Richards joins City Council race
Former Mayor Rachel Richards, voicing disappointment and frustration with the Aspen City Council, announced Thursday she will seek a council seat.
Richards is a former two-term council member who also served a term as mayor before she was unseated by Mayor Helen Klanderud in a tight runoff election two years ago. Her entrance into this spring’s council race has long been rumored.
Citing instances of ineffectual government and calling for a more decisive council, Richards said she’ll focus her campaign on Aspen’s vitality.
“My major emphasis in this campaign is the economic and community vitality of Aspen, which are on the ropes right now and are threatened,” she said. “I think anybody who takes home a paycheck in this town should be concerned about our economic vitality.”
She joins incumbents Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe, and challengers Cliff Weiss, Bert Myrin and Torre in the race for the two council seats up for election in May.
Richards, 42, said she decided not to take on Klanderud, who is also up for re-election, fearing the substantive issues would get lost in a popularity/personality contest.
“When I get down to it, I just need a seat at the table,” Richards said. “I don’t really care about titles.”
With a son in college, Richards also needs to keep her full-time job, something she gave up during her two-year term as mayor. She distributes advertising brochures for about 90 clients of Aspen Activities Center, a job she has held 18 years.
Making the rounds and watching the businesses who display brochures in the racks around town come and go has made Richards acutely aware of the economic climate, she said.
“One season after another, it’s another reason why business is off,” she said. “We need to take decisive action.”
As an example, she points to the council’s hesitancy last year to halt the influx of real estate offices into retail spaces.
“We have enough,” she said. Offices selling timeshares “does not define a happening retail core.”
And, she contends, the city is talking about the need for an economic development director and special-events coordinator while overlooking its obvious, existing resources to improve vitality. She pointed to the Wheeler Opera House as an example of such resources.
Richards questioned the wisdom in setting money aside in a Wheeler endowment fund while, at the same time, raising the rates of nonprofit groups that use the facility. Instead, the Wheeler could use its funds to better promote the events it hosts to boost Aspen’s economic vitality and make it easier for struggling nonprofits to hold events at the Wheeler, she said.
She also criticized the council’s refusal to take a stand on the pending war with Iraq and other instances of inaction.
“I think the council should be working to speak out to represent the community,” Richards said.
“We have a council that couldn’t pull off a free Eagles concert. We have a council that couldn’t support a resolution to replace the Maroon Creek bridge,” she said. “That’s inaction on the simplest of issues.”
Plans for a simulcast of an Eagles concert at the Wheeler last year fell through and council members voted down a resolution urging the state to expedite replacement of the bridge.
As a council member, Richards said she’d push for replacement of the bridge and the preservation of both Smuggler and Shadow mountains as open space.
“I’m only one vote, yeah, but I think I’ll be a powerful voice and I’ll bring those decisions to a head,” she said.
As for the controversial highway realignment at the entrance to town, the community is at an impasse and the issue is moot, given the state’s current lack of funding to complete it. The existing entrance is “the answer for now,” she said.
Richards remains an ardent supporter of the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project, but questioned the mix of worker homes proposed by the current council.
The council is moving forward with a first phase of 110 homes, including 75 deed-restricted units and 35 RO, or resident-occupied, lots. RO is the most expensive type of deed-restricted worker housing.
“I don’t want to see any RO out at Burlingame Village,” Richards said. “I do not think we need to go that route. None of my constituents can afford a $600,000 home.”
In all, Burlingame could include up to 330 homes; council discussions for the first 220 units have envisioned just the 35 RO lots slated for phase one.
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