Big-time politics stir up Basalt election
Big-time politics has invaded small-town Basalt.
Someone is conducting a telephone survey that seems connected to an important April 4 election that could change the face of the town government. The survey, say observers, represents a level of sophistication that hasn’t been seen before in town politics.
The survey has incumbent candidates concerned that they are facing well-oiled and well-financed opposition. Some of them suspect the survey was commissioned by growth proponents.
“What it does show is Basalt has become a real investment for some people,” said Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens, who is running for re-election. “It shows Basalt is no longer a sleepy little ranch town.”
The survey is being conducted by Standage Research Group of Denver. But the financier of the survey remains a mystery.
The research company won’t divulge who commissioned the effort, according to people who received telephone calls. That’s standard practice in the polling industry.
Since the middle of last week, surveyors have been asking Basalt residents general questions about the direction of the community. They seek opinions about town’s new master plan – a blueprint for growth – and assessments on each of the current Town Council members, including the five who are candidates in next month’s election.
The names of the four challengers in the races for mayor and three trustee positions aren’t mentioned.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t feel any questions were leading,” said Monroe Summers, who lives outside the town in Holland Hills, but received a call for the telephone survey anyway. He figured he was picked for the survey because he shares Basalt’s telephone prefix and zip code.
While the survey wasn’t a so-called “push poll” for any particular candidate or issue, Summers said there was no doubt it is connected to the campaign.
“They weren’t trying to sell soap,” he said. “They were definitely after something in this election.”
Basalt is still a small enough town that word of the telephone survey spread quickly Thursday night and Friday among and incumbent candidates. Incumbents Leroy Duroux, Anne Freedman and Jacque Whitsitt are seeking re-election, as is Stevens. Trustee Steve Solomon is running for mayor.
The challengers are Glenn Rappaport for mayor, and P.D. Ash, Tiffany Gildred, Cathy Kulzer and Jonathan Fox-Rubin for trustee.
There are four trustee seats up for election.
Whitsitt said this telephone survey could trigger more campaign spending than usually occurs in Basalt.
“I think it means there are more dollars available to unseat incumbents,” she said.
“The fact that they are only talking about the incumbents is interesting,” said Stevens.
Three of the challengers contacted Friday said they had no knowledge of the telephone survey. Rappaport, a former trustee, said he isn’t doing anything nearly that sophisticated in his campaign.
“I’ve never done anything other than bump into people on the street,” he said.
Rappaport acknowledged that if the survey asks for assessments about the incumbents only, it could be seen as a tool to be used against them. He said if the person or persons behind the poll offered him the results, he would not accept them “under these circumstances.” The only way he would accept them is if the results were provided to all candidates.
Kulzer and Gildred also said the survey was news to them. Ash and Fox-Rubin couldn’t be reached.
Some observers have speculated that developers or large landowners may have commissioned the poll because they want the incumbents, or at least most of them, removed from office. One property owner with as much at stake in Basalt politics as anyone is Frieda Wallison, owner of vacant land downtown where the multimillion-dollar Riverwalk project is proposed. Wallison told The Aspen Times she knew nothing of the survey.
If the mystery poller’s identity ever becomes known, Mayor Stevens predicted the campaign maneuver could come back to haunt them.
“This is political suicide for everyone that’s doing it,” he said.
He also believes it could spark greater campaign activity by the incumbents. “I know it motivates me,” he said.
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