The soul of this city is wearing a fur after all.
In an election watched by animal rights activists and fur aficionados around the world, voters in this trendy resort town defeated a proposed ban on the sale of animal-pelt clothing Tuesday by a 2-1 margin--1,701 to 898.
“Aspen is back to normal,” proclaimed Mark Kirkland, manager of the Revillon Fur Salon and a spokesman for the fur industry here. He claimed that fur-wearing tourists who might have been staying away from Aspen will now feel free to return.
But animal rights activists also claimed a victory of sorts. “This is the first step,” said Linda Kurkoski, a member of the Aspen Society for Animal Rights. “It was a long shot, but we had to make a statement.”
This ballot had been portrayed by some as a battle for the soul of Aspen, where wealth and status have collided with the town’s less ostentatious past. Two other hotly contested measures affecting growth won handily: a proposal to approve a 298-room Ritz-Carlton hotel and a plan to replace a winding two-lane road into town with a straight four-lane highway.
The fur forces, supported by a $15,000 donation from the Fur Information Council of America, had spent $30,648 as of last week trying to defeat the measure. They were outspent during the same period by proponents, who reported expenditures of $35,823.
The contributions came in smaller chunks for the backers of the ban, but they clearly won the war for celebrity endorsements. Last Sunday, actresses Rue McClanahan, Tippy Hedren and Season Hubley and actor Woody Harrelson flew in to appear at a rally in support of the measure.
The backers of the measure had conducted a vigorous, and at times controversial, campaign. During a July 4 parade, they entered a float depicting a human “fur ranch” in which “wolves” skinned caged humans.
Just getting the measure on the ballot was a victory, said Katherine Thalberg, leader of Aspen Society for Animal Rights. Animal rights activists hoped that other cities would follow Aspen in considering such measures, just as they did when Aspen became the first municipality to ban smoking in restaurants.
Aspen has only four fur shops, but the election provided a forum for Thalberg and other activists to argue that the fur industry engages in cruel practices. “Banning the sale of furs is an expansion of our ethical horizons,” said Peter Singer, author of the seminal book “Animal Liberation,” who was in town to campaign for the measure.
Kirkland argued that trapping represents only a small percentage of the fur industry and that fur ranches treat animals humanely. Death for the minks and other ranch furs is not different than that of domestic cattle and chickens, he said.
The real issue was “fur-eedom of choice,” argued one advertisement opposing the ban.
Singer, Thalberg and Thalberg’s husband, Aspen Mayor Bill Sterling, discussed the campaign over tea Tuesday at Thalberg’s bookstore and coffee shop called “Explore,” which offers such fare as tofu lasagna and tofu enchiladas.
Thalberg and Singer are both vegetarians who disdain leather or any product that is “exploitive” of animals. They insisted that they were not trying to force their views on Aspen, but others disagreed.
“It’s a matter of them pushing their religion on us. They’re animal worshipers,” said George Lapin, proprietor of “Curious George,” an emporium of Indian and Old West artifacts that also features a zebra skin on one wall.
Lapin said passage of the measure would have been the first step toward stricter regulations. “They’re saying you can eat animals but you can’t wear them,” he said. “Come on!”
For some, furs became a symbol of what went wrong with Aspen years ago when the old mining town began its transformation into a jet-set haven for the rich and famous.
Sandy Munroe Jr., 23, who was raised in Aspen, spoke of an ambivalence that is common here. He knows that the tourists provide him with his livelihood as a waiter and cook, but “I don’t favor the slaughtering of animals to support rich people’s decadence,” he said.
Munroe, who said he favored the fur sale ban, is nostalgic for the Aspen of 10 years ago when it attracted “a less ostentatious, better class of people.”
But Mayor Sterling, who pushed for the fur measure, said that the proposed ban was not “anti-rich, not a rich-bashing measure.”
Sterling is a real estate man here, where the average price of homes has more than doubled to over $1 million in the past five years.