| AspenTimes.com

Hickenlooper’s Colorado Senate bid ends another Democrat’s campaign

DENVER — John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Senate run has pushed another Democrat out of the party’s crowded primary.

Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh announced Wednesday he was suspending his campaign for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. Walsh endorsed Hickenlooper as the most electable Democrat in the field.

Hickenlooper is a former two-term Colorado governor who shrugged off Democratic pleas to challenge Gardner for a brief presidential bid. Last month he ended his White House ambitions and belatedly entered the Senate race. A dozen Democrats had already gotten in before Hickenlooper announced.

Walsh’s departure follows that of former State Sen. Mike Johnston, who dropped out last week because he didn’t want to attack Hickenlooper.

Gardner is considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country.

Ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he’s running for Senate

DENVER — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he will run for the U.S. Senate, becoming the immediate front-runner in a crowded Democratic field vying for the right to challenge Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.

He made his announcement via a video message in which he blasted Washington lawmakers over soaring prescription drug prices, the failure to act on climate change and the use of public lands by developers.

“I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot,” he says. “I’m not done fighting for the people of Colorado.”

Hickenlooper last year brushed off entreaties from Washington Democrats to challenge Gardner, widely seen as the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country. Instead he mounted a longshot presidential campaign that collapsed before it ended in mid-August. Many Colorado Democratic and Republican strategists began to view a Hickenlooper entry into the Senate race as inevitable at that point.

Hickenlooper, an oil geologist turned brewpub owner who decided to run for Denver mayor in 2003 and won two gubernatorial elections, has loomed over Colorado politics for two decades. But his moderate, consensus-oriented approach may not be as good a fit in a state shifting to the left. Numerous Democrats — all younger than the 67-year-old former governor — announced their challenges to Gardner after Hickenlooper shifted his sights to the White House, and none has indicated he or she would step aside now. Indeed, one, state Sen. Angela Williams, warned “this won’t be a coronation.”

Some of the candidates raised almost as much campaign money as Hickenlooper did in his brief presidential bid. But national Democrats have been nervous that a messy and expensive primary would lead to a damaged challenger facing Gardner, widely acknowledged as a skilled politician and fundraiser. Though he will have to fight for the nomination, Hickenlooper is widely viewed as the front-runner because of his high name identification in the state and good standing among its Democrats.

Though Hickenlooper initially strongly rejected the idea of running for the Senate, saying he wasn’t cut out for the job, he reined in his denials as his presidential campaign stumbled. Hickenlooper kept conversations open with the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who continued to press him to run. Democratic groups commissioned polls to convince him that he’d be the favorite, and a group that advocates for scientific-minded members of Congress started a draft Hickenlooper campaign.

Hickenlooper was not very involved in the details of legislative horse-trading during his eight years as governor and is known to yearn for an executive role. But, given the record of his presidential run, the Senate race seemed like his best path to Washington. Republicans hope that the governor damaged his reputation with his presidential bid and that the Democratic Party’s generational struggles will wound him further in the primary.

John Hickenlooper drops out of 2020 presidential race

DENVER — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday ended his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and said he may instead challenge one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2020.

In a video message, Hickenlooper said he had heard from many in his state urging him to enter the Senate race.

“They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state,” he said. “I intend to give that some serious thought.”

Colorado’s shift to the left could put Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat in jeopardy for Republicans, and at least 10 Democrats have launched campaigns, setting up a competitive primary even before Hickenlooper, 67, makes a decision.

Hickenlooper became a leading figure in Colorado with his quirky, consensus-driven and unscripted approach to politics. He once jumped out of a plane to promote a ballot measure to increase state spending, and he won two statewide elections during years of Republican waves. He also was Denver’s mayor.

He began his White House campaign in March, promising to unite the country. Instead, he quickly became a political punch line.

Founding a series of brewpubs made Hickenlooper a multimillionaire. But shortly before taking his first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate, he balked on national television at calling himself a capitalist. Then, at a CNN town hall, he recounted how he once took his mother to see a pornographic movie.

With the campaign struggling to raise money, his staff urged Hickenlooper to instead challenge Gardner. But Hickenlooper stayed in and hired another group of aides in a last-ditch effort to turn around his campaign.

He positioned himself as a common-sense candidate who couldn’t be labeled a “socialist” by Republicans. But Hickenlooper couldn’t make his voice heard in the crowded Democratic field of about two dozen candidates.

It didn’t help that, by Hickenlooper’s own admission, he was a mediocre debater and an erratic public speaker. In the end, he could not scrape together enough money for many of his trademark quirky ads, only launching one in which avid beer drinkers toast Hickenlooper by comparing him to favorite brews. He became the second Democrat to end a presidential bid after Rep. Eric Swalwell pulled out of the primary last month.

“While this campaign didn’t have the outcome we were hoping for, every moment has been worthwhile,” Hickenlooper tweeted on Thursday.

Republicans seized on the meltdown of Hickenlooper’s campaign as evidence the Democratic Party has become too radical. “A two-term governor of a swing state and #2020 presidential #Democrat candidate who was booed for warning against his party’s embrace of socialist policies has been forced out of the race,” tweeted Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump aide.

But Hickenlooper’s own supporters attributed his failure partly to the persistence of former Vice President Joe Biden’s strong position in the Democratic primary field. Hickenlooper launched his presidential bid presuming that the 76-year-old Biden would stumble, and the electorate would be hungry for another centrist with a track record of winning white moderates. But Biden remains in the lead in primary polls.

Hickenlooper softened his denials of interest in the Senate in recent weeks as his campaign finances dwindled and pressure increased from other Democrats. He met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had urged Hickenlooper last year to challenge Gardner, shortly after a disappointing performance during the second Democratic debate in July. A former Hickenlooper strategist registered internet domains like “Hick4Senate.com” in the hopes of persuading him to run.

Hickenlooper also recently met with Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state, Jena Griswold, who was mulling a run against Gardner. Griswold last week announced she would not challenge Gardner. That decision led to widespread speculation among Colorado Democrats that Hickenlooper will eventually run. He has plenty of time to make up his mind — the primary is not until June 2020, and the former governor enjoys wide name recognition.

If he entered the Democratic primary, Hickenlooper would be “the absolute favorite,” said Mike Stratton, a veteran Democratic strategist in Denver.

Hickenlooper would also be the oldest candidate in the Senate race, competing against politicians whose recent fundraising hauls have matched or exceeded the $1 million that Hickenlooper raised for his presidential bid in the second quarter of the year.

Some of the Democrats in the Senate primary already began taking shots at Hickenlooper on Thursday.

“He spent his time in Iowa running for president and as governor working and campaigning against bold, progressive solutions that will move Colorado and the country forward,” said state Sen. Angela Williams in a statement. “If he’s going to switch gears and run for the Senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters. This won’t be a coronation.”

Others have said they don’t intend to step aside even if the former governor runs.

“What I heard Gov. Hickenlooper tell everybody who asked is, he wasn’t cut out to be a senator and didn’t want the job,” said former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, one of the primary contenders, in a radio interview.

Hickenlooper got some support from one of his former presidential rivals. “I think it’s always good when anybody who has been a mayor is in the Senate because they have a little more of that background of getting things done,” said Pete Buttigieg during a campaign stop in Iowa. “Certainly, if he chooses to run, he’ll make an outstanding senator.”

Cory Gardner spars with Democrats in campaign stop at Minturn Saloon

MINTURN — Sen. Cory Gardner touted his bipartisan record on Tuesday night at the Minturn Saloon in a campaign stop that drew supporters and a sizeable Democratic contingent. 

Gardner, speaking to a crowd of about 60 that included local Democratic state lawmakers, Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail and Rep. Dylan Roberts, faced a number of pointed questions from Eagle County residents, particularly on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act and his stance on climate change. 

Joy Harrison, the former chair of the Eagle County Democrats, pleaded with Gardner to support the CORE Act in a seven-minute back-and-forth exchange.

“It’s an incredibly important bill that would preserve these incredible public lands for our kids and our kids’ kids,” Harrison said. “Your vote and your support is absolutely critical because Republican Senators, your colleagues, are looking to you to see what you will signal.”

“The CORE Act has supporters and it has people who don’t like it,” Gardner said. “I think what’s important in Colorado is that we find that way to find something that people can support. I think that’s incredibly important.” 

“You’re dismissing so much work and so much coalition-building that has gone into this,” Harrison said.  

“All I said is we’ve got to find a way to find something that works,” Gardner responded. 

“The work is already done,” Harrison said. 

Gardner then responded that he has heard concerns from the Forest Service and the Department of Defense on the bill, which would preserve 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado. 

“To be clear, I do not oppose this bill,” Gardner said.  

“Will you come out and support it for all of us in the room?” Harrison asked. 

“Joy, give me a second,” Gardner said. “What I hear from people in the Defense Department, when they have concerns with it, I take them at their word. So we know there are issues.”

Gail Flesher also grilled Gardner on whether he supports the lawsuit that Colorado recently joined suing the Environmental Protection Agency over a new rule that would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan.

“I voted that climate change is real. I think it’s very important that we work to address climate concerns.” Gardner said. “Here’s what I’m concerned about — regulations that people will testify will kill thousands and thousands of jobs. I’m not willing to destroy our economy.”

Touting his record

Gardner, before taking questions, said he’s proud of the work he’s done in the Senate. Among those accomplishments: Getting the Bureau of Land Management moved to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C., passing a law that aims to protect wildland firefighters by requiring agencies to outfit crews with GPS locators and deploy drones to scout and map blazes, and bringing broadband to rural communities. 

He also talked about getting sanctions passed against North Korea, joking that one of his proudest moments as a senator was calling Kim Jong Un “a whack job” in an MSNBC interview, and then having the North Korean leader respond to that quote by calling him a man “mixed in with human dirt, who has lost basic judgment and body hair.”

Gardner said he’s still got the quote framed on his wall. 

Of the BLM move, Gardner said: “I believe that we’ll have better decisions, we’ll have a better result when the BLM management is nearest the people and the land that they impact.”

He added: “Every single one of those things I talked about, it wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was done by Republicans and Democrats coming together. Because that’s how we solve problems in this country and that’s what I’m excited about and continue to stand for.”

Different takes

Donovan zinged Gardner on Twitter last month after the reinsurance bill she cosponsored to lower premiums for Coloradans was given a federal waiver. 

Gardner, in a video, touted his work on helping move the bill along, which Donovan took serious issue with.

“I think what was most frustrating about him filming a video, putting it up, and claiming credit for something that he’s actively trying to undermine and eliminate was the point of frustration,” she said. “We’re from different parties, we have different values, we can disagree and have different priorities. But don’t post on social claiming credit to do something. He clearly claims credit for reinsurance and he is trying to dismantle the ACA on which reinsurance depends on.”

Kaye Ferry, the chair of the Eagle County Republicans, who hosted the event, said Gardner’s message was positive and that he listened to his critics on Tuesday and tried to give honest answers. 

“He’s never really changed. He’s always been the same Cory all the way through,” she said. “So I think he listens and I think he responds and I think he tries to make the best of the situation, which he did tonight. Unfortunately, we have parts of the community that just aren’t satisfied with any answer you give them.”

John Hickenlooper urged to swap White House bid for Senate run

DENVER — John Hickenlooper has rebuffed entreaties from his campaign staff to drop his White House bid and consider running for a Senate seat in Colorado, insisting he still has a path to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Democrats said Tuesday.

The former two-term Colorado governor is struggling to break through a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates. He’s in the bottom tier of polling, hasn’t generated significant fundraising and is at risk of being eliminated from the fall debates.

But that’s not persuading Hickenlooper to become the first person to bow out of the largest Democratic presidential field in modern history. He insists he still has a chance, a belief that triggered the departure of four top aides, ranging from his campaign manager to his digital director.

The discussion about exiting the race was described by a Democrat familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Politico first reported the conversations.

Hickenlooper on Monday night announced he hired a new campaign manager, M.E. Smith, a well-regarded operative who worked on Hickenlooper’s successful reelection in 2014 and last year ran Sen. Bob Casey’s winning campaign in Pennsylvania.

Smith was expected to run an outside group on Hickenlooper’s behalf funded by his financial backers. She’ll now be responsible for the entire campaign.

On Tuesday, Hickenlooper told MSNBC: “We felt that it was the right time for a change.”

Hickenlooper’s campaign manager Brad Komar, national finance director Dan Sorenson and digital director John Schueler have all left the campaign, and spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said she will be departing in the coming weeks.

According to people who have spoken to him, Hickenlooper still believes the race could break his way. He’s watching whether former Vice President Joe Biden’s stumbles at last week’s debate might provide an opening to play a more dominant role as a leader of the party’s moderate wing.

Hickenlooper thinks he could shine during the next Democratic presidential debate in Detroit later this month. That could help him generate a swell of small-dollar donors who could push him over his greatest obstacle: the Democratic National Committee’s requirement that candidates receive donations from 130,000 people to make the stage of the third debate.

“Hard but doable,” said Alan Salazar, a veteran Democratic strategist in Denver who was once Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial chief of staff but does not work for his presidential bid. “He is one of the best networkers I have ever known, so it’s probably a challenge he wants to take on.”

It won’t be easy for Hickenlooper. People familiar with the issue said his presidential bid, which has been active since March, has only 13,000 donors, one-tenth of the number needed to make the third debate. He was relatively quiet during the first debate, and acknowledged Tuesday that he was not a great debater.

“I’m not a former prosecutor, I don’t go after the other candidates,” Hickenlooper said on MSNBC in an apparent reference to California Sen. Kamala Harris, who dominated the debate.

The Senate race may not be an attractive or feasible option, either. Washington Democrats wooed Hickenlooper to challenge Sen. Cory Gardner, widely seen as the most vulnerable Republican senator, rather than run for president in 2020. Hickenlooper, however, has repeatedly said he wouldn’t be interested in becoming a legislator.

“If the Senate is so good, how come all those senators are trying to get out?” Hickenlooper asked during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club last month, referring to the half-dozen senators running for president.

There may not be room for him in the Senate race. A dozen Democrats have already announced challenges to Gardner. Two announced this week that they raised more than $1 million in the past quarter, more than Hickenlooper is thought to have raised for his presidential bid over the same period.

Hickenlooper has tried to establish himself as a leading moderate in the race, repeatedly warning Democrats that they risk being tagged as socialists by tacking too far to the left. He’s tried to tout his unusual profile as a former businessman — Hickenlooper became rich founding a series of brewpubs — and governor of a swing state. But Democratic voters have appeared uninterested in his message, or at least the messenger.

On MSNBC, Hickenlooper admitted: “I’m not always the perfect spokesperson for my own ideas.” But he also quoted his mother, who was twice widowed before she was 40: “You never quit.”

New Aspen City Council members are sworn in

Within seconds of taking the Aspen mayor’s seat after a brief swearing-in ceremony Monday evening, Torre asked everyone in council chambers to share in taking a collective deep breath.

“Now, let’s go,” he said to the room full of supporters and observers, later saying, “I see this as a win to keep working … we have a great group up here and we’ll do great work.”

Torre, 49, won the mayor’s race in an April runoff election against current Councilwoman Ann Mullins.

A former councilman, this was Torre’s sixth attempt at the mayor’s seat in the past two decades.

He, along with new council members Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow, were sworn in Monday.

They replaced former Mayor Steve Skadron, and Councilmen Adam Frisch and Bert Myrin.

After a series of complimentary comments from fellow electeds, the former council members thanked each other, city staff and the community.

Skadron attempted unsuccessfully to hold back tears as he reflected on his 12 years at the council table and hit the gavel for the last time.

It didn’t take long for Torre to pick up where Skadron left off, promising that issues that arose in his campaign will be acted on.

He said better communication between City Hall and the community will occur under his administration, along with meaningful work on affordable housing in terms of protecting current inventory and building more units.

He also said this council will continue to build on the city’s environmental stewardship efforts, including reducing Aspen’s carbon footprint and plastics use.

“I’m excited for the job and the work ahead of us,” he said.

He said he will hold office hours every Monday from noon to 2 p.m. in the mayor’s office on the second floor of City Hall. To schedule an appointment, call 970-920-5199 or his cellphone, 970-948-2023, or email him at torre@cityofaspen.com.

“We need to hear from you,” he told the public at large.

Mullins, whose campaign criticized many of Torre’s ideas, said Monday that after a “vigorous campaign we made a lot of promises and I look forward to getting to work.”

Richards, who has served as a council member and mayor in previous terms in the early and mid-2000s, said she remembers being sworn in for the first time at age 29.

Now she’s 58 and wonders where the time has gone, she joked.

She also noted that she and her fellow council members stand on the back of giants who served before them and is “very humbled knowing the challenges that lie ahead of us,” she said.

A few members of the public spoke in front of council, asking for them to reconsider the already approved city offices building slated to be constructed this summer between Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza.

Issues concerning those individuals will be taken up at a work session on June 25.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet enters Democratic field for president

DENVER (AP) — U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado jumped into the packed Democratic presidential primary on Thursday, announcing a 2020 campaign that had been stalled while he was treated for prostate cancer.

Bennet, a former head of Denver Public Schools who has carved out a reputation as a policy-oriented moderate, made his announcement on CBS’ “CBS This Morning,” saying the country faces two “enormous challenges,” among others: “One is the lack of economic mobility and opportunity for most Americans, and the other is the need to restore integrity to our government.”

“I think we need to do both of those things,” he said.

The son of a former ambassador to India and a Yale law school graduate who worked in the Clinton administration, Bennet worked for Republican billionaire Phil Anschutz when he moved to Colorado in the late 1990s. But when he re-entered public life, he did so as a Democrat, serving as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper went on to become Colorado governor and now is also competing for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The presence of two moderate Coloradans who started their political careers in Denver City Hall reflects how crowded the Democratic presidential field has become. Bennet’s understated style and distaste for the sound bites required in a political campaign have usually led to speculation that he’d seek a Cabinet position rather than try to become the next president. But he began moving to assemble a presidential bid late last year and planned an announcement in April. He had to pause after being diagnosed with prostate cancer this spring.

Bennet, 54, told Colorado journalist Mike Littwin that he’d resume the campaign if he was treated successfully but that he wanted to make a point by disclosing his medical condition.

“I don’t want to be hysterical, but if it was left in me undetected, it could kill me,” Bennet said. “It won’t because I have insurance and decent medical care. The idea that the richest country in the world hasn’t figured out how to have universal health care is beyond embarrassing. It’s devastating.”

Bennet has been a vocal opponent in the Democratic Party of the push for single-payer health care championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another 2020 presidential candidate. Instead, Bennet proposes letting consumers buy into Medicare through insurance exchanges, arguing that that will be a more efficient and realistic path to universal coverage. Likewise, Bennet has pushed back against arguments by some other presidential hopefuls that Democrats should respond to Republican tactics by expanding the size of the Supreme Court, saying the party needs to avoid the same scorched-earth tactics that, he says, its main rival employs.

Indeed, in a 4-minute launch video released Thursday morning, Bennet positioned himself as a truth teller willing to level with voters.

“I’m not going to pretend free college is the answer,” he said. “I’m not gonna say there’s a simple solution to a problem if I don’t believe there is one.”

Despite his professorial reputation, Bennet has shown an ability to be a tough campaigner. Appointed in 2009, Bennet won his first election in 2010 by pounding his Republican rival for opposing abortion rights and comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, eking out a narrow win in an otherwise disastrous year for Bennet’s party. Four years later, Bennet chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a position that put him in contact with a network of national donors who also can help fund a presidential campaign.

Bennet gained internet fame this year when he blasted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for backing a bill to pay Coast Guard members during the partial government shutdown but not reopen the government. Bennet said Cruz once led a 16-day government shutdown in a failed bid to derail funding for the Affordable Care Act at a time when Colorado was experiencing catastrophic flooding, delaying relief efforts.

“When the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded,” Bennet shouted. “People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were destroyed, forever.”

Bennet accused Cruz of crying “crocodile tears” this time around.

Cruz responded on the Senate floor by saying Bennet “spent a great deal of time yelling” and “attacking me personally.”

“I think we should discuss issues and substance and facts and not simply scream and yell at each other,” Cruz said.

Colorado moves presidential primaries to Super Tuesday

DENVER — Colorado is moving up its 2020 presidential primaries from June to Super Tuesday in March, hoping to lure major party contenders to the purple state.

Gov. Jared Polis made the announcement Tuesday, adding Colorado to at least 10 states conducting their presidential primaries on March 3.

Under voter initiatives approved in 2016, independent voters — Colorado’s largest voting bloc — can participate in one or the other of the major party primaries.

“I think we can really highlight Colorado as a key state because among the Super Tuesday states, Colorado is one of the only ones that is also a competitive state for November — a purple state,” Polis said.

Down-ballot races will continue to be held in June.

Critics of the previous system argued the presidential race was largely decided by the time Colorado held its June primaries.

The 2016 ballot measure created winner-take-all Colorado presidential primaries in 2020, instead of non-binding caucuses.

Proponents argued that change would inspire candidates to try to appeal to centrist voters in an increasingly polarized political climate.

The 2016 caucuses were messy: Democrats struggled to accommodate every voter, and Republicans didn’t choose presidential delegates because the national party insisted the vote be binding. Independent voters were left out in the cold.

Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, now a presidential candidate, supported the changes, as did U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who also is expected to formally jump into the Democratic race.

Colorado held presidential primaries from 1992 to 2000 then dropped them to save money.

Giants California and Texas headline the list of Super Tuesday states.

2019 Aspen election analysis: Incumbents’ loss a message for change?

If there was any sea change to note from the results of the past two months of city of Aspen elections, it is that the three incumbents were unable to clinch their desired offices.

“This election very much defined a shift in what the populace wants in its representative government,” said Aspen mayor-elect Torre on Wednesday. “It’s a call for change.”

Torre won by 343 votes in Tuesday’s runoff election against sitting councilwoman Ann Mullins. He beat her by 341 votes in the March election, but they both failed to get a majority vote, which forced them into a runoff per the city’s home rule charter.

Mullins, who has two years left on her second term, initially also went up against sitting councilman Adam Frisch and political newcomer Cale Mitchell for the mayor’s seat.

Frisch, who is term-limited after serving eight years on council, came in third. Mitchell came in last place.

And councilman Bert Myrin, who is finishing his first four-year term, came in third for the bid to fill one of two vacant seats.

Instead, Skippy Mesirow, a newcomer to elected office, and Rachel Richards, a veteran politician who has served on council, has been mayor and recently a county commissioner, were picked by the majority of voters.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein, the only elected official who didn’t run for office that will be continuing to serve for the next two years, said Wednesday it’s difficult to really know why people voted the way they did; exit polling may provide a glimpse.

He acknowledged that some ways of doing things — mostly how the city communicates and engages with the public — should change.

But whether that fundamental problem is why the incumbents didn’t make it through the election is unclear.

“If I was running for office, I would probably get kicked out too,” Hauenstein joked. “I can’t look into people’s minds and have a crystal ball to know why they voted how they did.

“Maybe it’s just how the planets and stars are going through the universe.”

When conducting an unscientific poll leading up to the March election, The Aspen Times asked various residents their thoughts on how they were voting.

“A lot of us old-timers want a change so we are going rogue,” said one longtime local who is in their 70s. “I just want things to go a little smoother and have things get done.”

Torre, who has spent the past three and a half months campaigning on the current council’s failures, said it’s time to move on and look to the future.

Hauenstein, who beat Torre in a 2017 runoff for a council seat, agreed.

He said he looks forward to working with a new council.

“You go with what you got,” Hauenstein said.

The council’s focus should center on getting the public engaged in a positive manner rather than fighting City Hall, he added.

“(But) I don’t know how,” he said, noting that he tried by eliminating part of the problem and subsequently asked former city manager Steve Barwick to resign in December.

“I want to be more positive than negative,” he said. “We need the citizens to be proactive and less negative.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Torre is Aspen’s newest mayor

Longtime resident Torre will be the new mayor of Aspen after winning the runoff election Tuesday night against his opponent, Ann Mullins, by 343 votes.

It was a 56 to 44 percent margin, with voter turnout in a city runoff election the highest it’s been in recent history.

Torre received 1,527 and Mullins garnered 1,184 votes.

This is the sixth attempt for the tennis instructor and local TV host to win the mayor’s seat since 2001.

“I’m very happy with the support of my community,” Torre said in the basement of City Hall on Tuesday night just after the results were announced.

While a total of 2,734 voters showed up to the polls, there are 23 remaining ballots that need to be cured or were left blank, according to City Clerk Linda Manning.

Mullins and Torre forced a runoff after they failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 5 election.

During that election, Torre beat Mullins by 341 votes, just two shy of Tuesday night’s results.

Mullins currently is in the middle of her second term as a council member and will continue in that role.

As Mullins watched the results come in, standing next to Torre in council chambers, there was a clear letdown on her face.

“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “But I will work really hard on the stuff I campaigned on.”

If she had been elected mayor, someone would have had to fill her vacancy either by appointment or another election.

Mullins’ platform centered around more affordable child care and housing, environmental initiatives and getting governance in City Hall squared away, including hiring a new city manager.

Torre also stumped for tackling those issues and named specific solutions to traffic and other plans, a lot of which Mullins criticized as ill-conceived or not feasible.

How the two will work together remains to be seen. Torre also will be serving with Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who he lost to in 2017 in a hotly contested runoff election.

Upon his congratulating him Tuesday night, Hauenstein shook Torre’s hand and said, “We’ll work together” and then followed it up by joking, “It’s about time.”

Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards, who won council seats in the regular March municipal election, will be sworn in along with Torre on June 10.

While the council members and mayor-elect set up meetings and prepare to take office, real decisions can’t be made for more than two months.

“It’s like being in the penalty box at a hockey game … you can’t do anything,” Richards joked as she left City Hall on Tuesday night.

With just around 6,000 registered voters in Aspen, the turnout for the April 2 runoff was 45 percent of the electorate.

Recent history shows that voter turnout decreases between 20 percent and 25 percent in Aspen’s runoff elections.

But in this April runoff election, it was roughly only 9 percent.

The March 5 election saw a record turnout with 3,243 people coming to the polls to elect two Aspen City Council members and a mayor and decide in favor of the controversial Lift One development proposal at the base of Aspen Mountain.

A citizen referendum, led in part by Mesirow last fall, successfully changed the city’s traditional dates of the municipal and runoff elections from May and June, respectively, to March and April.

The turnout for March and April elections appear to support the argument that there are more people in town to vote during the winter tourist season.

The March election saw a 54 percent turnout. That’s 16 percent more than the May 2017 election.

“Voter turnout was fantastic,” Torre said, adding that he plans to set up meetings as early as today with key city officials, including current Mayor Steve Skadron, who is term-limited after three two-year terms.

Torre also has served on council twice, with a total of eight years under his belt as an elected official in Aspen.

In the March 5 election, mayoral candidate Adam Frisch came in third with 838 and fourth-place contender Cale Mitchell brought in 83 votes.

It’s unclear how many of those votes went to either runoff candidate, but Frisch threw his support toward Mullins in this last contest.

Throughout the campaigns for both elections, Torre raised just over $11,000 and Mullins inched over the $20,000 mark.

They were out in full force in high-traffic areas Tuesday waving their signs. They also were checking voter rolls to see who hadn’t voted yet and making sure people were getting to the polls.

“You work like you are behind,” Torre said of the campaign. “I’m excited to get to work.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com