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Basalt candidates carve out their turf

Rick Stevens
Aspen Times file photo |

BASALT – Seven Basalt candidates for four offices displayed their brain power in a forum Tuesday night that featured three people touting their experience in town governing, two newcomers emphasizing the need for new blood and two others promoting their mix of experience and freshness.

The forum featured two candidates for mayor, Glenn Rappaport and Jacque Whitsitt, as well as five candidates for three open council seats – Lemuel Bolanos, Robert Leavitt, Bill Maron, Herschel Ross and Rick Stevens.

Stevens, a former Basalt mayor, seemed to sum up the sentiment of the audience when he said it was the best forum he had ever participated in or viewed.

“The intellectual capacity at this table is amazing,” he said. About 40 people attended, many of them nodding or expressing agreement with Stevens’ observation.

Since the candidates are all good, Stevens said, voters will want to focus on the ones who can persevere and achieve the goals that all candidates said they want for Basalt – building its economic diversity while maintaining its character and environment.

Stevens and both mayoral candidates emphasized their experience. Both Rappaport and Whitsitt are current council members. Whitsitt is ending a four-year term, while Rappaport is halfway through his term.

Bolanos and Leavitt emphasized their ability to bring a fresh perspective to Town Hall.

“I think I represent a lot of the people who are not here,” Bolanos said. Many people simply don’t have the time, energy or interest in attending government meetings, he said. But the council still has an obligation to try to engage them and collect their ideas for what the town should be.

Bolanos acknowledged that he doesn’t know a lot about what the town government has done in the past. He’s interested in its future.

“I want to represent a whole different crew of people,” said Bolanos, 31, who has a marketing company.

Leavitt said he’s a familiar face from around town even if he hasn’t been in elected office. He’s involved in just about every activity that features kids and families in the midvalley. He pushed the point that he would be the only member of the council with kids in the Basalt public schools. That’s important, he said, because healthy communities have healthy public schools.

He vowed to improve the relationship between the Town Council and the school board. Leavitt, 47, is a ski instructor and also a licensed contractor and real estate agent.

Maron and Ross emphasized their public service but noted that they will be new to the Basalt council. Maron has volunteered on the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission since 1998, and he has been chairman for four years. The board advises the council on land-use issues and often handles the nitty-gritty details of applications for the elected officials.

Maron, 53, an architect, said he has seen a lot of council members come and go during his time on the planning commission and believes he could add some much-needed continuity to the board.

“I’ve seen a lot of reinventing of the wheel,” Maron said.

Ross, 69, a dentist, said he can bring extensive political experience to the table while still providing a fresh eye in Basalt governance. Ross served on the Snowmass Village Town Council in the mid-1980s and was elected as a Pitkin County commissioner for one four-term term in 1988. Ross said he was “hardened by the fires” from that prior service. He noted more than once that he was able to say “no” to development applications he didn’t feel served the community.

Stevens focused on why he should be returned to the Basalt board while Whitsitt and Rappaport explained why their records as council members qualified them as mayor.

Stevens produced a laundry list of accomplishments while he was in office, such as keeping the post office and library within walking distance of downtown. Stevens also noted he currently serves on a committee organized by the Basalt government that is looking into opportunities to buy property and propose development of affordable housing and mixed-use projects, which he said will help keep the town’s economy strong.

Stevens, 60, a ski instructor and president of a construction firm, was elected to the Basalt Town Council in 1994 and was appointed mayor soon after by the rest of the board after a resignation. He won election as mayor in 1996 and won re-election in 2000. He ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2008.

Whitsitt highlighted her resume as serving as a de facto mayor of several boards and nonprofit organizations, suggesting that she is qualified for the job as town mayor through her experience. She has chaired the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors and English in Action, which matches volunteers with adult students learning to speak or improve their English. One of her most fulfilling achievements, she said, was helping RFTA complete the Rio Grande Trail more than two years ahead of schedule.

Whitsitt, 58, a saleswoman and customer service representative for a health club, said she has dedicated her life to issues such as diversity, inclusion and open-mindedness. She vowed transparency in Town Hall – not keeping anything the government is up to from the people.

Whitsitt was elected to the council in 1996 and re-elected in 2000. She sat out four years because of term limits and then ran successfully in 2008. She ran unsuccessfully for Eagle County commissioner in 1998.

Rappaport touted himself as a “skilled facilitator and centrist” who has the skills to lead Basalt at a critical time.

“This may be our Paepcke moment,” he said, referring to the birth of modern Aspen behind the leadership of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. The town has an opportunity to become a thriving center for the arts with the possible establishment of an Anderson Ranch Arts Center campus, he said.

Rappaport, 58, an architect, said that as mayor he would apply similar skills to those he’s mastered as an architect – listening to understand a person’s aspirations and transferring them to the physical world.

Rappaport was elected to the Basalt Town Council in 1994 and re-elected in 1998. He resigned after a few months in office in 1998 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2000. He ran successfully for council in 2004 but didn’t seek re-election in 2008. He ran again, and won, in 2010.

Tuesday’s forum was sponsored by the Basalt Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Michael Kinsley. The Basalt election will be April 3.

An article in Thursday’s edition of The Aspen Times will focus on candidates’ views on economic development from the forum.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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