Buglione holds lead over DiSalvo in PitCo sheriff’s race that’s too close to call

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Pitkin County sheriff candidate Michael Buglione talks to his supporters during a watch party at Mezzaluna on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The race for Pitkin County sheriff was too close to call as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, when the upset-minded challenger Michael Buglione held a 292-vote lead over incumbent Joe DiSalvo.

Buglione’s 3,416 votes amounted to 52.23%; DiSalvo had garnered 3,124 votes, or 47.77%.

The final results, regardless of the outcome, will mark the closest contest yet for DiSalvo, who was pitted against his former brother-in-law and law-enforcement colleague. Buglione left the sheriff’s department led by DiSalvo in 2019 after they had a falling out over a missed assignment by Buglione.

“I think that Joe finally has a viable candidate that can beat him,” Buglione said around 10:30 p.m. with the final results undetermined. His response was to a question about what made his challenge more formidable than the previous two against DiSalvo. “He’s never had to worry in the past, and I think that I am the challenger that can do a better job than Joe.”

Buglione’s campaign was fueled by endorsements from two judges, support from former Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office employees, the backing of the Pitkin County Democratic Party, and a heavy dose of criticism toward DiSalvo.

Buglione said that if his lead sticks, “I think that the people of Pitkin County will be happy with their new sheriff. I haven’t wavered from my positions since my March 4 announcement (to run for sheriff) about mental health, substance abuse, housing deputies. And, we don’t need a new jail.”

DiSalvo did not respond to messages seeking comment. Previously, he said Buglione was running a smear campaign based on lies and frustrations levied by former employees who didn’t meet the sheriff’s professional standards.

DiSalvo ran on his record as a three-term sheriff who ran an efficient department that he was modernizing with the times. He also enjoyed the support of his mentor and friend Bob Braudis, the immensely popular former Pitkin County sheriff who died June 3. He also received endorsements from Aspen Mayor Torre and City Council members John Doyle and Skippy Mesirow.

But, there were endorsements DiSalvo did not receive that stood out, such as one from Anita Thompson, the widow of maverick journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who hung out with Braudis over the years. She revealed her support for Buglione in a recent Facebook post.

Despite the criticism, the sheriff’s campaign war chest was considerably fuller than Buglione’s.

Starting Oct. 14, DiSalvo reported having $32,605 cash in hand for the cycle ending Oct. 30, according to a campaign finance report. The same report said he spent $17,144 on advertising, marketing, and publicity from Oct. 14 through Oct. 30, leaving him with another $16,311 to spend down the final stretch. He also reported raising $850 in contributions during from Oct. 14-30.

Buglione had $5,043 cash in hand starting Oct. 14, but $3,864 in contributions during the cycle ending Oct. 30 helped fuel an advertising campaign where he spent $6,457 during that period, according to a campaign finance report. Even so, that was nearly $10,000 less than what DiSalvo spent on publicity from Oct. 14-30.

Yet, DiSalvo was not accustomed to being on the receiving end of such public criticism in the previous races that he dominated. His first election win was propped up by 79.2% of the vote in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2014, and won another landslide election with 78.5% in his favor in 2018.

This race was bitter from the onset, with Buglione’s campaign characterizing DiSalvo as a controlling sheriff who acted as if he were above reproach. Critics also blasted DiSalvo for the company he keeps and the gifts he receives — in other words, the sheriff’s friendship with Lance Armstrong, who DiSalvo said gave him a 5% ownership stake in the upstart Lift Vodka. It was a handshake deal with no paperwork, and DiSalvo said he didn’t violate cross any ethical lines over receiving gifts because he and Armstrong are friends.

Ex-employees also criticized DiSalvo for his management style and leadership skills, saying he acted above reproach and could treat his staff harshly and unfairly.

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