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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.


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.”


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.”


Aspen mayoral runoff election is today between Mullins, Torre

Aspen voters will decide today who will be the new mayor the next two years.

Today marks the runoff election date between mayoral candidates Ann Mullins and Torre, who failed in the March 5 municipal election to get a majority vote per the city’s home rule charter.

They’ll be stumping their final hours today around town, urging people to vote.

As of Monday evening, 2,089 people had cast their votes in this mail-in election, according to City Clerk Linda Manning.

Around 6,000 people are registered to vote in Aspen.

City Hall is the only place Aspen voters can cast their votes today; they should not be mailed.

Manning urges people who are voting today to vote in person rather than drop off their ballot, which requires a lengthy verification process from election judges.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in council chambers in the basement of City Hall. Polls close at 7 p.m. Ballots will not be counted after that.

City officials will tally the votes and announce a winner around 8 p.m. The Aspen Times will post results as soon as they are available at aspentimes.com.

Aspen mayoral candidates enter final day of campaign

The two candidates running for Aspen’s mayoral seat are in full stumping mode as the runoff election will be decided Tuesday night.

Candidates Torre and Ann Mullins have been trying to differentiate themselves ever since they became the top two vote-getters in the March 5 municipal election.

But because they failed to get 50 percent of the vote, plus one — as the city’s home rule charter calls for — they are headed into Tuesday’s runoff.

They shared their final thoughts as their campaigns wind down as to why they should be mayor.

For Torre, it’s about getting things done. He said he can lead the city to deliver more workforce housing and affordable child care, among other things, to the community.

“It’s about the issues and I intend to be a mayor who listens and leads,” Torre said. “I believe in social services and private sector prosperity, and there is a balance. I represent a balance for Aspen.”

Mullins said in a prepared statement that she has better ideas than her opponent.

“We need a mayor who has workable, constructive solutions to our problems; a mayor who can immediately address the issues that are in front of us with collaborative, well-founded solutions not ill-considered ideas that are detrimental to the environment and make existing problems worse,” she wrote.

In March, mayoral candidate Adam Frisch came in third place with 838 votes and Cale Mitchell, 83, in fourth place.

Mullins and Torre have been trying to capture the support of those voters who went for Frisch and Mitchell to garner enough votes to win Tuesday.

Torre, a former two-term Aspen city councilman who is in his sixth mayoral bid, won over Mullins in the March 5 election by 341 votes (1,281 to 940).

Mullins is in the middle of serving her second term as a council member. If Mullins wins the mayor’s seat, she will surrender her council seat, which has two years left on the term.

Either the council will appoint someone, or another election will occur to fill her vacancy.

That decision will be up to a new council that will be sworn in June 10. In the March election, Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow won council seats.

Voter turnout was at an all-time high with 3,200 people voting in the March election.

Some observers speculate that the reason for that is the election date was changed from May to March, and the runoff from June to April.

Others believe the Lift One corridor ballot question, which will see a new chairlift at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side and 320,000 square feet of commercial space, drew more people to the polls.

Turnouts for runoff elections in the city historically show between a 20 percent and 25 percent drop.

In the June 2017 runoff in which Torre lost to Ward Hauenstein for a council seat, 1,840 people came to the polls.

As of Friday afternoon nearly 1,600 ballots had been cast for this runoff, according to City Clerk Linda Manning.

There are roughly 6,000 registered voters in Aspen.

Ballots, which arrived in voters’ mailboxes earlier this month, should be walked into City Hall instead of mailed to ensure that they are counted by 7 p.m. Tuesday, Manning added.

The City Clerk’s office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.

If people choose to vote on Election Day, they are asked to vote in person rather than drop off their ballots, which take longer to process because election judges have to go through more verification steps.

“We would rather people on Election Day vote in person because it makes for quicker, smoother processing,” Manning said. “It speeds up the process immensely.”


Candidates raise between $11K and $20K in Aspen mayoral campaigns

Aspen mayoral candidate Ann Mullins raised just over $1,000 more than her opponent, Torre, during the last reporting period in the April 2 runoff election.

Since the two candidates received the most votes in the March 5 municipal election but failed to get 50 percent of the vote plus one, they have been on the campaign trail vying for the top elected post in City Hall.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,202 ballots have been cast in this mail-in election, according to City Clerk Linda Manning.

Between March 13 and March 25, Mullins raised $3,645 and Torre raised $2,500.

Thus far in their campaigns, which began this past winter in the lead-up to last month’s election, Torre has raised just over $11,000 and Mullins almost $20,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Mullins spent $3,721, with just over $1,000 on hand at the beginning of this latest reporting period.

She received just over two dozen donations that ranged between $50 and $250, the maximum amount a candidate can receive in an election cycle.

Jim DeFrancia, one of the developers behind the Gorsuch Haus hotel that Mullins supported as part of the Lift One corridor proposal that voters approved in March, gave $250 to her campaign.

Nan Sundeen, the director of Pitkin County’s health and human services and a Carbondale resident, donated $100 to Mullins’ campaign. Aspen Daily News columnist Lorenzo Semple gave her $100 and Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg gave $250.

She spent the most money on newspaper ads during the reporting period, along with posting and printing.

Torre spent almost $2,700 between March 13 and March 25, with just over $2,100 on hand at the beginning of the reporting period.

He had 21 donations, ranging from $50 to $250. His donors include Independence Square owner Terry Butler, affordable housing developer Peter Fornell and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, all of whom gave $200 or more.

Torre spent money in this reporting cycle on a promotional event at Aspen Tap, newspaper advertising and filers.

The runoff is an all-mail election. If voters registered in Aspen have not received their ballots, contact the City Clerk’s Office.

Ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2. In-person voting can be done in the clerk’s office on the second floor of City Hall.


Ann Mullins commentary: We can work together to make Aspen even better

I’m writing today to ask for your vote for mayor April 2.

This is a critical time in Aspen, and I promise to provide the thoughtful and firm leadership the city needs as it hires new management, tackles tough issues like housing and transportation, and works to better connect with the community at large.

I will make sure Burlingame III is built, providing housing for families and individuals who want to make Aspen their home. We will start planning for new housing on the BMC West parcel. And we will work to sustain and expand our affordable-housing program for future generations.

On transportation, I will take the great work of the 2017 Community Transportation Forum, when dozens of Aspenites came up with real transportation solutions, and develop programs that address our challenges. We will collaborate with RFTA, High Mountain Taxi and the limo services to ensure our solutions support local businesses.

And I will work with council and staff to expand opportunities for community input on city initiatives.

Aspen is choosing between two very different mayoral candidates, both in style and substance. Perhaps the starkest difference between us can be seen in our votes on two very significant land use ordinances.

I voted against Ordinance 19, the lodging ordinance that would have allowed 60-foot, four-story buildings and incentives that were far too generous. It was clear to me that this ordinance would radically change the character of Aspen. Instead, I successfully advocated for a small-lodge program that has helped lodge owners save time and money in renovating their lodges.

Torre by contrast voted in favor of the infill ordinance when he was on City Council, allowing three-story buildings with penthouse suites in the commercial core. Then, when he realized there were unintended consequences, he mishandled the effort to change the law.

He proposed a moratorium that failed because he didn’t have four votes on council to support the idea. This alerted property owners, who rushed in applications before the law was changed. Now we have a canyon of three-story buildings on Hyman Avenue and still more large buildings approved under this ordinance.

I have a strong record in working for Aspen in a number of areas that I ask you to consider:

Land use

• Helped enact the tightest land use controls that Aspen has ever seen.

• Expanded and improved city parks in the core.


• Advocated for half-hour bus service at Burlingame and year round Downtowner service.

• Expanded the pedestrian and bike trail system.

Environmental protection

• Secured eight electric buses for Aspen, reducing diesel emissions and noise in town.

• Worked to keep Aspen Electric 100 percent renewable.

• Secured a compost bin for the community gardens.

Arts and Culture

• Led planning for the bauhaus100aspen celebration.

• Advocated for the Shining Mountain Film Festival.

• Oversaw successful transition of the Red Brick Center to city ownership.

I ask again for your support. Together we can make Aspen an even better place to live.

Ann Mullins’ website is annforaspen.com and she can be reached at mullins.ann@gmail.com.

Torre commentary: Make policy and prioritize achievable results together

The runoff election for Aspen mayor is underway! Yes, the process requires that you vote again by the April 2 deadline. You can vote by mail using your mail-in ballot (ballot must be received by April 2nd), walk in your ballot, or vote in person at City Hall.

When you do vote, I am asking you to vote for me, Torre, for Aspen mayor. I have served two terms on City Council, and will bring that previous council experience as well as a fresh perspective to the mayor’s office.

I am running for mayor to bring much needed leadership and direction to council and City Hall. I intend to create a council that relies on communication and collaboration to solve problems and achieve an inclusive environment at City Hall that is representative of citizens and respectful of city staff.

I would be extremely honored for my community’s support to work on their behalf. That is what I am campaigning for: to work for you. This is, in many ways, a very public job interview. In the two-year term as mayor, I will, with the help of many, build communication, provide leadership and support follow-through in your City Hall.

I believe in an efficient and focused local government. I am an advocate for both public services and private-sector prosperity. I believe a lot of us can agree on the issues that confront us, together we can make the tough decisions necessary to achieve our common goals. I seek input from anyone and will provide open channels for direct communication with the mayor’s office.

On the issues that we do face, let me pledge my adherence to Aspen’s core principles. My priority will be to set clear expectations and install a new city manager to create a city government based on collaborative problem solving.

During my two-year term, I will support our residential housing partners in Centennial and Burlingame, as well as our other housing partners to strengthen our current program. I will create new housing opportunities ranging from entry-level housing, to family units and options for retiring and aging Aspenites. I will forward our environmental goals with citywide composting and reduction of single-use plastics, and carbon-conscious planning. I will promote pedestrian/bicycle priority, sensible transit programs and roadway improvements.

I have also heard from you that we need to create local business opportunity that serves the community, facilitate sustainable growth, revise building and permitting processes, increase offseason bus service, responsibly review the airport proposal, develop early child care facilities, realize the pedestrian malls’ renovations and fund mental-health services. The list is long, but I will work for Aspen on all these issues, and so much more.

If elected, I look forward to working with my opponent, who has two years remaining on her council term. I have great respect for Ann and her community values. I have specific initiatives to create a council that supports each other, communicates and provides clear direction. Along with the great people who work for the city of Aspen, we will make policy and prioritize achievable results together.

Please participate in this runoff election. Show your support for housing, the environment, new leadership and direction in City Hall. Vote, and vote Torre for Aspen mayor 2019.

Torre’s website is torreformayor.com and he can be reached at aspentorre@gmail.com

Aspen mayoral finalists Mullins, Torre defend records before runoff

Aspen’s two candidates in the mayoral runoff spent a good portion of a campaign forum Thursday defending their voting records during their time as officeholders while declaring they have the right leadership skills to lead collaborative efforts among an opinionated community.

Squirm Night, hosted by Aspen’s two daily newspapers and GrassRoots TV, was held at City Hall and was the first candidate forum during the runoff-election season pitting former eight-year councilman Torre against Ann Mullins, who is in the second year of her final four-year term as councilwoman.

The April 2 runoff election comes after neither candidate captured the 50 percent plus one vote needed to claim victory in the March election, which had four contestants for mayor. Torre was the top vote-getter with 1,281 cast his way, while Mullins generated 940.

The contentious Lift One project will certainly be in purview of the next City Council, and both candidates have distinguished their positions on the Aspen Mountain development.

Torre campaigned against it, while Mullins showed her unyielding support.

By a 26-vote difference, Aspen’s electorate approved the Lift One corridor project in March. That decision paves the way for development on the western portal of Aspen Mountain of more than 320,000 square feet of commercial space, including the 107,000-square-foot timeshare project known as the Lift One Lodge and a 64,000-square-foot luxury hotel called the Gorsuch Haus. It also includes the replacement of Lift 1A down the mountain another 500 feet from its current lower terminal location to Dean Street.

Squirm Night co-moderator Carolyn Sackariason, The Aspen Times’ city hall reporter, remarked she had heard the Lift One election was one of the most divisive issues in Aspen for a long while. That led to the question of which candidate could lead a city with such varying opinions about the future of development in Aspen.

“I don’t think our community is divided (as much as) our goals and aspirations maybe, as this vote seems to say,” Torre said, noting that now that the election has passed, “my intention is to do the best I can to help this project to be the best it can be.”

Mullins said, “To me, this is one of the biggest challenges for a new mayor, hopefully myself, because (the vote) was not a mandate, which is 60-40.”

Like Torre, Mullins said realizing the project’s greatest potential will be a chief task of the next mayor, while also making “sure the developer follows through with everything that’s a promise. Nothing gets left on the table.”

Torre was questioned about his level of involvement, as a non-elected official, in the public meetings concerning Lift One.

“I attended less than a handful; three meetings total,” he said, remarking that the project proposal advanced to levels of development he did not expect.

“The Lift One corridor, I didn’t think it would see the light of day or the support of council it received.”

Torre also said he was not vocal at the meetings he attended because a majority of the council seemed set on its ways to send the multi-pronged proposal to voters.

Torre and Mullins also found themselves justifying some of their council votes that led to polarizing projects. Torre voted in approval of the Aspen Art Museum, which has been either heralded or blistered with criticism about its exterior design. During 2012, he also introduced an emergency ordinance aimed at downzoning Aspen’s Commercial Core District and the Commercial District on the west side of town. Emergency ordinances require four votes from City Council, and Torre mustered three. The result was what the city said was an unusual number of land-use applications that effectively defeated purpose of the proposed ordinance, which later was passed.

Torre, however, said he stood by his decision and had been working behind the scenes for nearly two weeks in advance of his proposal. He also said he talked to Councilman Adam Frisch about his proposal, yet Sackariason countered that Frisch said such a conversation never happened.

“I understand somebody has a poor recollection of the events,” Torre said. “I’m sorry, that’s not what happened.”

Mullins said she wouldn’t have introduced an emergency ordinance without knowing she had secured the required four votes. Non-emergency ordinances required three votes to be passed.

Mullins was challenged by Aspen Daily News editor Curtis Wackerle about her decision-making process during 2016 in the Old Power House discussions, where a host of organizations vied for the city-owned space, 590 N. Mill St., that most recently had been Aspen Art Museum’s home before it relocated downtown. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association currently occupies the space.

The City Council initially tapped a group of entrepreneurs to take the coveted riverside space, but then it backtracked after public pressure and concerns about community access to a municipal space. The winning proposal included incubator space, a television studio and a dining spot serving alcohol, as well outdoor space used for private events.

The council got flak for its flip-flop, but Mullins said the original proposal they approved had changed to the point that she and her fellow officeholders could no longer support it.

“I don’t think it should be a private facility,” she said. “It should have community access, accessible to the community, not private space.”

Should Mullins win in the runoff, she said she is open to the idea of holding an election for her seat. Yet the council could appoint the replacement themselves.

Asked if she would support the appointment of Torre, Mullins replied, “We’ll have to see who the other applicants are.”

Torre said he would apply for the opening if he loses the runoff.

“I would absolutely apply,” he said, adding he is focused on “working for solutions … it isn’t about the title or office. I would most definitely put my name in for the vacancy.”


Watch Squirm Night live: Mayoral candidates Torre and Ann Mullins face off