| AspenTimes.com

Campaign being formed around Wheeler money ballot question


A campaign is shaping up to promote the passage of ballot measure 2A, which asks Aspen voters to repurpose a portion of the real estate transfer tax revenue that is dedicated to the historic Wheeler Opera House.

An issue committee called “Aspen for Arts, Arts for Aspen” has been filed with the City Clerk’s office by Cristal Logan, chair of the chamber of commerce board of directors who represents local arts and culture organizations.

Logan said last week that the committee will fundraise and campaign on behalf of local arts and culture groups who stand to benefit from the diversion of funds from the Wheeler because the question asks to remove a $100,000 annual cap in grants to them.

“We are all banded together as a team and working 1,000% to get this passed,” said Logan, who is the vice president of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute.

Aspen voters in 1979 originally approved and then reaffirmed in 2016 with the extension of the tax to 2039 that Wheeler real estate transfer tax (RETT) revenue goes to the opera house, along with the annual $100,000 to local cultural organizations.

A divided Aspen City Council voted 3-2 on Sept. 3 to send the question to voters, which 60% must approve for passage, based on the 1979 ballot language.

The Wheeler RETT fund currently has $40 million in it and council members agree that more funding should go to a broader base of cultural, visual and performing arts.

This fall’s ballot question also asks that a portion of the RETT be repurposed to the Red Brick Center for the Arts, which currently is supported by the city’s general fund and asset management fund.

Eliminating the general fund as a source of support for the Red Brick would allow the city to use it to pay its remaining $2.1 million in outstanding certificates of participation for the Isis Theater, which is in financial straits due to changes in the film industry and COVID-19.

How much to divert, how much to leave for the historic opera house and where the future revenue goes will be decided in the future by council.

Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein, the two council members in the minority in the Sept. 3 vote, said the details are not ripe enough to send to voters.

Richards pointed to a city-hired polling consultant that determined the question is likely to fail at the ballot box, and Hauentein said he wants to ensure that adequate funding is secured for other pressing needs like affordable child care and mental health.

Council members John Doyle and Skippy Mesirow, along with Mayor Torre, said the question, which has been debated in the community for years, should be decided by voters now.

They have a short window to convince an electorate who historically is evenly divided on issues.

By the numbers

A look at some key numbers for the Nov. 2 election:

There are 5,788 active registered voters in Aspen and 13,889 in Pitkin County.

Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 8.

Overseas ballots were mailed Sept. 17.

Early voting begins at the Pitkin County administration building Oct. 25.

Ballots can be dropped off at town halls in Snowmass Village and Basalt, as well as the county administration building on Main Street.

For more information, go to www.pitkinvotes.com

Election Day is Nov. 2, although ballots will be mailed out Oct. 8 with the expectation that they will land in voters’ mailboxes within a few days after that.

Doyle, Mesirow and Torre said they plan to promote their support for the question in the form of letters to the editor, guest commentaries, on their social media platforms, as well as helping the Aspen for Arts, Arts for Aspen campaign.

Logan said a website, aspenforarts.org, is being built where campaign information can be found and the committee will be sending mailers to registered voters.

She said supporters will make phone calls to residents, and the committee plans to hold virtual forums to educate voters on the issue.

The executive directors and presidents and CEOs of organizations including the Music Associates of Aspen, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Theatre Aspen and Aspen Film have publicly given their support for the ballot question.

Logan said those organizations, along with other local arts and culture nonprofits, have not seen increased grant funding for years, but their costs have gone up and their operations are still reeling from COVID-19 economic losses.

If more funding comes their way from RETT revenue, increased programming is possible.

“We are committed to our community and programming year round for locals,” she said.

It’s unknown yet whether there will be organized opposition to ballot question 2A, but there is a group who is disappointed in council’s decision and are contemplating it.

They are part of a group of citizens who in July tried to put a citizen referendum on this fall’s ballot that would’ve removed the $100,000 cap and approved a $10 million grant to the Aspen School District to upgrade and renovate the 550-seat Aspen District Theater and 150-seat black box space.

The group was unsuccessful in getting the required amount of signatures from Aspen voters, but the effort made some elected officials nervous, and it forced their hand to make a move now.

Doyle said he plans to write a letter to his supporters who helped him win his seat this past March explaining why he backs 2A.

“I honestly think we can push this through and get it done, and it quells any groups from trying to claim this pot of gold,” he said, adding this fall’s question honors the intent of the original ballot language.

Torre said he realizes that it’s a challenge to get 60% of the electorate on board, which is why he intends on campaigning hard.

“I plan on talking to people every chance I get, and I intend on broadening the scope and message as much as I can,” he said, adding that he’s considering spending his own money on yard signs. “It’s full on, and I am excited about the opportunity and I believe in what we are doing.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Lead up to Wheeler money question ‘a flawed process’

The angst, consternation and harmed relationships among Aspen’s elected officials in deciding to send a ballot question to voters asking to repurpose Wheeler Opera House money could be an indication of how the measure will do at the polls.

The process leading up to Aspen City Council’s Sept. 3 decision was so flawed that two board members who were in the minority took an unusual step by calling a special meeting to reconsider the previous vote taken three days prior.

“I do not want to send a ballot to the citizens that was railroaded through the council without the full participation of all five members of the council,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who along with Councilwoman Rachel Richards, called the Sept. 3 special meeting.

They did that because after debating the issue Aug. 31, the council was deadlocked 2-2 on sending a ballot question to voters.

Absent from that meeting was Councilman Skippy Mesirow, who was on vacation but called into the meeting virtually after his colleagues, members of the arts community and the public had had an hour and a half of discussion without him.

Despite Hauenstein and Richards objecting to Mesirow casting a vote during the Aug. 31 meeting because he had not participated in the public hearing, he voted anyway.

Mayor Torre didn’t attempt to stop Mesirow from voting or suggest a continuance, which was to Torre’s benefit since Mesirow was on his side to send the question to voters asking them to repurpose real estate transfer tax revenue from the Wheeler to other arts endeavors in the community.

Councilman John Doyle, who was considered the swing vote, was in the hot seat for the 72 hours in between the meetings, and felt pressure as he was individually lobbied by his colleagues to vote on their side.

Sept. 3’s meeting didn’t change the outcome from the Aug. 31 vote, which was 3-2 to approve an ordinance and resolution sending the question to voters.

Aspen City Council members pose for a photo in Conner Memorial Park in June 2021.
Carolyn Sackariason / The Aspen Times

On vacation

The reason for Aug. 31 meeting was to benefit Richards, who was on vacation during the Aug. 24 public hearing, which was scheduled to be the second reading of the ordinance and council’s final vote.

Having two council members unavailable leading up to the Sept. 3 deadline set by the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office to get a question on the ballot clearly was problematic not only for those who were available but also for members of the public interested in the issue.

“We are in the last week of being able to even consider this so running up against that timeline is very difficult,” Torre said during the Aug. 31 meeting. “We’ve had council members that are out of town and pushing us up against the wall, and I understand not being comfortable with moving forward for different reasons.”

Hauenstein, who favored having a ballot question in fall of 2022 after making sure the city had funding in place for mental health and child care, said process matters to him.

“If we had all five council members here on (Aug. 24), and we had a vote, I’d be disappointed by the outcome, but I could live with it,” he said. “If we had all five council members here for the whole discussion on (Aug. 31), I could’ve lived with it, and I wouldn’t have lost sleep over it, wouldn’t have been stressed, and I wouldn’t have felt it had done harm between me and other members of council and staff.”

Mesirow during the Aug. 24 meeting chastised leaders of Aspen’s arts and culture organizations for not being present to publicly give their support toward the ballot question this fall, even though they had previously done so.

Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School, addressed his absence during the Aug. 31 meeting, the one that Mesirow missed.

“We are sorry that it appeared that we didn’t care enough. We were in the last week of an epic summer in which we actually created historically important content,” Fletcher said. “I think no one in the entire world of classical music accomplished what we accomplished this summer so the fact that we weren’t at the meeting last week, which was reported by council members and by the press, just makes my head shake.”

The situation had Hauenstein shaking his head as well.

“The process on Aug. 31 was deeply flawed and forwards a tainted approval for the voters and arts, and it divides council support and harms future council relations,” he said Sept. 3. “It has been a really stressful time for me, and if I’ve created any wedges or strains in relationships, I apologize, but it’s been a really difficult few days.”

Roadblocks ahead?

Even though council has been discussing a potential ballot question repurposing the RETT since the beginning of the year, Richards and Hauenstein said they feel it would’ve been more appropriate in fall 2022 when it’s been more flushed out and thus, more sellable to Aspen voters, of which 60% must vote yes in order for the question to pass.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock that Richards sees in convincing voters in the next 45 days is that the city’s polling conducted in August suggested the measure won’t pass.

Council directed City Manager Sara Ott to hire a polling firm for $12,000 and the results should not be ignored, Richards argued at the Sept. 3 meeting.

“It tells you whether it’s a go or a no go, and I don’t think it was given the weight that it deserves in terms of translating it to what happens, not just the science or the theory of a polling, or how many people you reach, but it told us who we needed to have vote, over-vote in mass to succeed in this election,” she said. “I have come to the conclusion I cannot put my name on the campaign and ask people to volunteer their time, their money, their reputation on an issue that I believe is going to fail.”

Torre said at the Aug. 31 meeting that he thinks the time is now to ask voters, regardless of what the poll results are.

“I think this is an issue that you put out what you put in, I think positivity would make this go the way we want it to go but again, if it doesn’t, I’m OK with that because I want people to have a choice,” he said. “These are items that people are interested in and so the poll and politicizing is not where I come from. … I would love to send it to the electorate and have them make their decision.”

Mesirow acknowledged Richards’ almost 30 years of elections experience in Aspen, but the poll also suggests that less frequent voters and young residents are supportive of the measure.

He said he wasn’t planning on doing a heavy lift on campaigning for the ballot question, but it could be an opportunity for the council to work together and in that instance, he would work harder.

Richards was not persuaded.

“That’s a great offer to come now after we heard you weren’t planning on putting a heavy lift in before,” she said at the Sept. 3 meeting.

She pointed to two prior city initiated ballot questions that were passed along to voters by a divided council.

The first was in 2003 when voters denied a question asking to buy the Mother Lode restaurant building for $3.25 million as a future expansion of the Wheeler Opera House.

The second was the controversial Lift One proposal that passed in 2019 with a margin of 26 votes, leaving the community divided on allowing 320,000 square feet of commercial space at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side.

“I think that has left some sores that have not gone away, and I have to stop and think what if those two minority members had been listened to and it wasn’t sent to the ballot and it was delayed and there had been more time in order to get the right-sized project and to get the right amount of affordable housing,” Richards said. “It hurt our community, and I think that lingers and the question now is do we model that behavior going forward?”

 

Mike Schultheis, general superintendent of Summit Sealants and Restoration, points out the areas replaced on the arches at the top of the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A decade of analysis paralysis

Repurposing a portion of the RETT, which stands at $40 million in the Wheeler’s coffers, has been a conversation previous councils have agonized over for more than a decade.

The current council agrees that there are pressing needs in the community that the RETT could pay for, as well as more funding for the arts, since the revenue source originally passed by voters in 1979 has a cap of $100,000 annually to local cultural organizations.

But how much to divert, how much to leave for the historic opera house and where the future revenue goes has not been decided.

The majority of council earlier this year had favored waiting until fall 2022 to ask a RETT diversion question but then a group of citizens in July tried to put a citizen referendum on this fall’s ballot that would’ve removed the $100,000 cap and approved a $10 million grant to the Aspen School District to upgrade and renovate the 550-seat Aspen District Theater and 150-seat black box space.

The group was unsuccessful in getting the required amount of signatures from Aspen voters, but the effort made some elected officials nervous and it forced their hand to make a move now.

“This is heartbreaking for me,” Richards said during the Aug. 31 meeting. “I thought we would be able to do this, but I don’t just dismiss a poll and go on fantasy thinking.”

The council also hasn’t had a formal conversation or meeting with the Wheeler board of directors about the ballot question.

The citizen board has several concerns about the ballot language, including that it isn’t restrictive enough in defining what exactly are “cultural, visual and performing arts” and that council would have too much power to spend down the Wheeler fund, according to Chip Fuller, chair of the Wheeler board in an Aug. 31 email to council.

This fall’s ballot question asks that a portion of the RETT be repurposed to the Red Brick Center for the Arts, which currently is supported by the city’s general fund and asset management plan fund.

Eliminating the general fund as a source of support for the Red Brick would allow the city to use it to pay its remaining $2.1 million in outstanding certificates of participation for the Isis Theater, which is in financial peril.

The ballot question also asks that it removes the cap on the annual $100,000 set aside for arts and culture grants to local nonprofits, and opens it up more broadly to the cultural, visual and performing arts.

“To me this question is not perfect, I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at a ballot question that was perfect, but to me this identifies and works for a solution on three items,” Torre said in the Sept. 3 meeting. “This gives us greater access to programming and supplies even to kids and adults, this is the community support in the Red Brick. This is not just about arts, this is about our community.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 

Going green: Renewable energy advocates have transformed Holy Cross Energy’s election debates

Flowers and vegetation bloom solar panels in Carbondale with a view of Mount Sopris on Friday, May 29, 2020. The solar farm is one of several renewable energy projects that Holy Cross Energy has tapped for its power supply. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Thirteen years after renewable energy advocates mounted a takeover of Holy Cross Energy’s board of directors, their mission appears complete.

A current mail-in election for three board seats attracted 10 candidates (see information box for more on the candidates). Of that field, five candidates embraced renewable energy as the central message in campaign material. Two other candidates make renewable energy a prominent part of their platform. Two others focus on smart business approaches, while one questions how smart meter technology affects health.

Board elections used to feature debates about how fast the cooperative should switch from power produced from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Now, the debate is focused on getting Holy Cross to its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030. Aspen Skiing Co. played a big role in refocusing HCE.

Skico started recruiting environmentally oriented candidates and making endorsements starting in the 2008 election. Despite mixed results, the board is now packed with renewable energy enthusiasts.

“They’re hugely progressive,” said Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement, referring to HCE’s staff and board. He cited a list of accomplishments that include setting the 100% renewable energy target, planning for divestment of their ownership interest in the Comanche 3 coal-fired plant, encouraging development of energy efficiency and solar on individual homes and installing smart meters.

Schendler makes endorsements in the races, just as he has since 2008. But he clearly supports the direction Holy Cross has taken, which includes the hiring of renewable energy champion Bryan Hannegan as president and CEO.

“They’re one of the best rural co-ops in the country,” Schendler said. “And they will likely get to their mid-term goals faster than they say. Meanwhile, the whole time they’ve kept rates very low, stable, and are improving power reliability through smart metering.

“They are community leaders,” he continued. “I mean, what more do we want out of these guys?”

Allen Best, a veteran journalist who focuses on energy and water transitions in Colorado, said Holy Cross has set one of the more ambitious goals for renewable energy among power producers.

“It is without parallel in Colorado,” he said.

Best believes it comes as little surprise that nearly all the candidates in the current election are promoting renewable energy sources.

“The debate about coal is over, with the exception of Comanche 3,” he said. “All the coal plants will be closed by 2030. The economics of renewables have made coal yesterday’s story.”

The debate is how much of a role natural gas-fueled power plants will continue to play into the future, he said.

Best believes there is “always room on the board” for different voices, in this case meaning someone who is skeptical about the rush to 100% renewables.

“If they have well-articulated questions, that’s useful,” he said.

Best is taking a look at the Holy Cross races and other energy cooperative elections in his Big Pivots newsletter this week. To subscribe, he can be contacted at allen.best@comcast.net.

Holy Cross Energy serves customers in the Roaring Fork, Eagle and Lower Colorado River valleys. Ballots were mailed to members last week and must be received by mail no later than June 10.

3 seats, 10 candidates

Holy Cross Energy is currently holding a mail election for three seats. Members must return their ballots by June 10.

There are three candidates for one seat in Holy Cross Energy’s southern district, which includes a large portion of the Roaring Fork Valley. The candidates in that race are Robert Gardner, Brian Davies and Brian Rose. The winner will serve a four-year term.

There are seven candidates for two positions in the northern district. The candidates are Roseann Casey, Keith Klesner, Kristen Bertuglia, G. Andrew Osborne, Kristen Hartel, Adrienne Perer and Thomas Henderson.

The person who gets the most votes in the northern district race will serve a four-year term. The second-place finisher will get a three-year term.

Biographies and answers from the candidates on three primary issues facing Holy Cross are available at www.holycross.com/elections.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Left-leaning voter encourages Rep. Lauren Boebert to focus on what matters

Glenwood Springs resident Martha Cochran outside of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society where she volunteers.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting voters throughout Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Through the month of May, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, The Aspen Times, Steamboat Pilot & Today. Craig Press and Vail Daily will be running stories highlighting democratic and Republican voters in our communities. Click here to read an introduction on the series.

Political theatrics aren’t exactly what Martha Cochran likes to see when it comes to Rep. Lauren Boebert’s first few months in office, she said.

The 67-year-old Glenwood Springs resident who’s lived in Garfield County — just one of many Western Slope counties that make up the 3rd Congressional District — for the past 46 years considers the political inclinations of Boebert, R-Colo., to be anything but laudable.

“I would say horrified is the most succinct way to put it,” she said. “It’s so unfortunate that we wasted an important seat on what I think is political theater, where there’s no substance at all. It’s such an immature vision of what you think a congressperson should be.”

So far, Boebert’s congressional tenure has included opposing new gun control regulations, Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Instead, Cochran wants to see Boebert refocus her attention on other issues.

“There’s a lot of important things,” she said. “Climate, any type of gun reform, some of the social justice issues, immigration reform, healthcare, protection of public lands… all the things that are foremost challenging to our country and what it means to western Coloradans in terms of water and climate for the future here.”

Cochran is a retired executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust of many years and a former newspaper publisher. She now works with Space for Giants, an international conservation organization dedicated to habitat production in Africa, and spends her Tuesdays volunteering for the Frontier Historical Museum in Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Springs resident Martha Cochran does some yard work at the Glenwood Springs Historical Society where she volunteers.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

She said she’s voted both Democratic and Republican the majority of election cycles and is welcoming to crossing party lines.

But come 2022, Cochran said her vote won’t likely go toward the 34-year-old freshman representative.

Despite her distaste for Boebert’s political leanings, Cochran said she’s still hopeful about the bigger picture of politics. “I feel like there is, as opposed to the last four years, where there’s this chaos and lying and kind of tearing down what’s best about America, we’re trying to deal with real issues and having honest policy discussions about what’s the best way to address those, whether its immigration or social change or economic inequality,” she said. “All of those long-term big deals that are gonna affect the future of the states and the world, really.”

“I’m more hopeful than I have been in a long time, she added. “ But they’re hard problems.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com

Garfield County evangelical likes Boebert challenging Congressional leadership

Rifle resident Ed Green plays some pool in the basement of his home that he calls the "bunker" where he video calls into the Rifle City Council meetings.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting voters throughout Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Through the month of May, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, The Aspen Times, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Craig Press and Vail Daily will be running stories highlighting Democrat and Republican voters in our communities. Click here to read an introduction to the series.

Staunch conservative, evangelical Christian and current Rifle City Council Member Ed Green is so far impressed by Rep. Lauren Boebert’s ability to challenge what he considers the status quo.

“I think that she’s one of the few conservatives in Congress that has had the guts to challenge the progressive and socialist leadership in Congress,” he said. “Like her, I am an evangelical Christian, I’m a veteran, I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment, I’m a supporter, of course, of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and I think those are the cornerstones of her beliefs and what she’s trying to protect in Congress.”

Now in his second term as a Rifle City Council member, Green has worked many years in the energy sector, at one point working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. He’d go on to work at Rocky Flats nuclear energy facility in Denver and later became a materials manager for the interspace and communications division for Hughes Aircraft Co. He’d later manage a cleanup project for a nuclear facility in Ohio before becoming the manager of Garfield County for 13 years.

Prior to coming back to Colorado, he ended his full-time career as a city manager of North Palm Beach, Florida. Green also served in the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1977.

Green said he definitely plans to vote Republican come 2022. Part of the reason is based on a trip he made to a Club 20 meeting in Grand Junction, where Boebert, R-Colo., gave a speech in early April.

Rifle resident and City Councilor Ed Green at his home in Rifle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“She has a very relaxed delivery approach,” he said. “She gets in front of the podium and basically talks to the crowd, and I think that’s pretty compelling. And I think she also talks to the fact of our historical traditions and our values that emanate from those historical traditions, and now she wants to protect them.”

When it comes to the current state of national politics, however, Green said the nation is “hopelessly divided and polarized.”

“You don’t see very many moderates in the world anymore. You either have to be a conservative or progressive,” he said. “There is no middle ground in America anymore. There is no room for compromise anymore. I think that, unfortunately, progressives and their socialist friends really encourage that because socialists like to divide the population into groups and take control through the country through that, and you’ve seen that.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com

Aspen Mayor Torre eases to second-term victory

Aspen Mayor Torre, left, waves at passing cars along Main Street with longtime friend Shane Smith while campaigning for Tuesday’s municipal election for another two-year term on March 2, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

First-term Aspen Mayor Torre sailed to re-election victory Tuesday with a sound disposal of his sole opponent, Lee Mulcahy, by a 2,039-177 margin, according to unofficial results from the City Clerk’s Office.

Now with two consecutive mayoral election wins under his belt, Mayor Torre said Tuesday his chief focus the next two years will be on reviving a town spirit mired in a funk since the pandemic hit in March 2020. The mayor’s seat comes with up to three two-year terms.

“My No. 1 goal is community connectivity,” he said. “I really want to see Aspen come together. I think there is somewhat of a divide in our community about what Aspen means, and the Aspen I moved to and the Aspen that drew me back was all about being a supportive and nurturing community. I want to make sure we are united as Aspenites.”

Torre — who also was elected to Aspen City Council in 2003 and 2009 — claimed his first mayoral term in an April 2019 runoff win over Councilwoman Ann Mullins by a final margin of 1,527 votes to 1,184 votes.

Like his mayoral predecessor in the May 2017 election, Steve Skadron, Torre had to withstand a challenge from a single candidate — Mulcahy. And he did, routing the government critic by capturing 92% of the vote.

While Torre’s win was all but a foregone conclusion, the mayor attended the campaign forums and stayed on the campaign trail. On Tuesday he was at his familiar Election Day post — the corner of Mill and Main streets by the Hotel Jerome — asking Aspenites for their vote.

While Torre heard honks and cheers from his supporters passing by the corner on Election Day, he also has been — simply by virtue of the seat he holds — a target of criticism by people upset with the public health orders stemming from the pandemic.

As mayor, Torre has sat on the Piktin County Board of Health, sometimes reluctantly going along with the body’s decisions in a show of unity. Concerns from the ailing business community must be addressed in the coming year, he said. Business casualties from the pandemic have included such longtime colorful establishments as The Red Onion.

“I want to figure out how to maintain character that Aspen has and always had,” he said, “and still retain some of that. We are losing some of those wonderful mom-and-pop, locally serving businesses. We need to see how we can maintain them.”

His other goal for the next term is to continue staying focused on environmental initiatives.

“I want to raise Aspen’s environmental profile,” he said. “There is still some work to do.”

As well, the mayor said the town’s complexion is changing with the urban exodus to resort locales like Aspen, which has created a greater demand on municipal services. There are also the issues that continue to face local government: housing, child care, traffic and transportation.

“Affordable housing and places for locals to live,” he said. “That’s always going to be important.”

Mulcahy, who had the campaign slogan “community boosts immunity,” was seeking the highest elected office within the very city he has mocked and criticized over the years. His main crusade has involved his battle with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority over his employee-housing unit at the city-developed Burlingame Ranch subdivision. APCHA has long held Mulcahy didn’t work full time in Pitkin County, a requirement to own employee housing, and the courts have agreed.

Even so, Mulcahy continues to inhabit the property with his mother, Mama Sandy, despite APCHA’s purchase of the single-family home in December. Mulcahy continues to maintain APCHA did not give him due process before it took steps to force him to sell the home.

“Let’s be honest, he’s going to get re-elected and I want to be the first to congratulate him,” Mulcahy said at the Squirm Night candidate forum Feb. 18. “But I think we can see a way forward because all we are asking for is peace in this community.”

Mulcahy did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment Tuesday.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Aspen City Council election: Ward Hauenstein and John Doyle win seats, beat out 6 other candidates

Aspen businessman and city council candidate Mark Reece campaigns Tuesday with his daughter in downtown. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen voters picked two longtime locals in Tuesday’s City Council election, voting for incumbent Ward Hauenstein and newcomer John Doyle — who combined have lived in Aspen for 84 years.

“I think there is a good indication in Aspen that people want to stay with the old guard,” said Hauenstein, who received the most votes with 1,036.

Doyle, a newcomer to politics although having lived here for 40 years, was a close second with 993 votes.

In a field of eight and with 4,343 votes cast (voters could pick up to two candidates), the pair beat the threshold of 45% plus one vote, which wound up being 979 votes.

Doyle said Tuesday night he was thinking there would be a runoff.

“I was prepared for that but not looking forward to it,” he said. “I was surprised by the gap between me and Kimbo, and frankly it just reaffirms what I felt from the beginning, which was I felt I had a pretty good level of support with long-term locals.”

Kimbo Brown-Schirato finished third with 693 votes. She was followed by Sam Rose (437 votes); Erin Smiddy (387); Mark Reece (364); Casey Endsley (327); and Jimbo Stockton (106).

Hauenstein, who has served for nearly four years, said he wants to continue the work he and council have been doing. That list includes finding the right balance for the number of units in the yet-to-be-built, city-developed Lumberyard affordable-housing site at the Aspen Business Center near the airport.

“Everything has to be analyzed entirely before decisions are made,” he said Tuesday. “I want density that gives residents there a quality of life and that we can honor them with good housing. We don’t want so much density that people can’t have a quiet enjoyment of life.”

The 69-year-old Hauenstein said he also wants council to reconsider the decision-making authority of the citizen-appointed Historic Preservation Commission, as well as pursue more public-private partnerships for workforce housing.

Doyle, 60, said his top priorities are updating the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is the city’s guiding principles document for the next decade, and focusing on the battle against climate change.

He added that his first priority is “trying to bond with the other council members, and I want to continue in the direction we’re going.”

Doyle is joining Mayor Torre, who easily secured a second two-year term in Tuesday’s election, as well as Councilmembers Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow. Those two were elected in 2019 and are in the midway point of their terms.

The other seat is being vacated by Ann Mullins, who is term limited after serving two four-year terms.

City Clerk Nicole Henning said as of Monday there were 6,119 registered voters in Aspen and on Tuesday, 2,343 (38.3%) of them turned in a ballot by 7 p.m. She said the votes would be certified by Friday.

The Aspen municipal election date was changed by a vote in November 2018, moving it from May to March.

Before the move out of the offseason, voter turnout in the May 2017 city election was 38%, with 2,413 out of 6,400 voters showing up to the polls. In March 2019, there were 3,243 votes cast, a 20% increase over the 2017 election. The turnout in 2019 was 53.2% of the 6,095 registered voters.

Local Jon Busch drops his ballot for the municipal election outside of City Hall in Aspen on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Election Day is Tuesday in Aspen

Ballots will be counted Tuesday evening for the city of Aspen municipal election.

Voters are being asked to select a mayor and two council members.

Mayor Torre is being challenged by Lee Mulcahy for the two-year term.

Eight candidates are vying for two open seats on council, including incumbent Ward Hauenstein who is seeking a second and final four-year term.

The other candidates are John Doyle, Sam Rose, Erin Smiddy, Casey Endsley, Mark Reece, Kimbo Brown-Schirato and Jimbo Stockton.

The other seat is being vacated by Ann Mullins, who is term limited after serving two, four-year terms.

Ballots are being accepted until 7 p.m. Tuesday. Ballots should be dropped of in front of City Hall on Galena Street. In-person voting is allowed inside City Hall, although COVID-19 protocols are in place.

If persons want to register to vote, call the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office at (970) 429-2710.

Over 1,450 ballots had been submitted as of Monday afternoon, according to City Clerk Nicole Henning.

There are 6,119 registered voters in Aspen.

City Council candidates must earn 45%, plus one, of the vote to win a seat, per the city’s home rule charter. For the mayor, it is 50%, plus one.

It’s likely that one council candidate will meet that threshold, but a second one getting that many votes given the crowded field is unlikely, according to city officials.

If that’s the case, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters. That election would occur April 6.

 

Mayor, council members to be elected in Aspen on Tuesday

Election judges verify signatures on ballots in the basement of City Hall on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen residents have just over a day left to cast their votes for mayor and two City Council members.

Election Day for the city of Aspen municipal election is Tuesday, and ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m.

There is a drop box located in front of City Hall on Galena Street where ballots can be dropped. Voting in person in City Hall is available on a limited basis and COVID-19 protocols will be followed. In-person voting is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and again from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m on Election Day.

Anyone with questions or needs a new ballot can email the City Clerk’s Office at elections@cityofaspen.com.

Residents who are not registered to vote can do so up until Election Day. On Election Day, the Pitkin County Clerk’s Office will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to handle last-minute voter registrations. More information is available on the county’s website.

There are currently just over 6,100 registered voters in Aspen.

City Clerk Nicole Henning said Friday afternoon that her office has received over 1,000 ballots thus far.

There are eight candidates vying for two seats open on council, which are each four-year terms.

Incumbent Ward Hauenstein is attempting to retain his seat.

Aspen Mayor Torre is defending his seat against challenger Lee Mulcahy.

The second seat open on council is currently occupied by Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who is serving her second and final term, due to term limits.

City Council candidates must earn 45%, plus one, of the vote to win a seat, per the city’s home rule charter. For the mayor, it is 50%, plus one.

It’s likely that one council candidate will meet that threshold, but a second one getting that many votes given the crowded field is unlikely, according to city officials.

If that’s the case, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters. That election would occur April 6.

Aspen City Council candidates offer business perspectives for resort community

Five of the eight candidates running for Aspen City Council in next week’s election gave their perspectives on business issues Wednesday in a virtual forum hosted by the chamber of commerce.

All but one candidate, ski instructor Jimbo Stockton, said they would do away with Pitkin County’s traveler affidavit program, which the Aspen Chamber Resort Association is asking to be suspended arguing that it is deterring guests from coming here.

The county and its board of public health are considering changes to the program, which requires guests to submit an online affidavit acknowledging they haven’t had symptoms for 10 days and have either been fully vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving here. The program also requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days if they are not tested before arrival.

Candidate John Doyle said he has had friends not visit this winter because of the affidavit program, while Stockton said some of his clients said it has made them feel safer.

Candidate Kimbo Brown-Schirato said it’s more detrimental than effective since it’s a voluntary, honor-system program.

“The bottom line is we as a community are not willing to enforce any of the rules that we set forth and ‘let’s trust people to do the right thing’ might be naive,” she said.

Candidate Sam Rose, who is the lead contact tracer for Pitkin County, agreed.

“We live in a capitalistic society and viable businesses are not supposed to be failing and things like the travel affidavit just put like a crutch in our businesses and hotels and our whole economic ecosystem,” he said. “It was an idealistic approach that proved not be effective.”

Incumbent Ward Hauenstein also said because the program is not enforced it should be revoked.

Candidates Erin Smiddy, Casey Endsley and Mark Reece did not participate in the forum because they had other obligations.

Of the five who did participate, there was a significant portion of time dedicated to questions surrounding the management of short-term rentals.

Doyle said addressing these rental properties is a big part of his campaign platform because they present an unfair advantage over small lodges.

“They don’t have to pay as much taxes, they provide no parking, they provide no housing for their workers to clean their rooms,” he said.

Others agreed that they need to be tracked and regulated, and that the city is making strides to do that.

Brown-Schirato, whose campaign platform focuses on providing more workforce housing, had a new idea related to the issue.

“Instead of taxing and sort of sticking it to people, let’s incentivize our free-market homeowners and rental units so it’s for the highest and best use and have employees in there,” she said, referring to similar programs in other Colorado mountain towns. “They are incentivizing by actually buying deed restrictions.”

ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun, who moderated the forum, asked the candidates who they would most align with.

Stockton picked Aspen Mayor Torre for his authentic concern for the community and its guests.

Doyle said most of the existing council members, but said even though he just got to know him, he would most closely align with Hauenstein.

Brown-Schirato said the most important aspect is that there is a majority on council to move policy forward. She noted Torre, council member Skippy Mesirow and candidate Reece are people she would consider in alignment with.

Rose said he would most align with Brown-Schirato, Mesirow and council member Ann Mullins, who is leaving office after two, four-year terms and is term limited.

Hauenstein wasn’t asked that question but answered how he resolves conflict.

“Patient, listening, perhaps empathy,” he said. “The realization that the other point of view has validity and acknowledging that sometimes conflict cannot be resolved, but if it exists it can at least be done while all people can be friends to each other, with each other.”

When asked whether candidates would go outside of their platform to represent all constituents, or stick with their campaign promises, Brown-Schirato said everyone runs on housing but nothing gets done, so she is committed to bringing solutions that don’t include building.

She also will move affordable child care forward and re-engage with the Aspen Area Community Plan, the resort community’s guiding document.

“Every single decision up to this point is wrought with infighting and people and development versus not,” she said. “We don’t know as a community where we want to go in the next five, 10, 25 years. … I’ll listen to everyone but we need to figure out where we are going.”

Doyle countered that the community plan maps out where Aspen is headed and is updated every 10 years, with 2022 being the next year that it is scheduled for an update.

“It’s a very important document that spells out very clearly what we should be doing as a community and what our goals are as a community,” he said. “We really do need to follow the Aspen Area Community Plan closer than we have been.”

Rose said he will fight for the issues he has focused his platform on, which is affordable housing and child care.

“I’m a type of person that sets tangible goals, but I won’t put up with stagnation,” he said. “If we said we’re all going to agree on something, we will find something to get it done but definitely not in an obtrusive way.”

Candidates also were asked several other questions, from whether public parks should be closed for special events to the importance of arts and culture to the resort community, as well as other business and COVID-19 related questions.

The election is March 2. Voters are being asked to bring their ballot to the ballot box on Galena Street in front of City Hall, since there is not enough time to mail them and have them receive it in time. In-person voting is currently available at Aspen City Hall.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the clerk’s office had received roughly 900 ballots. There are about 6,000 registered voters in the city of Aspen.

Csackariason@aspentimes.com

Links to candidate forums, interviews

To view the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s City Council candidate forum, log onto:

https://aspenchamber.org/membership/membership-information/member-events

To view last week’s Squirm Night debate, log onto:

Election

To view a series of interviews with candidates on Grassroots TV, log onto: