Mayoral race heats up
April 27, 2003
Aspen’s mayoral candidates took the gloves off Friday.
Before it was over, Mayor Helen Klanderud was defending her policies on letting citizens speak, Councilman Terry Paulson was trying to come up with an example of a recent accomplishment, and challenger Andrew Kole was assuring the audience he wouldn’t act like he does as a talk show host if he was mayor.
“This is better than my show,” Kole observed at one point, as Klanderud and Paulson took each other to task during a Squirm Night debate hosted by Aspen’s two newspapers and GrassRoots TV.
Klanderud challenged Paulson to offer examples of his own initiatives – ideas he has worked on with the council to get approved.
“You’re always squelching ideas that come up, especially from me,” he complained.
Paulson accused his council colleagues of making decisions behind the scenes and appearing to be in the pockets of others, hinting that an example lies in Councilman Tim Semrau’s dealings as a builder. There’s a perception that he is in somebody’s pocket, or perhaps his own, Paulson said. “Perception is everything,” he said.
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“I’m guilty of being in my own pocket,” Semrau confessed from the audience.
Klanderud pressed Paulson to elaborate on his charge that issues are decided before they come to the table.
“I would assume I am never allowed to speak to any member of council except when the five of us are seated at this table. Is that correct?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
Kole was repeatedly quizzed on his GrassRoots talk show, which he said he’d like to continue if he’s elected mayor, though he said the format would change to a degree. He said he’d like to turn one show a week into a call-in program during which citizens can speak to a couple of council members and perhaps a city staffer.
Overcoming the perception that he is only the abrasive, frequently dominating voice people see on TV is his biggest campaign hurdle, Kole conceded.
“My job on the TV show is to get people to watch,” he said. “My job as mayor is to run a civil meeting, to make sure everyone gets to say their piece and to run that meeting along.
“As mayor, I think I’m capable of holding a conversation.”
“I’m not willing to buy that’s just a TV persona,” Klanderud countered. “I don’t know. You seem to be on your show, the way you are a lot of the time.”
Klanderud was asked to explain her oft-quoted remark – that speaking during council proceedings is a citizen’s privilege, not a right.
The context of that remark, she said, was a council work session, in which members discuss issues but no public comment or formal hearings are scheduled. Citizen input is accepted at those meetings at the council’s pleasure.
The public has a right to speak during public hearings and in the public comment period at the start of every regular council meeting, she noted.
“Of course you have a right to speak, but there are limits,” Klanderud said.
Citizens regularly call her, send e-mails and stop her on the street to voice their concerns, she added.
The mayor defended the council’s decision to end its informal noon meetings on Mondays, when policy was formulated in unnoticed meetings that often featured the citizens on just one side of an issue.
“I felt that was not a good way to conduct business,” she said.
“I thought it was great,” Paulson countered. The “other side” on an issue invariably showed up the following week, he said.
The public needs and wants access to city officials, the councilman added.
All three candidates said they would favor some expansion of the airport, but offered different takes on how Aspen should address its current economic struggles.
Paulson said he’d welcome the opportunity to tap into local entrepreneurs for their ideas and expertise on the matter, in response to that suggestion from the audience.
“We do need to dream and we need to dream big here – and I don’t mean bigger buildings,” he said.
“Dreaming is fabulous. Reality is better,” Kole responded, advocating a bigger budget for marketing than the $400,000 the city currently spends in a contract with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
Kole called for a commission to come up with ways to generate a bigger marketing fund and hiring professional marketers.
He also quizzed Klanderud on whether it was proper for her to vote to give the marketing contract to the ACRA, since she sits on its board.
“I had no personal gain by awarding the contract to ACRA,” she said, noting the city has a seat at the board because it helps fund the chamber. “No, I do not think I had a conflict of interest.”
Klanderud, too, said she welcomes input on economic matters from the community, but cautioned that Aspen’s faltering economy is linked to what is happening on a broader scale.
“I don’t think we can ignore what is going on in the world today,” she said. “I think we have to be honest with ourselves . in the meantime, folks, we may need to tighten our belt until the economy turns around.”
“My answer to that is, no, I don’t accept that,” Kole said. “We have to work harder, we have to work smarter.”
Asked if he wants Aspen to go back to the ’50s or forward into the 21st century, Paulson said: “Probably a combination of both.”
The councilman said he was inspired by pedestrian-friendly European villages during his first visit there, noting some of them are auto-free.
“I’m not saying locals can’t drive,” he quickly added.
Klanderud, asked if she cares about commuters coming into Aspen on the bus, said much has been made about the time buses spend negotiating the entrance to town.
“Those few minutes between the Maroon Creek bridge and Seventh and Main are minimal compared to the time spent coming from Glenwood or Rifle,” she said.
For the foreseeable future, Aspen has its present S-curves entrance, Klanderud said. Improvements to that route should be explored and the Maroon Creek bridge should be replaced, she said.
Klanderud also explained why she always dresses in black, in response to an audience question. She quoted the wording on a T-shirt her daughter gave her for Christmas: “I’m wearing black until something darker is available.”
Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org