Aspen Councilman Torre cries foul, says mayoral campaign getting dirty

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Aspen Councilman Torre is speaking out about what he perceives to be election-season shenanigans, one of which he brought up Tuesday evening at the council’s regular meeting.

Torre, who will face fellow Councilman Steve Skadron in a June 4 runoff for the mayor’s seat, said some of his election signs have been removed, although he stopped short of making an official police report. He said that while he doesn’t want to appear “whiny” by making it a big issue, he wants the sign removal to stop.

And at Tuesday’s meeting, Torre mentioned a note he received from an anonymous source, in a letter with no return address, which rudely called into question the motives behind an email following the May 7 general election in which he asked Skadron to meet with him to consider “not having a runoff” and “moving forward together.”

The note was “defamatory,” Torre said, declining to read it aloud. Earlier in the day, he shared its contents with the Aspen Times. Among other things, the anonymous writer described Torre’s request to converse with Skadron about the election as “skanky.”

“Campaigning in Aspen can be difficult, but we need to keep it clean and above board and transparent as well,” Torre said at the meeting. “This kind of action does nobody any good. If anybody who wrote this letter and sent it to me cares to take credit for it, I would be interested to have a conversation. I think we can accomplish a lot just by having some communication, and this certainly is not communication.”

Neither Skadron nor Mayor Mick Ireland nor any of the three other council members commented on Torre’s remark.

The brief email from Torre to Skadron, which the Aspen Daily News reported last week, indirectly opens up the possibility of Skadron exiting the race as a way of saving the city the cost of holding a runoff election — an estimated $30,000. It also talks of how they can work together over the next two years for the betterment of the community.

Torre said the story about the email created the false impression that he was being selfish or disrespectful to Skadron. He noted that he has mounted several campaigns for mayor and council and that in most of them another candidate, or a representative of another candidate, asked him not to run or to drop out. Thus the practice of candidates discussing politics during a campaign is not uncommon in Aspen, Torre said.

Also, Torre pointed out that he publicly alluded to his desire for a conversation with Skadron about the June 4 runoff on the night of the general election, May 7, when Skadron ran first with 23 percent of the vote and Torre ran second with 21 percent.

The Aspen Times reported Torre’s comment on May 8: “I’m looking forward to (a runoff), and I’m looking forward to speaking with (Skadron) soon about that and the possibilities that are out there,” he said.

Torre believes the email to the newspaper was “intentionally leaked” — but he doesn’t know who did it. He said Skadron told him he sent the email to several people but didn’t know who forwarded it to the newspaper. The email, sent through Torre’s City Council email account to Skadron’s council email account, is considered a public record.

Coordinated letters to the editor to the Aspen Daily News and the Aspen Times from Skadron supporters followed the story, suggesting a “classic spin and smear” move, Torre said. The public would have been better served had it been able to read the entire email, he said.

“I think there has been some misunderstanding about that email,” Torre said at the council meeting.

It reads (in full):

“Steve, I wanted to speak with you about not having the runoff. Let me say, I respect you and your representation, this is not meant to be disrespectful of your right to run for mayor. I think there are several benefits that would be very respected by voters. First, it would save about $30,000 of taxpayer money. Second it would show that we want to work together on the important goals we share. I think looking forward, this would send a strong message to Aspenites how much you care for the best of Aspen. I know your intention is to continue on, but I thought I’d make a mention.”

Torre has contended that voters would get the best of both worlds by making him mayor instead of Skadron, as Skadron has two years remaining on his council term. Such a scenario would eliminate the need for a contentious and confusing council-appointment process.

If Skadron wins the mayor’s race, the new council makeup, which would include recent election winners Art Daily and Ann Mullins, along with Skadron as mayor and Councilman Adam Frisch, would have to decide on who will sit in Skadron’s council seat until the spring 2015 election.

Should Torre emerge victorious, there would be no council appointment, and the council would enjoy a large, 4-1 slow-growth majority, given that Torre and Skadron generally are aligned on development matters and Mullins and Daily have stated that they don’t want to see the city overdeveloped.

The worry among many slow-growth advocates is that someone will be appointed who claims to represent one side of the development spectrum but ends up siding with the other, creating unpredictability with regard to future decisions.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Skadron did not respond to Torre’s comments about the election or the anonymous note Torre said he received. Skadron also did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.