Aspen mayor miffed with forum moderator |

Aspen mayor miffed with forum moderator

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – A political forum held Wednesday at Aspen’s Limelight Lodge did not go altogether smoothly for Mayor Mick Ireland, who became noticeably upset after being cut off by the moderator on two separate occasions.

After the event, Ireland complained to the moderator, Carolyn Heldman of Aspen Public Radio, as well as Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which hosted the forum.

“If we treated people like that at City Council meetings, they would be outraged,” Ireland told Braun, who took the blame for the situation. A few minutes later, Ireland went to the spot where Heldman was standing and made a conciliatory gesture.

Ireland said part of his problem with the event was the format, which on many occasions sought quick-hit, yes-or-no answers on issues that can’t be evaluated in such simple terms, such as whether the 2011 Aspen Area Community Plan should be a regulatory or guiding document.

Ireland, who is seeking a third and final term as Aspen mayor, is known for giving thoughtful, philosophical answers that examine both sides of an issue before he states where he stands on the matter.

During one answer toward the end of the forum, members of the crowd hissed loudly as he explained the city’s decision last year to allow the Aspen Art Museum to develop a new facility at the former spot of Wienerstube restaurant.

Also, one of his most vocal critics, Elizabeth Milias – who has launched the website “Sick of Mick” and operates a political committee with the same name that seeks donations for the purpose of ousting the mayor – laughed out loud during a few of Ireland’s answers.

But Ireland first became riled when, early in the forum, he was cut short during an answer to a question involving the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and the role it should play with homeowner associations who lack the money to tackle repair and maintenance issues with their employee-housing units.

He criticized Heldman for not shaping the question in the same way she asked it to challengers Ruth Kruger and Andrew Kole.

“The question makes some assumptions that are simply not true,” said Ireland, who resides in a local affordable-housing unit and has been a frequent champion of the city-county program.

“Your question builds upon the assumption, I think implicitly, that we, in affordable housing, can’t take care of ourselves,” Ireland said. “I invite anyone who thinks that to come out to my neighborhood and look at our houses. It isn’t Detroit or Newark, the way it’s being cast here – ‘they are rundown or irreparable, and they’re not going to be able to fix this.’ Of course we can. In my housing, we do [repairs of] a lot of our own units. We do it ourselves. I paint, I fix, I repair.”

Ireland was further explaining his answer when Heldman interrupted and told him he was out of time.

“I need to finish sentences, Carolyn, I’m sorry,” Ireland said.

Heldman then replied that it wouldn’t be fair to the other candidates to let him continue.

“It isn’t fair to interrupt in the middle of a sentence,” Ireland responded. “I just think it’s inappropriate.” At that point, some in the crowd started hissing at Ireland.

The forum continued with more questions of the three mayoral hopefuls. Toward the end, Heldman asked them to give yes or no answers on the question of term limits for Aspen mayors. Currently, mayors are allowed to serve no more than three consecutive two-year terms.

Ireland has previously stated that he believes Aspen’s mayor should serve longer terms, perhaps without limits, but that if he ever proposed such an initiative he would work to ensure that he would be prevented from benefiting from it.

Kruger and Kole answered “yes,” but Ireland declined to answer after Heldman cautioned him to give a one-word answer, calling term limits an issue that deserves a longer explanation.

He later bemoaned the program’s format, likening it to national TV news programs that seek answers to oversimplified questions like, “Are you a red or a blue voter?”

Specific answers to some of the questions that were posed at Wednesday’s mayoral forum and the City Council candidate forum that preceded it will be published in upcoming issues of The Aspen Times leading up to election day, May 3.

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