Rachel Richards won’t seek March re-election to Aspen City Council
Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards announced Thursday she plans to step away from what will be nearly 30 years in public office after she completes her term this spring.
“This has been very, very difficult decision for me,” she told a group of reporters gathered in the dining area of New York Pizza, the venue Richards selected for the press conference. “I’ve given it a lot of thought. But at the end of the day, I wanted to let the community know I will not be running again in the upcoming election. And I wanted to get out there primarily because I think there are people holding off on whether they want to step forward when they think they’re going to be running against an incumbent who has won nine out of 10 races.”
Richards would be up for re-election in the March municipal elections. Candidate petitions will be made available in November.
Now 61, Richards first landed on Aspen City Council in 1991, which was when George H.W. Bush was president and Richards was 29 years old. That began a 12-year run on the council, with Richards serving two four-year terms as a member and one two-year term as mayor.
“I feel like I’ve worked for close to 30 years now for the locals,” said Richards, who works at City Market and owns a deed-restricted unit at Hunter Creek. “I’ve worked blue-collar jobs to go along with this, to be able to make the sacrifice, to make the hours work.”
The one blemish on Richards’ record came in 2001 when she was up for re-election in the race for Aspen mayor, losing to the late Helen Klanderud in the June runoff by 49 votes. Richards returned to public office in 2007 after winning a seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners in a tight contest with Jim True, who went on to become the city attorney. Richards garnered 3,299 votes to True’s 2,965.
She would stay on the commission for 12 years until leaving in 2019 because of term limits. She ran again for City Council in 2019, winning the seat she currently holds.
Richards built her political reputation on a progressive agenda focused on worker housing, transportation, nonprofits and the arts, water rights, child care, open space preservation, community wellbeing and other issues. Richards said she has no intentions to run for a higher office but she will remain politically active.
“I am finishing my term, of course,” she said. “It goes through April and it’s not a resignation or anything like that. But, I think, this last couple of years has been really hard. The pandemic took out a lot of people, it changed our town a lot. I have felt my patience waning, and you really need patience for a job like this and to move forward. But there are a lot of very, very important decisions that will face the town in the future. And that’s been the hardest part to walk away from, to be part of those decisions and part of protecting the intent of such things as our housing program. It’s about having a real community here and still building beds for children and not just worker dorms. Having our seniors who have built the community still have a place and the respect they deserve for those efforts.”
Richards, who moved to Aspen in 1978, said she is proud of the work she has done, which has included preserving the old Yellow Brick and Red Brick schoolhouse buildings for community uses like day care and arts programming.
“I’ve really done everything I could and worked as hard as I could to try to protect the town, to uphold its values, to work to support the natural environment — all the good guy causes — and again it’s been really rewarding,” she said.
Richards has campaigned tenaciously for voter-approved taxes supporting open space, resort marketing and the health of local rivers and streams; she advocated for the the voter-approved Aspen Recreation Center in 2001 (the ARC opened in 2003); she pushed for the Burlingame Ranch worker housing project; and she’s behind the unbuilt 277-unit Lumberyard Housing project at the base of Deer Hill and across from the airport.
While Richards covered her plans to not seek re-election in the press briefing, she also was campaigning for the passage of question 2A, which goes to Aspen voters in November. If 2A passes, a 5% tax would placed on the rental fee for lodge-exempt-permitted and owner-occupied-permitted residential units, while other STR units would be taxed 10%. Richards said said the short-term rental market has siphoned away free-market housing that could be used by working professionals. The problem is prevalent not just in Aspen but all over the Roaring Fork Valley, she said.
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