Candidates tackle issues at Squirm Night
The Aspen Times
If there’s one thing that was brought forward during Squirm Night in Aspen, it’s that the two candidates running for the only contested Pitkin County commissioner’s seat are pretty civil with each other.
Squirm Night, a time-honored political tradition in Aspen since 1980, was presented by The Aspen Times, the Aspen Daily News and the GrassRoots Network. The one-hour dialogue gave the Pitkin County commissioner District 1 candidates, incumbent Rob Ittner and challenger Patti Clapper, the opportunity to answer some tough questions live.
Clapper held the commissioner’s seat for three terms but was term-limited in 2010, when Ittner beat opponent Jack Johnson for the seat.
Aspen Times Editor Lauren Glendenning and Aspen Daily News Editor Carolyn Sackariason moderated the event. Both editors inquired about specific issues, from voting records to future county projects to how much time a commissioner should put into the position.
During opening statements, Ittner talked about two particular values he finds critical in Pitkin County: controlled growth and rural values. He talked about how effective the county land-use code is to control growth and discussed rural values such as integrity, talking honestly and having respect for one’s neighbor.
“My national values, real quick, are that I am pro-choice,” Ittner said. “I believe in global warming, I believe in gay marriage, and I believe we need to protect our environment at all costs.”
Clapper talked about her 34 years in Aspen and Pitkin County. She discussed the importance of family and being part of the community.
“I have a deep compassion for, and understanding of, this community as a whole,” she said. “This is not only because I’ve lived and worked in Pitkin County for so many years but also because I’ve raised my children here and because I’ve watched my husband’s parents, his aunts and uncles, age here, move away and return here to be placed to rest.”
The issues brought up to both candidates concerned the airport and how much growth would be appropriate for an airport expansion as well as the specific issue of the Celestial land-use application in the Maroon Creek Valley.
Ittner was asked why he is running unaffiliated rather than standing by the Republican Party, to which he said partisanship causes a lot of dysfunction in government.
Clapper was asked why she stated publicly in 2010 that she didn’t want to live in Pitkin County anymore after her husband lost to Ittner in the primary that year.
“Like a lot of politicians, I stuck my foot in my mouth,” Clapper said. “Prior to the primary that year, my husband had been dead. He was in a coma for six weeks and in the hospital for three months. Having him back and working with him on that campaign was very emotional. I was very emotional that night and did what a lot of politicians do well and stuck my foot in my mouth.”
Ittner responded to questions about being pro-growth by pointing to votes he said prove he’s for responsible growth. Land-use applications are often scaled back throughout the county’s application process, a level of scrutiny he said he’s proud of as a commissioner. He cited the Woody Creek marijuana greenhouse denial as one of the votes that prove he considers each development application on its own merits.
Clapper was asked why her family was delinquent in paying property taxes from 2002 to 2005 and whether she intentionally missed voting on controversial issues when she was a commissioner. She said she was always present for big votes and may have missed some meetings when her husband was sick but that her absences were never about controversial votes. She called herself a tenacious commissioner.
In the end, there wasn’t much political squirming going on, as both candidates were cautious, albeit prepared, to answer the tough political and personal questions.
“I think it went really well,” Clapper said. “I just wish I had been able to finish more of my answers, but that’s why it’s called ‘Squirm Night.’”
Ittner said he also was happy with the event and continued to praise his opponent.
“I think Patti did a great job,” Ittner said. “She served 12 years, and (now) I’m serving, and I think I’m doing a good job.”
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