Ittner, Johnson square off |

Ittner, Johnson square off

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesPitkin County commissioner candidates Rob Ittner, left, and Jack Johnson debate the issues Thursday at Squirm Night in Aspen.

ASPEN – Jack Johnson hammered on his experience and past public service, while Rob Ittner offered a series of promises to the electorate as the two candidates for the District 1 Pitkin County commissioner seat squared off in a Squirm Night debate Thursday at Aspen City Hall.

The two men fielded questions from the press, the audience and each other. Not unsurprisingly, the website, an unflattering collection of video clips and e-mails associated with Johnson during his term on the City Council, came up quickly.

Ittner called it a “distraction” and reiterated his desire that it be taken down, but declined to comment on whether it has helped or hurt his campaign. Local blogger Elizabeth Milias has taken credit for its creation.

“I think it has helped me,” Johnson said. “I think it has sort of galvanized an awareness of what the issues are and what they are not.

“I think negative campaigning works, but sometimes it backfires,” he said.

Both men decried negative campaigning. Ittner said he has awakened “sick to my stomach about the stuff written about me.”

Johnson was pressed to defend e-mails he wrote as a councilman regarding an emergency historic-preservation ordinance in which he attempted to gauge support for the measure individually from his council colleagues before bringing it forward.

It violated neither the state’s open-meetings laws or rules that prohibit council members from talking outside of a hearing on applications that come before them, he said. The ordinance was not a land-use application.

“To suggest that legislators are not supposed to talk to each other seems to me contrary to conducting the public’s business,” he said.

Ittner was asked to identify what he would cut from the county budget in order to fund a rebate to employers to fuel job creation and retention, an idea he proffered at a campaign appearance in Woody Creek.

He said he offered it as an example of his “dynamic thinking” rather than a fully vetted proposal. “Ideas need to start somewhere,” Ittner said, adding that he wasn’t sure anything would need to be cut from the budget.

“I think on the ground, what he proposed was ill-conceived,” Johnson countered. “I think it’s important to know the implications of what we propose.”

“This is the same old, non-productive criticism – putting something down,” Ittner responded. “The point is, this is an idea, and it should be welcome.”

Asked what they will look for in a new county manager – a position the county is in the process of filling – both candidates called for experience. Johnson said the new manager needs to understand the “particular challenges” of the county, citing affordable housing and open space. Ittner called for someone who has a vision to get people to work together to accomplish defined goals.

Both men shied away from naming three specific people they’d look to for advice on key issues or in a crisis. Johnson said he’d look to Mayor Mick Ireland and Commissioner Rachel Richards if the issue was housing. Pressed, he named Aspen Times columnist Su Lum and Aspen Daily News editor Carolyn Sackariason as other individuals he trusts.

Ittner offered the names of three people he sought out as he prepared for Squirm Night – former Mayor Helen Klanderud, lodge owner Michael Behrendt and “my golf buddy, Charlie.”

Asked if he would support various Republicans running for office in Colorado and how he would vote on Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, Ittner declined to answer, but later said he would vote no on 60, 61 and 101.

“I’m voting no on all those people and all those issues,” Johnson said, urging the audience to do the same.

“It’s not enough for civic-minded people to only campaign for themselves,” Johnson said, urging citizens to campaign for Democrats – the “progressive” individuals that he suggested best represent the local community.

On the topic of instant runoff voting, Johnson said he continues to support its use in the city but doesn’t see a need for it in the county, which separates commissioner races into districts and doesn’t see huge fields of candidates for a post. He said he doesn’t think the city should release images of the ballots from the May 2009 city election – something activist Marilyn Marks is seeking in a lawsuit.

“I think the city should follow the law as they’ve done all along. I think to do otherwise is stupid,” said Johnson, referring to releasing the images.

Ittner said the city should follow the law, but acknowledged he doesn’t know what the law is and that it is a matter of dispute.

When Ittner, an avid outdoor enthusiast, asked Johnson what he’d be doing in November, after the Nov. 2 election, Johnson said: “I’m going to be knitting. I’m working on these really cool new designs.”

In summation, Johnson stressed that commissioners govern over unincorporated Pitkin County, not the city.

“I know what office I’m running for and you know where I stand,” he said.

Ittner promised to respect community values and the opinions and ideas of others, and never to assume he knows someone else’s position. He also promised to listen and make decisions with an open mind. And, he promised to apologize for his mistakes.

The debate will be rebroadcast on Saturday at noon and 8:30 p.m. on GrassRoots TV and will be available at Friday afternoon.

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