Candidates for Aspen council struggle to find differences |

Candidates for Aspen council struggle to find differences

ASPEN – Aspen City Council candidate Dwayne Romero took the opportunity Thursday night to punctuate the differences between himself and his three competitors over the city’s controversial pursuit of a hydroelectric-power project.

Romero asked the other three candidates to state whether they would resurrect the project on Castle Creek, which failed by a narrow margin with Aspen voters in a nonbinding referendum in November. He asked the question during Squirm Night, a long-standing candidate forum held by The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News. The organizers invited the candidates to quiz one another on issues. At first, none of the candidates moved to seize the opportunity to draw differences – continuing the theme of what some observers have called a lackluster campaign.

But each of the four eventually popped a question, though keeping with civility. Romero asked his competitors to state how they would treat the hydroelectric issue if elected. He had the advantage of knowing his position was different from the other three candidates from a story that ran Thursday in The Aspen Times.

Candidate Jonny Carlson indicated that the city needed to continue to pursue the project after spending the money on a turbine.

Candidate Art Daily said the hydroelectric project should be “back on the table,” though he stopped short of saying the city should pursue it. He said all the issues need to be explored thoroughly.

Candidate Ann Mullins agreed that the city should study the issue in greater detail, though she wouldn’t make it a priority for consideration.

Romero made sure voters realized that he was the only candidate who opposed reconsidering the project, at least in the near term. He said the city should explore other options for renewable energy and work with residents on conservation steps.

Daily asked a question he was certain would draw a distinction between himself and Mullins because of prior newspaper articles. Daily asked Mullins to explain her position on the 28-foot height limit on buildings in the downtown core and the ban on free-market residential projects.

Mullins said the City Council overreacted to development that was “creeping up” too high by restricting height to 28 feet. At times, 28 feet is appropriate, she said, while at other locations, even that height restricts views and shouldn’t be allowed. She said she opposed the restriction on free-market residences downtown.

The city has enacted too restrictive of regulations and allows too many exemptions, creating a complex set of rules that result in a “dumbing-down” of development in the downtown core, Mullins said. Two buildings coming to the core don’t have any distinctive features of a Western mountain town, she said. They could be new buildings in the Midwest or California, according to Mullins, who didn’t name the offending structures.

Daily didn’t press his differences, though he has said earlier in the campaign that he didn’t support downtown-core residences and felt that the higher limit was appropriate.

Squirm Night featured a few lighter moments as well as a few sequences that appeared to put some heat on candidates – even if they didn’t exactly squirm. Among the highlights:

• Romero acknowledged that he “did inhale many times” in his younger years in response to a question about regulating pot clubs and retail marijuana outlets. However, he said he voted against Amendment 64, which allows recreational pot shops. The Colorado Legislature is drawing up regulations on retail shops, which will be allowed to open next year. Romero said there needs to be local regulation on the number of shops allowed in Aspen.

Carlson seemed to take a more free-market approach to regulation.

“I think we need to let the people that smoke decide,” he said, but he added there should be some limits.

• The editors of Aspen’s newspapers tried to make Romero squirm at the forum by asking about his decision to resign from a City Council seat in 2011 to take a state government position as director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. He ended up leaving that post after eight months.

Romero said he served 45 of 48 months of his Aspen City Council term. He said he took the state government post at the request of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“It was a call to service to the governor’s Cabinet,” he said.

He vowed that he won’t resign on the four-year council term if elected. Romero emphatically said he wouldn’t run for mayor in two years.

“Mark my words,” he said.

Romero also was asked how he could be counted on to make the best decisions on large developments when he was involved with one project criticized for being dysfunctional – the Aspen Highlands base village – and another that’s half-baked – Snowmass Base Village. Romero is president of Related Colorado, which is still trying to develop Snowmass Base Village. He said the jury is still out on that project. He said he was proud of serving on development teams that did the best they could under challenging circumstances on both projects. He said his career choices show a pattern of “having an affinity for the challenge.”

“I’m not ashamed of that track record,” Romero said.

• Mullins said she is willing to accept a different type of challenge. If elected, she will be the only woman on the five-member council. She said she will be undaunted. She was used to being “the only woman at the table” earlier in her career as a landscape architect and in other positions, she said.

“I don’t perceive an old-boys’ network” in Aspen, she said.

Mullins said wide diversity is needed on Aspen City Council – not only with gender but also age and economic background.

• Carlson was the only council candidate who dared answer whom he or she supported in the election for Aspen mayor. He supports Torre.

“If it wasn’t for Torre, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Carlson said, explaining that the mayoral candidate urged him to run for council.

The other three council candidates said they haven’t decided when they will vote for as mayor.

The election is May 7.

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