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Aspen candidates’ forum focuses on economy

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” At Thursday’s Aspen council candidate forum, hot-button issues like historic preservation, employee housing and the Aspen Art Museum emerged as citizen and candidate concerns.

But the conversation at The Aspen Institute event also often turned to the economy.

In the mayoral debate, all four candidates made a point of highlighting their business experience in their introductions.

Incumbent Mayor Mick Ireland and Andrew Kole debated the type of visitors Aspen should work to attract. Kole argued that Aspen’s high-end retail can’t afford to try to attract what he called the “balloon buyers” ” people who come to Aspen and buy nothing but pizza and a balloon.

“Unless we generate a customer base that can support them, my fear is they’ll go dark,” he said of Aspen’s downtown stores.

But Ireland disagreed.

“Today’s balloon buyers … may be tomorrow’s [Aspen] citizens,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Marks announced she intends to bring business leaders in the community together to solicit ideas about how the city could support them during the economic crisis.

In the Aspen City Council debate, held after the mayoral debate, the nine contenders also repeatedly returned to the issue of the economy ” several using the downturn as a chance to criticize the city’s current spending.

“The government has had an unlimited amount of money for a long time,” Adam Frisch argued.

“The boom let us get really, really sloppy,” agreed Michael Behrendt. “If I had run my business the way the city has run its business, I wouldn’t have a business.”

“Our current council is out of touch with financial reality. They just don’t get it,” Mike Wampler said.

Behrendt said that the downturn should provide an opportunity for the town to “trim a bloated, if talented bureaucracy.”

Wampler similarly argued for “right-sizing” the city government, department by department.

Candidate Derek Johnson, however, said he thought the economic downturn could be an opportunity for the town to help support what he predicted could be “an explosion” of new entrepreneurs as old businesses die.

On a question about how the city could use its budget to help business, answers varied.

Incumbent Councilwoman Jackie Kasabach, for example, noted Aspen spends less than most ski resorts on marketing ” but also expressed a desire to keep enough money in reserves to make sure the health and human services department can meet an increased need.

But incumbent Councilman Jack Johnson said he didn’t think the council should be helping business, noting that it wasn’t really part of their mandate.

Throughout the debate, he repeatedly expressed an opinion that Aspen shouldn’t suddenly drop priorities like managed growth in reaction to the recession.

Aspen’s challenges haven’t changed, Jack Johnson said.

“The circumstances within how we meet those challenges have changed,” he said.

Thursday’s candidates’ forum, organized by the local Republican and Democratic parties, will be replayed on GrassRoots Television.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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