Aspen mayoral candidates discuss weekend plans, differences on issues
The Aspen Times
With just a few days left until Tuesday’s mayoral runoff, Aspen councilmen Steve Skadron and Torre worked to move past their back-and-forth on various political and governmental issues with an eye toward simply getting their vote out.
In the May 7 general election, Skadron ran first in the six-man field with 23 percent of the vote, and Torre ran second with 21 percent. Voter turnout was considered good, with roughly half of the city’s “active voters” participating. An active voter is one who participated in the past two presidential elections.
Torre said he has spoken to all of the other four candidates who did not make the runoff and got the feeling that they won’t be making endorsements. He said last week that he plans to work the neighborhoods where some of the former candidates had an identifiable base, walking the streets and talking to residents. Former candidate Adam Frisch did well in the precinct that includes the West End and Cemetery Lane, and Derek Johnson garnered a lot of votes on the extreme northwest side of town: Aspen Highlands and areas near the school campus.
Torre’s plan does not include knocking on doors, he said.
“Phone calls, neighborhood visits, I did a small mailer,” Torre said. “I prefer to walk neighborhoods and look for people that are open and receptive. I really don’t like to knock on doors and bug somebody at their house.”
Skadron, who publicly launched his bid for mayor in February, ahead of the other candidate announcements, described this year’s municipal election season as a “rigorous process.” With all the public forums and media attention on the race, the process weeds out the committed candidates from those who might be less active, he said.
“I announced in February, and the runoff is June 4,” he said. “The process seems to be very lengthy.”
Skadron said he expects voter turnout on Tuesday to be low. He said he won’t let up his guard.
“I think voter fatigue will be a factor,” he said. “But I’ll be out this weekend; I’ve got a walking list, and I’m still meeting and greeting and shaking hands. Torre is a formidable candidate, and he’s still out there fighting every day.”
Here’s a rundown of where Skadron and Torre stand on some of the issues that separate them, culled from interviews last week:
Aspen’s biggest political and government issue last year was the advisory vote on whether the city should spend more money to complete the Castle Creek hydropower project. Not surprisingly, the issue has popped up in the current campaign, even though voters narrowly rejected the continuation of the project in November.
Questions have centered on whether the candidates want to resurrect the controversial project for which the city already has spent more than $7 million. Opponents have fought it on the grounds that it is fiscally and environmentally irresponsible; supporters say its economics are sound and that the health of Castle and Maroon creeks would be monitored and protected.
Both candidates say they respect the spirit of that nonbinding referendum. But they differ on a few points.
“Torre has been playing off a comment I made differentiating between a binding vote versus an advisory vote,” Skadron said. “What I said was I would respect the spirit of the advisory vote. It’s not my intention to pursue hydro at this time.”
Skadron said although the public supported the hydro project in 2007 through a binding vote, he would prefer to examine other ways of achieving 100 percent renewable-energy sources for the city’s electricity utility. Down the road, if no other options are available for achieving that city goal, he said he might look to pursue the hydro project if a community consensus can be achieved.
“There are alternatives we should fully investigate that weren’t available to us at the time that the hydro process was going on,” Skadron said. “I think this will be an issue for the City Council well after I’m here.”
Torre said he respects the recent report issued by Snowmass Village energy expert Amory Lovins that says the project is fundamentally flawed and that the city should explore other ways of becoming more environmentally responsible, such as encouraging conservation.
“I have said that Amory Lovins is an expert worth listening to, and if we have alternatives, then we can pursue them,” he said. “The advisory vote in November signified that Aspen is more interested in conservation and efficiency to close the loop on the remaining 11 percent gap in renewable energy, before production.”
Torre contends that Skadron’s reaction to the referendum was that “because it was advisory, we can move ahead with it anyhow.” Torre also takes issue with Skadron’s remarks that question Lovins’ study of the issue and release of the report. Skadron has pointed out that no one asked Lovins to take on that task and that council members should rely on the advice and research of city staff in the matter.
“I’m saying, Lovins is one of the top energy environmentalists in the world,” he said. “He did the report because he cares. After the vote, the city sought more input about it. We opened the door. We had an open house.”
Though there is a common perception that Skadron and Torre are more aligned than not on government issues, both candidates point to many votes in which they clashed.
Skadron, for example, was the lone council vote in 2010 against the art-museum project — not because he opposed the museum’s expansion, he said, but because the review process was expedited and the city negotiated it under the threat of lawsuits.
The project has been criticized by some in the community because of its mass and scale, deemed to be out of step with Aspen’s small-town character.
“I wasn’t necessarily against the idea of an art museum in the downtown core. I think there’s value to the arts-and-culture community and some economic benefit that comes from that. It will probably invigorate an area of town that’s generally quiet,” Skadron said.
“What I objected to was a process that was failing us,” he continued. “The process did not have enough community input. I think we generally get a better result when the community weighs in, and that didn’t happen with this project.”
Torre points out that he was the lone council vote in 2009 against the Aspen Valley Hospital’s conceptual plans for a major expansion of its campus, a project that has become more and more controversial in recent months because of the magnitude of the second of four phases of construction.
Skadron has said that he believes what was represented in 2009 was not what has been built in the second phase. He pointed out the difficulty of making decisions on developments based on square-footage data and someone’s spin on what a project will look like.
“With a mountain of information, you do the best you can with the information you have,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that what was returned to the community had a greater aesthetic impact than we had hoped.”
Torre also questions Skadron’s support of the city’s $18 million purchase of a lumberyard near the Aspen Business Center for affordable housing, which occurred during the two-year hiatus between Torre’s first and second terms. He also notes that Skadron voted in support of “increased density” for the second phase of the Burlingame Ranch affordable-housing neighborhood.
Torre said he has been more proactive than Skadron as a member of the council. He initiated the discussion on limiting plastic-bag use in town, which led to the city’s current ban on the bags at checkout at City Market and Clark’s Market, Aspen’s two grocery stores. Torre said he also worked closely with city staff on Aspen’s recycling ordinance during his first term.
“I do more initiating of solutions on the environment than I think he does,” Torre said.
Though they agreed on a crucial vote early this year that limits downtown building heights (for new and renovated projects) to a 28-foot height — essentially, a two-story restriction in order to prevent taller buildings from being constructed — Torre said he proposed some important exceptions, such as allowing certain commercial and residential uses for a third floor, such as office space and affordable housing. He notes that Skadron didn’t find favor with those proposed alternatives.
The ‘Mick Machine’
Skadron responded to Torre’s allegations that Skadron is overly influenced by Mayor Mick Ireland, who endorsed him and is assisting his campaign with his wealth of voter data and experience.
“Torre is making that an issue,” Skadron said. “He said he’s not the Mick candidate or Mick’s pick. I’ve responded that I’m flattered, first of all, to be considered a viable option from someone whose contributions to this town have made it the great place that it is.”
But Skadron said he and Ireland have differed on many topics, including votes on the art museum project, expansion of the Aspen Club and, more recent, transparency of campaign-finance donors.
“I ultimately supported the Aspen Club,” Skadron said. “Mick voted against it. That issue was a tough one; it was brutal. What it came down to for me was that it was a health-focused facility.”
On that latter issue of campaign finance, Torre and Ireland favored a new city rule that would have required each political contribution of less than $20 to be listed on campaign-finance reports along with the donor’s name. State law allows those donations to remain anonymous.
Skadron, in a somewhat surprising break with Ireland on the issue, opposed it. Ireland pushed the transparency issue partly because of the “Sick of Mick” campaign against his 2011 re-election bid, which relied on anonymous contributions of less than $20.
“It didn’t make sense to me as a candidate or as a community member at this time,” Skadron said. “Mick, at times, puts too much weight on his personal experiences. Perhaps rightly so, but he’s experienced things in his prior elections that nobody else has experienced.
“I also had a couple of contributors who valued the opportunity to be anonymous. The timing was just wrong, although I think the principle was a good one.”
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Those who aren’t sure about where they should vote should contact the City Clerk’s Office at 970-920-5060.
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