Meet the new Aspen mayor
The Aspen Times
Steve Skadron said he doesn’t consider himself a politician.
Therefore, when people call him “mayor,” it feels a bit strange to him.
“I haven’t adjusted to it yet,” Skadron said Friday, four days after being sworn in to the top elected spot in Aspen city government.
“So many people are talking to me,” he continued. “It’s like I’m the mayor. Oh, wait. I am.”
Skadron was elected after besting fellow Councilman Torre in a June 4 runoff. Officially, he finished with 920 votes, or 52.5 percent, while Torre garnered 833 votes, or 47.5 percent.
In the general election May 7, Skadron topped the six-man field, which included four sitting council members: him, Torre, Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson. Republican Maurice Emmer and city Planning and Zoning Commissioner L.J. Erspamer also had their hats in the ring.
“I tell you what has humbled me,” Skadron said. “People use the word ‘our.’ As in ‘There’s our new mayor.’ That really touches me. It reminds me of the community-service component of the job, and that’s what was important to me all along.
“You do this for the people. It’s really a privilege to be in this seat.”
Skadron agreed with an assessment that it was odd that all four council members vied for the mayorship, which opened up because Mick Ireland, who held the office for six years, was term-limited from seeking re-election.
“Maybe there was the thought that just as Mick has served for six years — or Helen Klanderud served for six years prior to that — the next opportunity would be in six years, that whoever won the seat now would serve for six years,” Skadron said. “I never considered or agreed with that (premise). It’s one election at a time.”
Skadron said he believes one of the main reasons he came away with the victory was because of his proven track record: four years on the city Planning and Zoning Commission and six years as a council member. When he won the runoff early this month, he was midway through his second consecutive four-year council term, having been elected in 2007 and 2011.
To get elected, you have to put a certain amount of time in local government and vote in a way that generally reflects the feelings of a majority in the community, Skadron said.
“I don’t know that that track record really existed for the other candidates,” he said. “It takes a long time to learn these positions. It took me two years on (the Planning and Zoning Commission) and two years on council to really click, to understand the media pressures and to learn that the decisions you make affect people’s lives.
“It’s one thing to sit up there and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on building developments or affordable housing; it’s a whole other thing to understand the effect your vote has on real lives. Like with Burlingame II (affordable-housing development); you build it and more Aspen workers can live here — otherwise they have to go and live in Carbondale or somewhere where it’s more affordable.”
Skadron, 50, hails from St. Paul, Minn., and is the product of a suburban household rooted in moderate Judaism.
He has an older sister and two younger brothers. His father was a veterinarian and a Republican during an era when the mainstream GOP was a lot more centrist.
“It was a good family,” Skadron said. “We were tight. My dad has the classic story; he came from nothing, lost his father to a car accident when he was 9 years old. They were living in North Dakota. He learned to fend for himself. We’re kind of a do-it-yourself family, and I learned a lot of that from my dad. He was in a white-collar profession, but he had a blue-collar work ethic. I see that in me, also.”
Unlike Ireland, who endorsed Skadron and assisted his campaign, Skadron was never bitten by the political bug during his youth. As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he was active on the campus, joining various committees as a way of being active from a “public service” perspective, he said. But his involvement was never bent toward any ideological cause.
“I had an affinity for the social aspect of involvement,” he said.
Not long after earning his Bachelor of Science in Business degree, he moved to Boston. He worked a variety of jobs, including waiting tables at a Bennigan’s chain restaurant. He eventually decided to continue his education and went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from Northeastern University.
Northeastern offered accelerated work-study programs that gave Skadron the chance to travel, one of his favorite pastimes to this day.
“They had a program where you could do an exchange, and I got to work and then go to France for a semester as part of that exchange,” he said. “Travel has always been a big part of me. When I was 19, my dad made me an offer, which was very out of character for him, and bought me a plane ticket that allowed me to backpack through Europe. So in 1983, I did the classic college Eurail trip through the major countries.”
He described a less-than-joyful pass through the former Soviet country of Yugoslavia.
“It was so absolutely scary,” Skadron said. “It felt like a Soviet-influenced country, with the guards and the stern looks and that kind of thing.”
He had a frightful experience when trying to leave the country, dealing with a train attendant who rudely called him “Kennedy” and made a “cut-throat gesture.” The man threatened to kick him off the train for lack of a ticket, and he later held Skadron’s arm at a railroad platform during a crew switch after Skadron had finally secured a ticket and the same train, which he needed, was departing.
There was another man who helped Skadron, a sketchy character who Skadron suspects may have been smuggling something using coffee as a red herring.
“I’ve never been back,” he said, laughing. “The country doesn’t exist. So the joke’s on them. They should have been nice to me.”
Becoming an Aspenite
After completing his MBA, Skadron worked different jobs and continued to travel, especially to ski towns, which brought him into contact with Aspen.
“I wanted to live in a ski town,” he said.
He moved to Aspen in December 1995, with all of his belongings in a 1985 Jeep Cherokee, and lived for a time in a friend’s loft area, sleeping in a space where he couldn’t stand up.
He worked a number of jobs, finding employment at The Aspen Club when it was owned by Dick Butera, and also Aspen Sports, where he continues to pitch in from time to time.
He drifted into the advertising-marketing world, taking low-paying jobs for Aspen firms and learning as he went along. He developed skills and affinity for the new technology that was changing the industry in the late 1990s.
Ten years ago, he launched Spooner Skadron, his own marketing company. His office is in the Living Arts Studio building on North Mill Street.
Serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission shaped his council tenure, he said. Today, Skadron is considered an advocate for slow growth in the city, although he points out that he’s certainly not opposed to all new development.
“I like change and progress, but I think it needs to be appropriate,” he said. “I think what I was seeing was change that served personal interests, not community interests. What I valued here was that sense of community that results in quality of life. It took me a long time to understand what those buzzwords mean, but I get it now.
“I’ve always been respectful of the work of previous generations. My careful approach on development speaks to an honor of the past with recognition for future needs. It also might have something to do with growing up Jewish. In the synagogue I came up in, we always talked about the importance of understanding the past, perhaps from the tragedies the Jewish people experienced.”
Skadron said he is both praised and criticized for being “thoughtful” in his approach to civic matters.
“A vote has consequences,” he said. “It’s not just a vote. I want to understand what the effect of my decisions will be.”
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