Early twist clouds Basalt mayoral race | AspenTimes.com

Early twist clouds Basalt mayoral race

Basalt's mayoral and council campaign is barely a week old, and it's already taken an interesting twist.

Councilman Bernie Grauer, who took out a nomination petition Jan. 4 to run for mayor, said Tuesday he is uncertain if he will challenge incumbent Jacque Whitsitt, who is seeking re-election.

"You can count me as a definite maybe," Grauer said.

He said he has presented himself as a middle-ground candidate in the controversial Pan and Fork debate. He wants less development than the 75,000 square feet recommended by the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission but more than people who want more park and less development. Grauer threw out 55,000 square feet of development as a "happy medium."

However, since declaring his candidacy, he's found little support among the park proponents or the faction supporting more development.

"I cannot see any support for a middle ground," he said.

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Grauer intends to collect the signatures necessary to make him eligible as a candidate and submit his petition prior to the Jan. 25 deadline, but he said he might withdraw from the race before the Feb. 2 deadline.

Grauer said he has talked with two other potential candidates for mayor but that they didn't influence his direction. He declined to name the potential candidates.

Former Basalt Mayor and current Councilman Rick Stevens has taken out a nomination petition but has thus far refused to declare what office he is seeking. The issue will be sorted out when petitions are due, he said. The election is April 5. Three council seats are also up for grabs.

Stevens and Whitsitt provided a hint at how a potential mayoral campaign would play out during an emotionally charged council hearing Tuesday night about Mariner Real Estate Management's proposal to share sales tax revenue with the town to help build out Willits Town Center. During an exchange, Whitsitt said community surveys have shown for as long as she can remember that residents want to preserve small-town character. People don't say, "I love sales tax revenues," she said. Yet some elected officials grow more concerned about sales tax revenue than character when they get into office, she said.

Stevens quickly offered a retort: "The definition of small-town character has changed. It's not 1975 anymore."

He closed the meeting awhile later by noting, "I don't always think about sales taxes when I'm sitting up here."

Stevens supported sharing sales tax revenue with Mariner. Whitsitt was opposed. The idea was defeated by a 4-3 vote.

Whitsitt said after the meeting she wasn't directing her comments specifically at Stevens. Nevertheless, in recent meetings Whitsitt and Stevens have been far apart on numerous issues, and their interactions during council proceedings are tense and border on mutual animosity.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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