Cry Hallelujah! The election’s over. What can we learn?
The traditional collective sigh of relief rose from the streets of Aspen this week, in the wake of yet another combative city election campaign.
As usual in the aftermath of our civic electoral frenzy, there are some lessons to be gleaned.
One is that the results seem to once again demonstrate this town’s schizophrenic romance with the idea of reinstituting rail service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
Rachel Richards, who has supported the rail proposal firmly and unstintingly over the past several years, this week became the only incumbent City Council member in years, if ever, to be elevated to the position of mayor.
It was a narrow victory, to be sure, owing at least partly to the fact that there were four candidates for the post. And some have used the narrowness of Richards’ win to claim that there is no “mandate” for continuation of the study of rail travel as one transportation alternative in the valley. One candidate has maintained that, because more than 1,200 voters cast ballots for one of the other three candidates, and only 589 voted for Richards, it was an “anti-rail” mandate.
Not all see it that way, however.
First of all, Richards was the one to garner the winning number of votes, and it is somewhat disingenuous to say that because she did not win a majority of the votes cast, her position on this or any other issue should not be given credence.
Secondly, the runner-up in the mayoral race, Helen Klanderud, was not exactly a die-hard, single-issue, anti-rail spokeswoman. Indeed, when asked her position on rail, she told The Aspen Times, “I support the concept of valleywide rail.” Yes, her support was carefully qualified, but that is hardly the stance of someone whose votes should be counted as part of an “anti-rail mandate.” Klanderud nearly won the election thanks to her positions on any number of issues, her past record of service as an elected official and as a volunteer activist, and her popularity as a person. To say a vote for Klanderud was a vote against rail does her a disservice.
Rail aside, however, there is the matter of the large field of candidates, which itself is problematic in so small a town as this. Richards won with a scant plurality, and will for the next two years be constantly badgered by claims from her detractors that she does not truly represent Aspen.
This should not be allowed to happen again, and to avoid it we must begin the process of making provisions for run-off elections in years when a winning candidate gathers only a plurality, not a clear majority, of the votes cast. That is the only way to give the voters a clear choice and to ensure that whoever wins, wins with the solid backing of at least half the voters.
Moving away from the mayoral contest, it should be noted that the voting for council candidates could be accurately described as having an “anti-rail mandate.”
Tony Hershey, of course, based his entire campaign on his opposition to the idea of a train. Thus, it could be construed that his tally, 751 votes, represents a strong anti-rail contingent among Aspen’s voters.
Tom McCabe, in his campaign, made it clear he is not convinced that the train is practical in this valley, and this economy, although he said many other things and was not so clearly a one-issue candidate.
The inclusion of these two on the City Council must be viewed as positive.
For too long, there has been a strong perception that the council was trying to ram a train system down the throats of the voters, regardless of citizens’ feelings on the matter.
From here on out, that will not be the case. The debate that has raged on the streets, in the bars and on the buses will now take place in the City Council chambers, as well, as pro-rail, anti-rail and sitters-on-the-rail go at the central question: Is a commuter rail system a wise investment in the future of this valley, or is it an impractical pipe dream based on the romantic fantasies of a few train buffs?
And now, on with the show.
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