Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah better watch their ratings – City Manager Ron LeBlanc demonstrated at this year’s annual literary festival that he can cut into the escapades of the Trump administration with the best of them.
LeBlanc, who has introduced authors at the Durango Public Library Literary Festival since the new library opened in December 2008, said he has made levity a focus of his introductions.
He said his jokes involving women’s shoes led author Emily Giffin, known for her “chick lit,” to ask him to pause so she could record his spiel and get it on her YouTube page.
Last year, he made a few vampiric references about former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly during his introduction of Justin Cronin, an author noted for penning a vampire trilogy.
On Thursday, he noted the Friends of the Durango Public Library, the group behind the Literary Festival, provides books to the La Plata County Jail, “which at this moment is a concept of great interest to Paul Manafort and Gen. Michael Flynn.”
Before each introduction at the annual festival, LeBlanc said he collects the works of the authors then tries to tie them into current events, particularly prizing events revolving around Durango and La Plata County.
At Thursday’s event, the featured speaker was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein. The erstwhile Washington Post reporter is known for breaking the Watergate scandal in 1972 with his colleague Bob Woodward. Bernstein’s career has largely centered around national politics and ethics. And that gave LeBlanc the perfect platform for his Jon Stewart-esque introduction.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was the focus of much of LeBlanc’s humor.
He said the significance of a photograph showing then-mayor Dean Brookie with Pruitt at the Gold King Mine came because it “documents the closest Pruitt has ever gotten to an environmentalist.”
He opened the introduction by asking the crowd for a show of hands of those who had read a book in the past year. After hands went up, he deadpanned, “That could disqualify you from working in the Oval Office.”
LeBlanc, who teaches ethics at the University of Colorado Denver, drew a distinction between making political comments and ethical comments – saying he used comedy to bring to light ethical shortfalls of Pruitt and others in the Trump administration.
“I think it’s common knowledge that Pruitt is ethically challenged,” LeBlanc said, noting that news stories about Pruitt’s questionable ethical decisions have been prominent in the news media, including The Durango Herald.
LeBlanc, who said he did not receive comments from anyone who objected to his jokes, said comedy is often an effective way to discuss important issues, and that’s how he viewed his introduction – using humor to note ethical failings of members of the Trump administration.
“Councilor Brookie,” LeBlanc joked on Thursday, “has used his relationship with EPA Administrator Pruitt to full advantage. I have been authorized to announce a significant grant from EPA to lengthen the runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport to accommodate a private jet holding a security force of 40.”
Durango’s city manager said he volunteered at a literary festival in Ketchum, Idaho, before coming to Durango, and when he arrived here, the new library was under construction and he thought it would be good to continue his efforts by helping DPL’s Literary Festival.
The fact that the festival can bring in authors of note such as Bernstein, he said, is a great benefit to the community.
Ten years ago, LeBlanc said he drove John Nichols, author of New Mexico Trilogy, which includes The Milagro Beanfield War,” home to Taos, and the two have kept in touch ever since the three-hour drive.