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Legends & Legacies: ‘The people want Wagner!’

“The people want Wagner for mayor,” declared the Aspen Democrat-Times on March 15, 1911. “Next Friday evening the Democrats will hold mass primaries in the court house between the hours of 7:30 and 8:00 o’clock to select delegates to the city convention which will convene, immediately following the primaries, in the district court room. If one may judge from the line of talk it is almost a sure thing that Mayor Charles Wagner will be nominated by the Democrats to succeed himself. The people want ‘Charlie’ to steer the city craft for two more years as the town has made more improvements under his administration than any of his predecessors. Wagner built cement walks. Wagner keeps the kids home. Wagner elevated town morals. Wagner has raised hell with the bums and he has been the mayor and a good one, too! The people want Wagner!” The image at right shows Charles Wagner (second from right) with Judge Thomas Rucker, Tom Flynn and an unidentified man, circa 1910. Wagner served as mayor of Aspen from 1909 to 1927.

This photo and more can be found in the Aspen Historical Society archives at aspenhistory.org.

Writing Switch: Keeping it 100

Finally receiving your 100-day pin is sort of like your birthday. You feel all special and tingly, and rightfully so, but as soon as the clock strikes midnight you turn back into a pumpkin. With no other goals in life and skiing suddenly reserved only for the weekends (if you feel like it), life in Aspen gets super-duper boring. This week we motivate you to find other activities that will keep you counting to 100 for 365.


BW: The standard by which all other ski town activities are measured, the best part of the 100-day pin is listening to the snarkiness dished by people who, you know, don’t have one.

“Ohh so you’re wearing your pin, huh? Big shot.” “Correct, why aren’t you wearing yours?” “I only got 30 days this year.” “I see.”

Then the excuses start flying. “I was so motivated at the beginning of the season!” they’ll rationalize. I’ve noticed after about two months all but the most enthusiastic abandon their plans when they realize gearing up, hopping on a bus and riding a gondola five or six times a week takes up valuable time that could instead be spent playing video games, laying in bed all day with your significant other or working or whatever. Blah blah blah.

The gloating after year four of 100-day seasons is still as sweet as the first one. Though it would be cool of Aspen Skiing Co. if the winners got a free shot and a beer at an on-mountain restaurant. I think they can afford it, because if you do the math (or trust that I’m capable of dividing 100 by $1,400), each day is worth about $14, depending on how long past the triple-digit mark you care to go.


SB: Being unemployed for 100 days is called offseason. For real adults, a 9-to-5, 365-day-a-year job prevents this glorious-until-the-idle-time-and-lack-of-funds-sucks-out-your-soul experience. But many service-industry workers and young bro-fessionals know that great feeling of turning off your alarm clock indefinitely.

Waking up with nothing but “I need to leave the house” qualifying as a productive day is awesome at first. However, after you’ve beaten “Spider-Man” for the third time and are playing the game like the guy who can beat Mario for NES in 86 seconds, you start to question your own value. What’s the meaning of life? How many consecutive days in a row is it acceptable to eat Totino’s party pizzas? I wonder how many points I have saved up at the dispensary? Is it enough for an eighth?

After converting your change pile to cash for a 30-rack of Extra Gold, you’ll pray for the 100th day to come because the couch is starting to give you bed sores. So good luck to the recently unemployed. Happy offseason.


BW: It’s really hard for me to advocate going sober for 100 days, or even 100 hours — especially while writing this half-buzzed. But it’s the straw I drew so here we go. First, you have to be lenient with your definition of “sober.” If you drink a six pack of PBR, for example, are you drunk? Sobriety doesn’t necessarily mean refraining entirely — but that choice is yours. If you start getting the shakes, maybe it’s OK to take a quick shot of brown liquor to help wean yourself off the sauce. Using a nicotine patch or your little sister’s Juul doesn’t count when you’re trying to quit smoking, so why would this be any different?

My buddy took a break for a week and cleansed on kale and chia-seed smoothies for breakfast. He says he feels great and refreshed, but I’d argue a fair compromise is a screwdriver or mimosa. Orange juice is very healthy.

Treat yourself and your friends to a rager with the $1,500 you saved (not to mention eliminating drunken online shopping purchases) at the conclusion of your three-month sabbatical.


SB: First off, I have no concept of how long it takes to grow your hair out but let’s just pretend like 100 days is long enough to go full Denver yoga instructor. Combining a grossly unkempt beard and greasy top knot for three-plus months may get you an in with your budtender but won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to come off as a credible human being. Nothing says “I’m not using my degree” like some bro growth.

You don’t have to dress like a hipster for this challenge but don’t all clothes count as ironic if your facial hair says hipster? So learn how to handle a hairstyle and download the best Chainsmokers album (if there actually is one) for the 100-day bro growth challenge.


SB: This is a legitimate thing. I know, I saw it on Instagram. People exchange their poles for paddles and hit the river every chance they can get. I like floating as much as the next river beer but there is some rough water. Try buying a duckie that’s not self-bailing and then taking it through real rapids. It’s fun until you have to stop every 15 minutes to dump out the water. Also, kind of hard to drink beer when you’re not sure whether it’s full or full of river water.

Make sure you have a place to dry out all of your gear that isn’t your car because you don’t want it rife with river musk and turning into a petri dish. If you can get through 100 days without baptizing your phone, put it on the Gram.


BW: In the best shape of my life since a sedentary, ranch dressing-filled lifestyle in the Midwest wrecked my physique, I once decided 100 days of lapping Smuggler Mountain Road would be the perfect carryover athletic goal from the winter to warmer months.

Three days of that and I was hobbling around like Fred Sanford after faking a heart attack. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the skier weekend warriors as my marathon mission was quickly abandoned.

I couldn’t stand the people who ran up the mountain, checking calories on their Apple Watches, or the mountain bikers with unbuckled helmets. Hey Brett, you don’t wear them because they’re flattering, and also that’s laughing a little too close in the face of irony.

Like trolling people in the gondola, playing little games along the route can help pass the time in case you accidentally didn’t get high enough to enjoy exercising before leaving the house. I often like to greet everyone descending the trail, offering an affirmative nod to some or a full-throated “hello!” and exaggerated arm wave to others.

If I have guests visiting, we’ll play “Who’s an Aspen Mom or Just an Au Pair?” Nobody ever wins because nobody ever knows.

The most dangerous contest involves seeing how far down a gated driveway you can get before lasers start shooting out of the robotic doorbell.


SB: Sick of Jessica and her overachieving at Pure Barre or yoga or whatever workout class you attend? Trying to rise on the leaderboard definitely not publicly posted to guilt you into returning? Well, try the 100-day workout routine. It’s like P90X but without the inherent air of superiority. (I’m just assuming people still do that workout, but I’m also assuming people still do Tae Bo, so who knows.) Classes also help you avoid that awkward period at the gym when you’re not really sure which machine to use next because you already did the ones you know how to use.

“Yeah, the reverse incline deadlift. Gotta work those … quads?”

We’ve all signed up for a gym membership or bought some form of exercise equipment that sounded like a good idea but gets used about as much as the word supererogatory. (It means excessive but that seems like an excessive way to say excessive.) Put on those leggings or yoga pants, which are different things, and head to the gym to get in shape or even as an excuse to get out of the office. F— Jessica.


BW: Sorry, you’re on your own (literally).

sbeckwith@aspentimes.com bwelch@aspentimes.com

Mountain Mayhem: First of Three Closings

The late, great New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham would have had a field day at Aspen Highlands’ closing party. The fashion, the frolic and the fabulousness — from apparel to attitude — are always the makings of a cover photo shoot, which he would have documented beautifully. The spirit of ski season 2018-19 could be felt across the slopes with parties percolating at the peak of Highlands to the deck at Cloud Nine to the patio at Merry-Go-Round to the entire base from Alehouse to the Ritz-Carlton to Highlands Taqueria and house parties. As “the first of three closings,” according to ski patroller Tim Grogan, this weekend kicks off a trio of memorable weekends at Aspen Highlands, which continue April 19 to 21 and April 26 to 18.

To reach May with invites and insights, email allthewaymaymay.com

E-Bike Controversy: When is a bicycle a motorcycle?

It was only a matter of time. Electric-assist bikes have grown exponentially in popularity over recent years. Now, questions over the machines’ DNA are arising with governing bodies in the sport.

To the point: When is an electric bicycle actually just a motorcycle?

In early April, the cycling world’s foremost authority on sanctioned bicycle racing staked a decisive stand.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) took exception to the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme’s (FIM) announcement that its motorcycle racing circuit would include electric mountain bikes.

“The UCI was very surprised and disappointed by the announcement made by the International Motorcycling Federation concerning the organization of an FIM E-Bike Enduro World Cup in France on 1-2 June, with no regulatory basis,” UCI said in a terse statement.

UCI officials called the FIM e-bike races “banned events” and went on to say that any rider holding a UCI license who participates in them risks disciplinary measures.

The pedal-assist e-mountain bikes used have motors with a max output of 250 watts and do not add power above 20 mph.

In the organization’s March announcement, FIM President Jorge Viegas drew a comparison between modern e-mountain bikes and the very first motorcycle designs.

“I am very happy that the FIM is starting to provide competitions for electric bikes,” Viegas said. “For the FIM it is a recurring story because the first motorcycles were based on a bike frame, with the addition of a motor.”

He continued, “In recent years the electric technology has evolved considerably, and we are convinced that the FIM E-XBike World Cup will offer the manufacturers a great platform for further development.”

UCI President David Lappartient echoed Viegas’ enthusiasm. But he made clear he views e-bikes as entirely in the cycling realm.

“I am delighted by the boom currently enjoyed by e-mountain bike, a specialty that enables a new public to take up mountain biking — a demanding discipline — and which is also appreciated by high-level riders,” Lappartient said. “The UCI means to develop this activity which, as with other forms of cycling, comes under its exclusive jurisdiction.”

High Country: 4/20 in the age of CBD

As I am writing this, I am receiving an average of one 4/20-related pitch every three minutes.

The barrage of emails and mailings started about a month ago from publicists hopeful for a mention tied to the upcoming “national holiday.” My desk is cluttered with products like “Stay Sharp … For Daily Brain Function” CBD capsules, “Awareness and Vitality” CBD tincture, a tube of peppermint CBD sublingual spray and a tin of CBD pastilles stamped with the words “inspired, wakeful, and confident.”

I’m distracted. And all I want to do is smoke a joint.

Observed annually on April 20, the essence of 4/20’s counterculture conception has been co-opted and why it’s celebrated has gone way astray. Before I begin, here’s its little-known history:

The term was born in 1971 in Northern California when a group of five San Rafael High School students had heard about an abandoned cannabis crop nearby. Based on a treasure map they discovered along with the rumor, they decided to meet at 4:20 p.m. on campus, share a spliff and set out on their search.

Many failed attempts ensued and they gave up, but continued to convene every day in the same spot for after-school sessions. Known as “The Waldos,” the gang of friends also frequented the Grateful Dead’s early shows in the Bay Area where their meet-up codeword for smoking pot caught on with the audience underground. As the band started touring around the globe, the term “420” spread like fire.

The literal meaning of “420” is to get high. But have you heard about CBD? It’s just CBD! It doesn’t get you high!

Most commonly known and misconceived as the “non-psychoactive” sister compound to THC, CBD is overcrowding and overshadowing the entire cannabis industry. And with the floodgates to hemp cultivation now open from the passage of the U.S. Farm Bill in December, the CBD segment of the market is positioned for exponential expansion. Even the likes of Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid are cashing in on cannabis with plans to carry CBD products on shelf in select stores in 2019.

As with any new wellness fad, a media storm of misinformation about CBD has made its way onto everyone’s newsfeeds. But only recently is research emerging shining a light on the fact that CBD is actually psychoactive.

In “Why CBD Works Better With a Little THC (Even If You Don’t Want to Get High),” veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock writes for Leafly, “The best available science makes clear that whole-plant cannabis preparations are quantifiably superior to single compounds because the plant’s complex mix of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids interact synergistically to create an ‘entourage effect’ that enhances each other’s therapeutic effects.”

And a 2016 Project CBD report states, “Researchers have demonstrated that CBD confers antipsychotic, anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), and antidepressant effects. If CBD can relieve anxiety or depression or psychosis, then obviously cannabidiol is a profound mood-altering substance, even if it doesn’t deliver much by way of euphoria. Perhaps it would be better to say that CBD is “not psychoactive like THC,” rather than repeating the familiar and somewhat misleading refrain that “CBD is not psychoactive.”

Guilty and noted.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, it now seems to only be about not getting high. Is our society so desperate for a way to cope during such tumultuous times? Of course! As another 4/20 arrives, let’s not forget about the power of the whole plant, plus the decades of prohibition, discrimination, injustice and activism that got us here.

CBD is just a PC conduit for the mainstream to say it’s OK with marijuana. It’s why you can buy a CBD-infused granola bar at Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain, but not take a puff on the patio.

Sure, you can pour CBD oil on your entire life. But unless you’re open to trying THC, too, it’s never going to be the Goop-coated cure-all it’s claimed to be.

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com or followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.


• Bob Dylan’s legendary “Everybody must get stoned” refrain from “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” is said to stem from the fact that 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.

• In 2014, the 420 mile marker on Interstate 70 was stolen so many times that the Colorado Department of Transportation replaced it with a “MILE 419.99” sign.

• Denver holds the record for the “nation’s largest light up,” welcoming 70,000 attendees to Civic Center Park for its Mile High 420 Festival in 2018.

• The clocks and timepieces in “Pulp Fiction” and later in “Lost in Translation“ are all set to 420.

• In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 was introduced to regulate medical marijuana use, in deliberate reference to the status of 420 in marijuana culture. An unsuccessful 2010 bill to legalize cannabis in Guam was called Bill 420.

• In 2019, H.R. 420 was introduced into the 116th Congress, named the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

• Following the success of Washington D.C.’s Initiative 71 to legalize cannabis in 2014, Mayor Muriel Bowser granted license plate number 420 to the campaign’s leader, Adam Eidinger.

• The football scoreboard in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” reads 42-0.

Libations: Toro’s popular Mercado drink offers solid surprise for Snowmass Village

When you’re over in Snowmass and looking for something different, sometimes it can be hard to look past the offerings at the mall or Base Village.

A bit intimidating as the first big building you see when you roll uphill near the Wood Bridge but a few steps off Base Village is the Viceroy Snowmass hotel. And inside the lobby to the left is Toro. The kitchen and — more importantly for our purposes — the bar are in a warm and open space. The bar is right when you walk in and it has its own character.

With the season winding down this week, my drinking pal and I did a post-work stop after a full day in our offices.

I went into Toro with the idea of checking out their version of the paloma, which some say is Mexico’s most popular drink (sorry, margarita). Toro’s twist on the paloma includes jalapeno-infused tequila and real grapefruit along with some fancy grapefruit soda.

But after perusing the impressive list of classic and signature drinks, I stuck with my grapefruit desire but changed my mind and decided to go with the paloma (I’m sure my affinity for fruity IPA beers had a subconscious influence).

My drinking pal saw something she’s never seen that pulled her in: hibiscus rosemary foam.

Known as the Mercado (Spanish for market), it is Toro’s most popular drink, according to the barkeep. It starts with the same jalapeno-infused tequila as the paloma. The drink gets going with some agave nectar and passion fruit. Two last pieces that top it off: the foam, which if you’re lucky spills over the top of the glass, and a wedge of dried orange, which is reminiscent of a sweet potato chip.

Of course, the hibiscus rosemary foam on top is the first flavor you taste. Everything else seeps through that and picks up a spicy, sweet and tart seasoning. It sucked us in.

“And you have to try the orange wedge. It’s like a chip,” said my No. 1 barstool partner of more than 27 years. “This is the best fancy drink I’ve ever had.”

I trust that.

WineInk: A Matter of Taste

In wine, nothing is more important than taste. Be you an occasional imbiber or a well-traveled oenophile, the only thing that really matters about a glass of wine is whether or not it tastes good to you.

But, as I was told by a master sommelier in early April at an educational confab on Italian wines, “There is a difference between tasting a wine and drinking a wine.” That is to say that the act of tasting a wine, of going though the process of taking notes and examining a wine’s various characteristics, is a markedly different experience and exercise than either throwing back a bottle of rosé on a spring eve or sipping a Bordeaux with a meal.

Tasting is more of an intellectual exercise that requires attention and focus with the intent of learning something about what is in the glass. If you are inclined to take the time to, in the rhetoric of the day, be a bit more “in the moment,” you can learn a lot about not just what is in your glass but the broader world of wine, as well. And it likely will enhance your wine experiences.

I recently rode a chairlift with a young artist who tried to explain to me how he looks at the world differently as a painter from how he did before he first picked up a brush. “See that stand of aspen?” he asked, while pointing to the adjacent trees just to our right. “I used to see the forest, now I examine the trees,” he explained. “I look at the color of the bark, the texture of the wood. I try and figure out if they are young or old trees. I look for flaws or markings on the trunks and examine the buds to see what stage of the yearly cycle they may be in. I look at the various veins and branches and think about how I might depict them in a painting. I just look more closely than most people do.”

As he spoke, my mind instantly went to the process of tasting a wine. How, by looking at the color, the clarity of the liquid in the glass, by identifying the aromas of the fruit when you inhale them and paying attention, the textures on your tongue can help you to tell a story about that wine. To paint a picture, if you will.

You may think that you have a limited knowledge or lack of information about wine, but you know more than you might think. If the wine in the glass is white and has bubbles, then I’ll bet you know it is a sparkling wine. That it may be a Champagne or a prosecco or some other global sparkler. If it is pink, then you likely know it is a rosé and you can guess that it is young, fresh and from someplace that has lots of sunshine like Provence. That initial deduction is simple and can help you understand just what you are drinking.

You don’t have to know what the méthode champenoise or saignée (winemaking techniques used to produce Champagne and rosé, respectively) is to begin to think about where that wine came from. You just have to trust in your instincts and the knowledge of the world that you already possess.

Conversely, if you have a glass of red wine you can eliminate virtually every white grape — chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or riesling, for example — the moment you see the wine. Now you can begin the process of determining what the grape may be and where that red wine may have been born. Dark and inky? Maybe a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah. Can you see through it? Hold your thumb behind the liquid and look to see if you can see the finger. If so, it is likely a lighter wine. Maybe a pinot noir or a sangiovese. Maybe it came from Burgundy. Or Tuscany. Or Oregon.

Putting your nose in a glass can offer more clues. And taking a sip, swirling it in your mouth or inhaling air after you swallow will let you learn if the wine has tannins or how high the alcohol levels are. Does your mouth feel a bit grippy and dry? Those are tannins. Does your tongue burn? That’s the high alcohol.

It’s not hard to pay attention to your wine as you taste it. And if you do, you will not only become a more self-educated wine drinker, you are likely to enjoy your wine even more than you do now.

Try painting a picture every once in a while.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

Food Matters Q&A: Chef Nate King on his 16-year run at Cache Cache

SURREAL. This is how chef Nate King sums up his last night at Cache Cache on Saturday, April 13. As afternoon fades into evening and staff bustles about in advance of its final winter-season service, King settles into the restaurant office for an exit interview. Here he shares thoughts on 16 years, many at the helm: What it takes to create a “well-oiled machine” in a hectic environment with sky-high standards, how a French-trained chef becomes an Italian pasta pro and what legacy he hopes to leave with his team.

This spring, King and his wife, Jenny, will pack up and leave Aspen for good. Destination: the fertile Pacific Northwest, where he plans to open a new venture in Bend, Oregon, with former Cache Cache co-workers and, possibly, a rockstar investor.

Wow, 16 years at Cache Cache … and tonight is your last supper.

I walked in, there was nobody in the kitchen yet, and it was kind of strange: Looking at the hot line (and knowing) it will be your last time cooking there. You take a mental picture of it and hope that’s what you can re-create in the future.

What was the atmosphere when you came aboard in October 2002?

I was hired as the sous chef, then gradually it turned into a creative role. I started doing specials pretty quickly. Chris (Lanter, chef since 2000) handed over the reins right away. Jodi (Larner, partner and general manager since 1989), too. It was…easier. Then the restaurant got busier—and more serious.

After such a long time here, you must have it dialed.

It is dialed. We’re a family. It’s like coming to work with your brothers each day, people you can rely on. I was able to hire some guys I’d worked with before I started here to do morning prep. They are the foundation. The well-oiled machine happened pretty quick.

So do you feel confident about the restaurant as you leave?

Of all the stuff going on in Aspen—the growth, new restaurants popping up, places closing—the kitchen staff at Cache Cache has stayed one of the most solid, reliable teams in town. The average tenure for the cooks is at least six years, and that’s on the low end. Chuy (Jesus Gomez) has been back there for almost all of the years of Cache Cache, like 30 of ’em! And Carmelo (Ramirez) at 15 years. It’s an amazing team.

Who will assume your role as Cache Cache executive chef?

Chris is jumping back into the chef/leadership role. He’s excited. He basically said I gave him a four-year notice—because we bought our house in Bend four years ago. He says he’s been mentally preparing.

You trained at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. How does a chef with a classical French background become a master of handmade Italian pasta?

The simplicity of Italian food draws me in, and it’s a great creative outlet. When you have a large menu, like we have here, there are a lot of core ingredients already around; you try to figure out how to use these ingredients somewhere else. They were doing one pasta when I got here. I said we need to get a machine. So I started training the guys in the morning. There was no pushback.

Why did you choose Bend, Oregon?

(Jenny and I) were on a road trip, headed to the coast and Bend just happened to be in the way. I’d heard of Bend because of Deschutes Brewery. It’s a cool little town with a great community. We bought a house, and rented it out. We will have never stayed in it when we get out there in May, but we’ve worked on it every offseason. And there’s skiing—Mount Bachelor, which has more acreage than Snowmass, it’s just wrapped around a cone.

And you plan to open a restaurant there?

There’s a window for the food that I do here at Cache Cache, but toned down. Right now Bend is built on pub food and brews. There’s a huge influx of people from nearby cities—Seattle, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, L.A., Portland—all moved for a better quality of life. They’ve been around good food and dining.

And there’s only one other Italian operator in Bend. Coming from a place that’s saturated! I’ll roll in…and roll pasta.

Do you have a team yet?

Bill Dockter, a previous Cache Cache co-worker, is signed on as a partner. And we may have a rock star investor.

Any ingredients you’re psyched to use there?

Fresh seafood and shellfish…crab, mussels, clams. I’m excited because fresh ingredients are more abundant. There’s a longer growing season. Just over the Cascades is crazy farmland, the Willamette Valley, surrounded by wine areas to the west and north in the Columbia River valley, Walla Walla.

What will you miss?

(Laughing) I’m gonna miss my mushroom spots! I’m leaving two caches behind: Cache Cache and my mushroom cache. I’ll definitely miss the mountains. Moab I’ll miss big time—I love the ’scape of the desert. I’ll miss the people, the industry community. But I won’t miss the guest-cheffing that goes on in this town.


Guest-cheffing by the clientele that comes in and likes to change everything. They look at our menu as a list of ingredients. But…we’re a provider of that service here.

Since this is your farewell, what do you hope is your mark on Cache Cache?

Moving the restaurant to using the highest quality ingredients, and really getting in touch with our local farmers: Two Roots Farm, and those who grow specifically for us. We get comments that people seek us out for the pasta. That’s an ode to the work.

Any pre-service rituals you’ll DO tonight for the last time?

Morale building! My last pre-service. I’ve been letting Cesar (Vazquez), the new sous chef, take over. One thing I always tell them before we go into service, the last thing, every time: QUIET IN THE KITCHEN. Everyone gets a good laugh because it’s such a loud, bustling place, and you have to communicate all the time. But as soon as the doors open, it’s music off, all business back there. You want to hear the cooking.

How do you envision your first return to Aspen?

I’m excited to come back — on a trip! I’ll see what they have on the menu, but I’ll definitely have my king crab. And whatever pastas they come up with ….


New Aspen mayor, new city council. Now what?

If it’s change that Aspenites want in their quality of lives or the resort town’s political landscape, then that’s what they will get.

At least that’s what they’ve been promised by the three new members of Aspen City Council, who were elected over incumbents in the recent municipal election.

If they live up to their campaigns, a lot will get done by a group of self-proclaimed doers who all have pledged their hard work to champion more workforce housing in the community.

And if their persistence to land a low-paying, thankless job is any indication, they’ve got something to prove.

It’s a unique mix this time around and a deviation from the traditional make-up of a board that has had mostly older, established residents who are either self-employed or retired and live in free-market housing.

On the opposite spectrum of that is Torre. Soon to be Aspen’s one-named mayor, he is a tennis instructor and lives in a deed-restricted apartment downtown.

A two-time council member who served eight years on the board, this election was Torre’s sixth run at mayor, making his record 1-5 in wins versus losses for the city’s top political seat.

“Torre is a living example of when you really want something, never give up,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein at the first post-runoff council meeting April 8. “It is a good lesson to everybody that when you have a vision, keep going.”

His vision reflects Aspen’s core values of a strong affordable-housing program, environmentalism, family services, local business and community building.

Torre, 49, will join council members-elect Rachel Richards, 58, and Skippy Mesirow, 32, along with seated electeds Ward Hauenstein, 68, and Ann Mullins, 70.

When they are sworn in June 10, it will be one of the most diverse Aspen councils, in terms of experience and age, in recent history.

Born between the 1940s and 1980s, Council members represent five decades of age brackets and vary in elected experience from zero to 25 years.

Four of the five work for a living and will squeeze in council duties around their jobs, or vice versa.

Council members make $20,400 a year while the mayor’s salary is $27,900.

Richards is the only other council member on the new board who lives in a deed-restricted apartment.

Mesirow rents an apartment on the east side of town. Mullins owns a home in the West End and Hauenstein owns a house in the east end neighborhood.

Council will have a millennial presence in Mesirow, who showed energy, passion and hard work in his campaign leading up to the March election.

As a result of his impassioned positions and causes he’s taken on since he got involved in local politics, he’s earned the nickname “Skippy Ocasio-Cortez” by his critics for the flowery platitudes he’s been known to use while campaigning. It’s a reference to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected 29-year-old New York congresswoman and social media phenomenon.

Mesirow lost his bid for a council seat in 2017 but said he took lessons in political style from that campaign and applied them this year.

This will be his first time serving as an elected official; he has served as chair for three terms on the citizen-led planning and zoning commission and was a board member for the NextGen commission, which addresses issues facing 30- and 40-somethings in town.

Mesirow pledged in this latest campaign to get things done: building affordable housing, nurturing local business and lessening the traffic woes at the Entrance to Aspen.

“It’s time to stop talking and act,” he wrote in one of his answers to an Aspen Times questionnaire.

While he did a lot of talking in his campaign, Mesirow does act on his convictions. Evidence of that was his ability to lead an effort last year to change the municipal election from May to March, when more people are in town. What Aspen saw was historic voter turnout in both the March election and the April runoff, with 57 percent and 45 percent of registered voters coming to the polls, respectively.

This year’s election was historic for another reason: the biggest development proposal at the base of Aspen Mountain in almost three decades was decided by 26 votes.

Voters narrowly approved the Lift One corridor plan, which includes over 320,000 square feet of commercial space, including a timeshare project and a hotel, as well as a new chairlift that extends to Dean Street and a ski museum.

Council last fall put the ordinances approving the lodges and amenities on the ballot because of proposed changes in city open space and a rezoning of land.

Council also agreed to pony up $4.35 million toward the development of a ski museum and improvements to Dean Street, which will serve as the skier and drop-off portal.

Torre will be the sole member of council who was against the plan, saying during his campaign that it was ill-conceived and doesn’t deserve a cash payment from taxpayers.

Before construction begins, a few elements of the projects may end up back in front of council, and only time will tell how elected officials receive them.

Time also will tell how Torre and Mullins get along on the board, as they had a pretty contentious run at each other for the mayor’s seat, with some fairly pointed accusations levied toward the end of the runoff campaign.

Mullins’ final two years on her four-year term will coincide with Mayor Torre’s two-year term.

The mayor has an equal vote of other council members but is responsible for setting the agenda and prioritizing initiatives.

In his campaign, Torre focused a lot on environmental issues he wants to move forward on, including a citywide composting program and saving the Rio Grande Recycling Center from a possible shutdown.

Other proclaimed priorities for Torre include government assistance with affordable child care and more attention paid to health and human services.

While they were the two top vote-getters, Mullins and Torre didn’t make the 50 percent-plus-one threshold in the March election, which per the city’s home rule charter forced them into a runoff.

Mullins only gained two more votes in the second round than in the first, losing to Torre by 343 and 341 votes, respectively.

With just over 6,000 registered voters in Aspen, some observers wonder if it’s time to change the city’s elections to “approval voting,” in which the top vote-getter wins and the runoff process is eliminated.

Candidates would likely appreciate that, since campaigning is hard enough the first time around.

Mullins on more than one occasion lamented how difficult it can be stumping in front of an impassioned electorate.

“I hope the citizens of Aspen, and I think they do, appreciate the people that stepped up because it’s hard. … It’s not even close to easy,” she said at a recent council meeting. “It’s physically exhausting, it’s mentally taxing. … So everyone should appreciate the people that put themselves out there and made themselves vulnerable.”

Richards has become a pro at persevering through political vulnerability, with 25 years under her belt as a former council member, mayor and most recently, a Pitkin County commissioner.

The typical hot-button issues of growth and development did not take center stage during this past election, as most candidates focused more narrowly on the issues that continue to bedevil Aspen — workforce housing, traffic, locally serving business and other quality-of-life topics.

But the next council’s biggest and most significant decision to make will be choosing a new city manager.

The city government, which is 326 people strong, is currently being run on fumes in the manager’s office as two key administrators — City Manager Steve Barwick and Assistant City Manager Barry Crook, were asked to resign in recent months.

Assistant City Manager Sara Ott stepped up as interim city manager and is expected to apply for the permanent position.

In the meantime, she is steering the rudder of captain-less ship in rough seas as City Hall has been the target of public criticism on a number of initiatives in the past year.

The search for the city’s top administrator has just gotten underway with a small committee currently reviewing recruitment firms. It could be as late as the fall before someone is in the chair.

Beyond keeping that process going, Aspenites shouldn’t expect much to get done between now and June 10 when the majority of council gets sworn in.

Because the election was moved to March, it effectively extended the “lame duck” session of outgoing council members to 14 weeks when it used to be four or five.

When council members were elected in May, they were sworn in about a month later. In this unique situation, newly elected council members have to wait more than three months before taking their seats, and for Torre, it’s just over two months.

Richards on Election Night likened it to a hockey player stuck in the penalty box unable to do anything except watch.

Outgoing Mayor Steve Skadron is leaving after six years due to term limits, as is eight-year Councilman Adam Frisch. Councilman Bert Myrin lost his bid for a second term. They were all elected to serve until June.

With a short-staffed City Manager’s Office and elected officials’ hands tied to a certain extent on what can get accomplished in the next month and a half, this stretch will be a quiet time in Aspen politics.

“We have a couple of months to let things gel,” Mullins told the council after losing her runoff. “It’s a unique opportunity we won’t have again.”

She congratulated the winners and said all of the candidates were top-notch, bringing excitement and enthusiasm to the discussions.

“I do look forward to working with this council,” Mullins said.

So, what can we expect? Energy, results and creative leadership from Torre and Mesirow, with Richards likely supporting them as she builds her legacy in Aspen politics, and two incumbents who stay the course.

Hauenstein, who beat Torre for his council seat in a 2017 runoff, said that in politics you work with what you’ve got: “Government goes on after elections. I pledge to continue to be connected to Rachel, Skippy and Torre and be sensitive to their points of view.”

He also asked to catch up with Torre, who was in the gallery at the April 8 council meeting, where he has been a fixture this spring.

“I look forward to working with you for the next two years, Torre,” Hauenstein said.

In making general comments about the election at the meeting, Skadron wished his successors luck and acknowledged the type of person it takes to be a public servant.

“It’s hard to sit at this table and it’s even harder to run,” he said.


Aspen Words Literary Prize nominees on fiction and social impact

As novelist Tayari Jones accepted the 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize on April 11, the “An American Marriage” author praised the award’s mission of honoring fiction that illuminates political and social issues.

“We’re told not to,” she told the audience at the Morgan Library in New York and live-streaming at the library in Aspen. “We’re told that’s not what real art does. An award like this, I think it encourages all of us to keep following the strength of our convictions.”

In a panel discussion before Jones was named the winner, she and her four fellow nominees discussed how and why their work addresses the issues of the day.

Tommy Orange, nominated for his novel “There There” about “urban Indians” in Oakland, California, said the art has to come before all else.

“I believe in a Trojan Horse model for art,” he said. “To let it in with beauty or whatever is compelling about the art, and then have the message contained.”

The surreal and often disturbing stories in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection “Friday Black” take today’s America and push it to its extreme logical endpoint, cleverly and devastatingly making readers think deeper about issues of racism and what he described as “sinister consumerism.” His subjects found him, he said, because the country is in crisis on many fronts and he could not write about anything else.

“If the house is on fire, I’m not going to write about what’s in the fridge,” Adjei-Brenyah said to laughter from the audience. “The things that I write about are the things that I have to write about.”

Jennifer Clement, in “Gun Love,” paints a searing picture of American gun culture and poverty. She noted that we don’t often think of contemporary novels as shaping history, but that when history is written it’s often the fiction of an era that’s credited for defining the times.

“It has actually created social change,” she said. “Many times when we look back, we don’t remember any of the journalism of the time but we do remember the novels.”

Her novel is undergirded by deep research into the American weapons industry — moderator Renee Montagne learned that there are two bullets on Earth for every human, for instance — but Clement said her subjects must come from an emotional connection.

“Mostly I write about the things that won’t let go of me — there are things in the world that hurt on a certain level,” Clement said.

But “Brother” author David Chariandy, whose nominated book centers on the immigrant population in the Scarborough neighborhood of Toronto, said he can’t see a distinction between political art and non-political.

“It’s impossible to be attentive to language, to tell a story, to craft a story that comes from a specific perspective and represents a specific consciousness without being political and without being socially aware,” he said. “Or you are not being a good writer.”

For Tayari Jones, who will speak in Aspen at the Summer Words literary festival June 18, coming out of an activist family tradition was going to shape her perspective no matter what she did.

“We were reared with an idea that you could be whatever you wanted to be, as long as whatever you did with your life you did it in the service of justice,” she said.

So she never considered writing about anything other than topics like the broken criminal justice system, which is the engine of her winning novel about a young African-American couple split apart by a wrongful conviction and incarceration.

“I never considered whether or not I would engage political issues,” she said. “I understood that to be my life’s work. But when I was a young writer I would be thinking about how to make sure that my political views and my social critique made it into the writing. I came to realize later that that’s my worldview — that anything I write is going to be infused with that worldview. I was able to relax a little bit. And, instead of make a point, to tell the truth, because the point is in the truth.”