Aspen mayoral candidates separate themselves in lunch forum
Differences among the four candidates running for Aspen mayor emerged Wednesday as they shared their ideas on everything from renewable energy to annexation to the marijuana industry.
Speaking in front of about two dozen attendees at the Aspen Business Luncheon, candidates were asked by Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo where they stood on allowing pot clubs in the city.
All but candidate Ann Mullins said they were open to it.
“I’m happy not being a front-runner in that,” she said, adding that as a two-term council member the board has chosen to wait to see what cities like Denver do.
But her opponents said the city should allow venues for people to consume pot.
“We should be the leader in this and not wait,” said Torre, a former council member running for mayor. “We sell cannabis in our community but we don’t provide a place for them to consume it legally.”
Candidate Adam Frisch, who is finishing his second term as a council member and is term-limited, said he wasn’t against the idea when the concept came before the board about five years ago.
The fourth candidate, Cale Mitchell, said expanding the marijuana and hemp industry is a major component of his campaign platform.
All candidates agreed that no undercover police or immigration work should occur in the city, answering the second part of DiSalvo’s question.
They also all agreed that city government isn’t doing enough to create more renewable energy sources, specifically solar.
Candidates were asked if all homes in Aspen should be required to have solar.
Mitchell and Torre said they should.
“I would like to see the city lead by example,” Torre said in reference to municipal buildings that utilize energy-harnessing sources like solar panels.
Mitchell said with 300 days of sun a year, “We are doing a huge disservice to not have solar … once again dillydallying.”
Mullins and Frisch, speaking as current legislators, answered in more detailed ways but agreed that the city should do more through the land-use code, and support and partner with environmental groups and Holy Cross Energy, which provides utilities to 50 percent of Aspen residents.
Candidates were asked if they’d be open to expanding the city limits to include more residents who feel underrepresented and cannot vote.
Mullins said that was the third time she’s been asked about annexing in the campaign.
Frisch said neighborhoods like Meadowood near the hospital and parts of East Aspen are possible options for annexation.
He said regardless of annexation, city representatives should communicate better with residents outside of their jurisdiction.
“If someone emails me, I’m sure like Ann, I don’t check the voter rolls before I respond,” Frisch said.
Torre said if there is an annexation request that comes before the city if he is mayor, he would hear it.
“The more people voting the better,” he said.
Candidates had different ideas on solving traffic issues.
They all agreed that there is no silver bullet solution, but rather it’s an issue that can be chipped away at with alternative transit options.
Frisch said that unfortunately, traffic congestion is here to stay despite the government’s attempts to get people out of their cars with alternative transit.
“City Hall is trying to get fewer cars over the bridge and people want their cars over the bridge quicker,” he said. “I don’t know another desirable community in the world that doesn’t have a traffic problem.”
When asked what she wants in a new city manager, Mullins said the individual should be able to evaluate the “ever-ballooning budget” and take a look at the “staff that just keeps expanding.”
In her sixth year as a council member, Mullins last fall voted to approve the city’s $120 million budget and adding 11 new positions that, combined, will cost the government an additional $1 million annually.
Frisch said a new city manager should be strong and be able to push back on council and not allow it to get into the “nitty gritty” of government operations.
An audience member asked the candidates what they believe are the differences between being mayor and a council member.
Mullins said the mayor is the primary contact with the city manager, is ultimately held accountable to the community and sets the agenda for council.
Frisch said the mayor has equal voting power as council members do, but command 75 percent of the attention of the press and the public.
Torre said the mayor has more pull than a council member does.
“The mayor can affect the direction of where the community is going,” he said, adding that he’d be more available to the public than the last two mayors were with set office hours and brown bag lunch sessions.
Mitchell said a city manager needs to have open communication with the public.
And that has been a problem for years, said Torre, adding it falls on the council as much the city manager to make sure there is adequate communication with the public.
“I’m disappointed in the leadership over the past six years,” he said. “I see us at a crossroads.”
He was responding to a question posed by Mitchell as part of the format in which candidates were able to ask one question to an opponent.
Mitchell asked Torre if he thinks there should be as much cynicism in politics as he is exuding in the campaign.
Torre said he didn’t think he was but acknowledged he is frustrated with how it’s been going in City Hall as of recent, and in the 20 years of campaigning and being involved, he’s focused on the positive.
Frisch asked Mitchell what he wants to get done in the mayor’s two-year term if he is elected.
Mitchell said he wants to get a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse at the community garden on the Marolt Open Space built in order to support sustainability and provide a year-round food source for the town.
The election is March 5 and ballots will be mailed out Monday.
Candidates for Aspen City Council will be asked questions from the media Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m. as part of the traditional Squirm Night. Mayoral candidates will follow at 7 p.m.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert won reelection in Colorado’s GOP-leaning 3rd Congressional District on Friday, barely overcoming voters’ forceful rebuke of her highly controversial tenure in Washington over the past two years to help her party expand its slim majority in the U.S. House.