Aspenites abuzz with campaign thoughts
The Lift One ballot question has emerged as the most-talked about election issue this winter, as the eight candidates for mayor and Aspen City Council have taken a backseat to the discussion.
“Lift One has definitely dominated the conversation,” said Aspen resident Erik Klanderud. “I haven’t heard hardly anything about the candidates from people.”
From the top of Aspen Mountain to the grocery stores and bars and coffee shops and gyms in town, Aspenites are abuzz on how they think the election results will go down when the ballots are counted March 5.
As of Friday afternoon, 583 people have cast their ballots since they arrived in city voters’ mailboxes almost two weeks ago.
With a week to go, many observers say the margin is getting narrower in the outcome of the question that asks voters to approve a redevelopment at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side.
“It’s hard to gauge which way this is going to go,” said longtime local and avid skier Mike Wechsler.
The developers behind the Lift One corridor plan have spent around $67,000 getting their message out to vote “yes” on the question.
Formal opposition was established last week. The Committee to Improve Lift 1 Corridor Plan has sent out two mailers urging voters to vote “no,” said Alex Biel, a neighbor of the proposed project and organizer of the committee.
He said Friday that he’s got about $15,000 in “commitments” in his fundraising thus far and plans to send two more mailers out this week.
The first two mailers that landed in people’s mailboxes last week did not identify that they were created and paid for by Biel’s issue committee, which he said was an error.
Michael Brown, the developer behind the Lift One Lodge, which is part of the ballot question, took issue with the nondisclosure and inquired with the city about the legality of it.
“Lift One Corridor is taking every precaution to properly identify ourselves in all of our materials and run a very above board campaign, to let voters decide on the merits,” he wrote in an email to the City Attorney’s office on Thursday.
The city’s response was that the state’s disclosure requirements governing issue committees are unconstitutional, according to a ruling made by the 10th Circuit in the court of appeals.
“They should do it but it’s questioned about whether we can actually do anything about it,” City Attorney Jim True said.
Biel said the issue committee will be identified on future mailers.
People on both sides of the Lift One issue are passionate in their stances and sensitive to the campaign, based on an unscientific poll of more than two-dozen voters by The Aspen Times over the past week.
Former Pitkin County sheriff Bob Braudis said if the campaign season hadn’t been shortened by two months because of the date change from the second Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March, the opposition would be in a better position to defeat the question.
“If the oppo had another month, it would get defeated,” he said.
Two voters who walked their ballots into the city clerk’s office Friday said they were voting for the Lift One question.
Poling by The Aspen Times on Tuesday morning showed that longtime locals who work and ski on Aspen Mountain had already sent their ballots in.
The majority of them voted “no” on the Lift One question, and cast their ballots for Bert Myrin and Skippy Mesirow for council and Torre for mayor.
“A lot of us old timers want a change so we are going rogue,” said one longtime local who is in their 70s. “I just want things to go a little smoother and have things get done.”
A worker at an on-mountain restaurant said he voted “yes” on the Lift One question and threw his support to the same candidates.
“It’s now or never,” he said about a new chairlift coming 500 feet farther down the hill to Dean Street. “But I am skeptical of the (lack of) affordable housing.”
Jean Robert, owner of Jean Robert’s Gym, said many of his members have spoken to him about the election.
“There’s a lot of young interest,” he said, adding he sends out reminders via email that there’s been a date change in the election and be sure to vote. “People are ready for a change.”
Also in the race for council are Rachel Richards and Linda Manning. Council members Adam Frisch and Ann Mullins are running for mayor; Frish is term limited after eight years on the board and Mullins has two years left but wants to leave it for the leadership role. Political newcomer Cale Mitchell is challening them.
Some employers have indicated how they plan to vote and urged their employees to cast their ballots.
Frias Properties sent an email to employees suggesting their votes will go to Mullins, Manning and a “yes” for the Lift One corridor plan.
A city worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said his friends recently told him that the election is ruining their winter and they’d rather just ski with no bother of election speak in the gondola.
“This should be bantered around in April not during ski season,” the individual said.
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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.