Aspen mayoral challengers come out swinging
ASPEN ” The heat got turned up in the Aspen mayoral race during Wednesday’s Squirm Night, when the four candidates vying for the seat attacked each other on a host of issues and respective positions.
The three challengers to incumbent Mick Ireland ” LJ Erspamer, Marilyn Marks and Andrew Kole ” took turns criticizing the mayor’s leadership style and decision-making during the past two years.
Ireland spent a great deal of time defending himself against allegations of perceived rudeness, bad behavior, past real estate deals as mayor and a host of other policy-making decisions.
His supporters in the back of the packed City Council chambers grew vocal when Ireland was criticized, especially when attacks were lobbed by Marks, a staunch critic of the local government.
Civility became a big talking point, and Ireland was criticized by his opponents for being less than respectful when dealing with members of the public. Marks asked for an apology after she claimed that Ireland wrongfully accused her of improper fundraising activities last year and has been treated unfairly when addressing the council.
Ireland admitted that he sometimes has not acted on his best behavior but said often he finds himself having to set the record straight when members of the public make erroneous statements during council meetings. He added that disagreeing with people is not being rude. His opponents suggested that there is a big difference between disagreeing and being rude.
On the issue of the controversial $18.5 million purchase of the BMC West parcel near the Aspen Business Center, Ireland took responsibility for not getting an appraisal done on the property before the city bought it. But he said the purchase was a smart move and that the property is worth more because the city owns land adjacent to it.
All three challengers said it was a bad deal and that the city overpaid for the property. Erspamer questioned whether it was negotiated properly. Marks said the public wasn’t listened to when residents criticized the city before the purchase. Kole said the city shouldn’t have depleted the housing fund and borrowed money from the Wheeler Opera House to buy the land.
All of the candidates agreed that an employment contract should be negotiated with City Manager Steve Barwick, and should be premised on performance-based goals.
The candidates debated the merits of Ireland’s concept of marketing Aspen as affordable. His opponents say Aspen’s brand doesn’t need to be overhauled and that government should be limited in its role to market the resort. Ireland said he isn’t attempting to “rebrand” the resort but simply wants the community to send the message that Aspen is welcoming and is open to all socioeconomic levels.
Candidates also stated their positions on whether they support ballot question 1, which would allow the city to enter into negotiations with the Aspen Art Museum over the city-owned land downtown where the former youth center sits. The museum is eyeing the land for a proposed new art museum, to be built with private funds.
Ireland and Kole support a “yes” vote, arguing it’s only one step in a long process. Erspamer and Marks don’t support the initiative, saying there are not enough details on the proposal, including the sale price and the building’s size.
All but Ireland supported undercover drug operations by the Aspen Police Department if it’s warranted. Ireland said such operations don’t deter drug use, and he has the backing of Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.
Check GrassRoots TV for a schedule of air times to view the entire debate.
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