Aspen mayoral finalists Mullins, Torre defend records before runoff |

Aspen mayoral finalists Mullins, Torre defend records before runoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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