Republican Party, ran a highly partisan race for county commissioner in ’98, then toward the end of his first term took things to a whole new level by publicly chastising Democrat Arn Menconi for a perceived lack of patriotism.
Menconi, at the time a longhaired founder of a nonprofit snowboarding program for at-risk youth, had declined to sign a Stone resolution giving unconditional support to President Bush’s war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Local veterans took Stone’s lead and launched a failed recall bid.
According to Vail Daily editor Don Rogers, who otherwise praises Stone for the mundane day-to-day work he did as a commissioner, that was a low point in the political history of Eagle County. Rogers had this to say in a 2007 editorial after Stone left office due to term limits:
Especially early, Stone was a relentless cheerleader for his Republican Party. With that came criticism that he amplified partisanship in an environment that had only nominally operated that way in the past. Stone rejects such claims, but he also was quick to publicly side with state and national GOP figures from a pulpit created by his position as commissioner.
The low point for local politics came in late 2001 when Stone and then-Commissioner Michael Gallagher, a conservative Democrat, rushed out a county resolution supporting anything President Bush might do to combat terrorism, then scolded Commissioner Arn Menconi for failing to sign on.
Hindsight certainly has shown plenty of error in such blind fealty. But the real problem lay in making a local wedge issue out 9/11’s national catastrophe. Passions inflamed to the point local military veterans waged a failed effort for a recall election to remove Menconi over an issue that had zero to do with running Eagle County.
Not so private feuding from then on between Menconi and Stone — neither party innocent or entirely to blame — distracted from the dignity of the most powerful public office in Eagle County.
Menconi unsuccessfully tried to pass an ethics policy in the wake of a citizen complaint to the district attorney against Stone in 2003 alleging the commissioner should have recused himself from voting on a county affordable housing project because as a Realtor he was also negotiating with the same developer to buy into a golf development.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, of Kobe Bryant fame, passed the case off to outside legal counsel and nothing ever came of the complaint, but there was lingering public perception that Stone did something shady. Stone fired back at Menconi for his relationship with Vail Resorts, the local ski company that funded his nonprofit.
Menconi left office in 2008 due to term limits, ending a long and bitter partisan feud. Now all three county commissioner seats are held by Democrats.