Aspen voters get clear choices in mayoral election |

Aspen voters get clear choices in mayoral election

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – You might say that in a sense, Aspen voters are lucky. The May 3 mayoral election gives local citizens three vastly different candidates from which to choose. There’s the incumbent, Mick Ireland, 61, who is seeking a third term. To many, he is defender of numerous city programs and projects, from affordable housing to the rewrite of the Aspen Area Community Plan, an advocate of slow growth and development limitations. To others, he is a quick-tempered policy wonk, the liberal nemesis of the building community and stubborn in many of his dealings with private interests seeking favors from City Hall. He is an avid cyclist and suffered a serious accident while biking last fall, but appears to have recovered quickly. Prior to becoming mayor in 2007, he served three terms as a Pitkin County commissioner.Then you have the new face on the scene, 59-year-old commercial real estate broker Ruth Kruger. She’s been away from the political fray for the last four years while building her business, but previously served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for five years. Kruger, appointed to the City Council as a temporary member when Dwayne Romero resigned before finishing his term, bills herself as the conservative Democratic choice, someone who believes in giving the development community a break in its tough dealings with the city, is friendly to the private sector but environmentally conscious, and a polar alternative to Ireland. She was criticized by many in the community when she announced her bid, given that when she sought the interim council seat, she said she would not run for council. In Aspen, the mayor is a voting member of the council.The so-called “wild card” is Andrew Kole, 61, who lists his occupation as a writer but who is well known as a local TV and radio talk-show host. He also has worked in marketing and promotions for the movie industry. Kole has brought a humorous approach to recent campaign forums, but underlying the comedy and theatrics is a man who says he wants to bring fiscal common sense to City Hall and eliminate waste. At recent political forums he has held up charts and spouted off figures in hopes of driving his message home. In recent years, Kole, who calls himself a “political junkie,” has run for mayor, City Council and school board unsuccessfully. His answers are usually quick and to the point and reflect his free-wheeling approach to political discourse.The election will be held May 3. A runoff featuring the two top vote-getters, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, will be held June 7. So that voters will be informed during the current absentee-voting period and on Election Day, The Aspen Times is providing the following information on where the candidates stand. The information was culled from recent interviews and public forums.

The city has recently embarked on an effort to obtain a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would allow it to generate clean and renewable energy with a hydroelectric plant using Castle Creek water flow. Opponents of the project are worried about noise from the plant and the health of the stream and its ecosystem.Ireland said at a Wednesday campaign forum that reasonable compromise would be to abandon the city’s application for a “conduit exemption,” which would circumvent the requirement for a full-blown environmental assessment. Ireland supports a new environmental assessment as well as the hydro project, though, and notes that the city residents also showed their support through a vote last year. “The numbers are clear that hydropower pays for itself … and accomplishes a lot,” Ireland said. “I think as an environmental community, we have the responsibility to absorb some of the impacts of our energy use and not pretend we are environmentalists because we are outsourcing our impacts to Nebraska where we are buying and burning coal. That is not being environmental. That’s pretense; that’s fake.”Ireland said hydropower will keep the community’s electric rates low compared with other Colorado cities.”It’s an investment,” he said. “And people who say, ‘In the first year, we’re not going to break even.’ Hydropower can be here for 50, 75, 100 years, and after we’ve paid off the bonds, all of that energy that’s delivered is basically close to cost free.”Kole criticized the city for having already moved forward with infrastructure for the hydroplant without first getting federal approval. Last year, the city built a 42-inch pipeline from the Thomas Reservoir to the proposed plant site on Power Plant Road, a move that was viewed as a way to help the city sidestep federal rules.”I call that the pipe to nowhere,” Kole said. “Supposedly it’s got something to do with an emergency drain for the reservoir.”Kole said the city hasn’t done its due diligence on the cost of the project or its effect on the environment.”We did not research this well,” he said. “We went ahead with something we thought was gonna work, maybe some people thought they could skip some steps, but the bottom line is right now we are nowhere, except for $4.4 million in the hole.”Citizens opposed to the project, Kole said, have tried to go to the city and talk about their concerns with hydro. “They have basically been shut down and shut out,” he said. “They’ve battled, so now their voices are being heard.”Kole said if the city proceeds with hydroelectric power, it needs to ensure that it does not “screw up” the Castle Creek stream flow. “People come here to see them, play in them and fish in them,” he said of local streams.Kruger said hydroelectric is a worthy goal and that sustainable energy is brilliant. But, she said, the city has gone in a “questionable direction” with the Castle Creek plan.”I think the environmental goal with negative impacts on the environment is sort of an oxymoron,” she said. “I think that when you’re looking at a project like this, you need to lead by example. This could be a showcase for hydropower. … But I think you need to have the regulatory agencies’ permission and blessing, and then it’s a great package and you can be proud of it.”

Ireland – who has lamented that much of his current term has been spent dealing with issues revolving around criticism of the 2009 election results and the process that re-elected him – believes four-year mayoral terms, perhaps limited to two consecutive terms, “would make more sense than an election every two years.””As I visit the voters in their homes, many are surprised that it is already time for another election for mayor as the last one seemed to go on for quite awhile,” he said.Ireland said that if he were to work on changing the mayoral election system, he would ensure that the language prevents him from seeking another term. He said if elected this year, the third term would be his final two years as Aspen mayor.Kole and Kruger have said that the current two-year system, limited to three consecutive terms, works well enough. “After six years, and sometimes well before, it is time for a break to find new and fresh ideas with different leadership styles,” Kruger said.

The city in recent years has embarked upon a campaign to get locals and visitors to reduce their use of environmentally unfriendly plastic bags and water bottles. There has been much talk of placing a fee on bags at retail establishments to encourage citizens to bring their own reusable sacks to the grocery store and other retail businesses. This has led to an outcry of government attempting to intrude upon the public’s personal habits.Ireland said that one person’s “governmental intrusion” is another’s “reasonable regulation.” The citizens have the right to regulate on behalf of their environment and Aspen has done so to good effect throughout its history, he said. “If one agrees as I do that climate change is a real threat to our future, we must take a leadership role in fighting excess energy use and waste,” Ireland said. “Petroleum products such as plastic bags and bottles are a small part of that effort, less important than on-site energy production and conservation perhaps, but still a useful step.”Kole has said that City Hall has a right to suggest environmental solutions, but not force them on the citizenry. “If the cause has value and is promoted, the public will either get on board or reject the proposal,” he said.Kruger said the issue provides an educational platform that could lead to more personal responsibility on a voluntary level. “Even if new rules are not imposed, the chain of events will take a turn for better behavior and hopefully for each to act in more harmonious ways toward conscious choices that will result in less plastic usage in both bags and bottles,” she said.

Recent questions to the candidates have centered on the candidates’ level of support for the AACP, which is nearing the end of a two-year process to update it. Some in the community have sought answers as to whether the city will use the plan as a document with regulatory weight, or one that is a general guide for making decisions.Ireland has said, and reiterated, that the “guiding vs. regulatory” question oversimplifies the argument. “First, some parts of the plan are intended to be aspirational. Other portions are specific recommendations (action items), which are separate from the overall vision; that is, the means of accomplishing the vision. I don’t agree with each and every recommended step but I do believe the AACP embodies our basic values,” he said.Kole said the AACP should be a guiding document, not regulatory. “The problem with the AACP is the 10-year tag tied to it. Things change, and so the AACP needs to be flexible, and offer an opportunity to change with the times and the economy,” he said.Kruger, a former member of the city P&Z, which with the county has been spearheading the effort to rewrite the plan, said the AACP “must be a guiding document that states the mission and vision” of Aspen.”It should reflect the guiding principles that define the characteristics and attributes we would like to maintain into the future. It should be organic and flexible as change and flexibility need to be incorporated into the fabric of the times,” she said.Kruger has echoed the concerns of the local business community in saying that the document fails by not taking into account current economic conditions.”I commend and appreciate the great efforts made by both [city-county] staff and the public, but as a practical matter, the AACP has no financial modeling and omits capital facilities and utility services. The mitigation requirements overburden one of our most important financial engines that keep the community viable and will most certainly put a freeze on construction – even that which could prove to be compatible with our neighbors,” she