The personal is political in the Aspen City Council race
Everyone in Aspen has a story, including political candidates.How people got here originally, and why they stayed, has as much to do with their policy positions as their campaign contributors. And walking the walk in local politics is about what car you drive – Hummer, hybrid or something between – and whether you’re a “dirt pimp” or a “tree hugger.”In an Aspen City Council race where candidates talk about saving the “soul of Aspen,” and take positions on development, affordable housing and traffic, personal choices play as big a part as policy chatter.We asked candidates about their personal lives – how they got here, where they live and work, and how they commute – and matched that with some of their policies.Candidate Hassen Dagher was out of town on a personal matter and unavailable for an interview.
When LJ Erspamer came back from the war in Vietnam in 1970, he landed in Aspen while wandering between his native Minnesota and Southern California.I showed up here with $50 in my pocket, Erspamer said. People took him in and he got a job on the mountain to earn a lift ticket. He wore a wig to cover his long hair at a restaurant job and earned the name Little John (thus LJ) to distinguish him from other Johns at work. He spent that first summer living in the woods under his old army rain poncho.I lived hand to mouth probably until I met my wife, Erspamer joked.A ski patroller for 16 years, Erspamer said he loves Aspens small-town feel, the outdoors and being around so many outdoor enthusiasts.Erspamer became a self-described dirt pimp in 1997 to support his wife and two kids, and bought a free-market unit when he could afford it. He has since upgraded to a house on Spruce Street.His experience as a real estate agent would come in handy on the council because Erspamer could help broker affordable housing deals with property owners and, he hopes, bring people back to the downtown core.He said recent development has been too big, too fast and called for sustainable development in the future.I like that old-town feeling to our community, Erspamer said, and wants to guard the historic storefronts, but feels the current historic preservation program is too subjective.In order to get around, Erspamer usually takes the bus and walks but also burns 10 to 15 gallons per week in the family car. Trying to get people out of their cars is like saying youre going to bring democracy to Iraq, Erspamer said. He supports a menu of small but interrelated measures to ease congestion.Expanding pedestrian malls in the core would encourage more people to walk, he said, and putting more parking outside of town, or in spots like under the Wienerstube, which now has an application before P&Z, would give drivers a place to leave their vehicles.Give me a good idea and Ill support it, Erspamer said of the Entrance conundrum.
After a career as a movie promoter and consultant in New York, Andrew Kole followed a girlfriend to Aspen in 1998.She left; I stayed, Kole said. He likes Aspen because the town is relaxing and he stumbled into work in local radio and TV. (He still consults in the film industry also.) He is best-known around town as host of a talk show on GrassRoots Television.An earlier run for City Council and another for the mayors seat were admittedly more for my show, he said, but a bid for the school board was in earnest and so is this run for council, he said.Kole rents a condominium on Cooper Avenue in Aspen.Affordable housing is for people who need something And I dont need it, Kole said. He supports the program but thinks it is mismanaged, with the existing inventory underused and an unclear goal for how many more must be created.Kole doesnt like the woe is me attitude about development. Not long ago, he said, many of Aspens stores were empty, and locals clamored for new investment. Now that the economy is strong, locals want to put the brakes on redevelopment.Though a supporter of historic preservation, Kole said the department needs to be revamped, and historic designation needs to be supported by facts and numbers, not whimsy.Kole walks to town and rides a scooter in summers, but he regularly drives to the GrassRoots studio in order to lug gear, he said.I dont like cars, he said. He used to drive a beatup car he didnt have to worry about, but now has a 2005 Toyota Freelander.We talk, we dont do, Kole said about finding solutions to traffic congestion. Aspen is unlikey to reach consensus on the Entrance to Aspen anytime soon, Kole said, but the solution lies in getting cars off city streets by raising parking fines and building parking structures outside of town.If it were up to Kole, there would be a fabulous subway system, but he admitted its unlikely.Years of televised discussions about city policy make him the most informed candidate, Kole said. He added that he knows how to ask tough questions and negotiate.
Toni Kronberg grew up near the ocean in New Jersey, where she developed a love of the outdoors and swimming. She moved to Aspen in 1978 “to learn how to ski,” she said.”I’m one of those people who fell in love with the mountains,” Kronberg said. While going from “one great job to another” – Kronberg is a certified EMT, has worked as a ski patroller and physical trainer, teaches swimming and works with horses – somewhere along the line Aspen captured her heart.Kronberg said her “part-time full-time job” is volunteering on local issue campaigns – everything from advocating for another pool at the Aspen Recreation Center to fighting the recent city proposal for a new recycling center near Rio Grande Park.She lives in a caretaker unit on Spring Street, and previously stayed in seasonal housing at Burlingame.”I’m a worker bee,” Kronberg said, but she doesn’t qualify for housing lotteries because she volunteers quite a bit and doesn’t work full time. “I see a lot of frustration,” Kronberg said of people who can’t find housing in Aspen, and her situation makes her empathize.Kronberg doesn’t see a real solution to the housing shortage in “infill” projects, or forcing developers to cram employee housing on already-crowded sites, or going up additional floors to accommodate employee units. She prefers a fund that developers could pay into that would develop affordable housing elsewhere.Kronberg said she supports not only preserving historic structures but also the land around them, instead of lot splits that gobble up adjacent gardens and paths.”I encourage development but not when it is out of character with the existing buildings,” Kronberg said.”I opt not to drive because it’s easy to take the bus,” Kronberg said, and though she owns a car she rarely drives and sometimes carpools. Kronberg is committed to “making transit solutions work. And that means taking the bus.”Transportation issues are what drive Kronberg’s campaign, she said. She is pleased the city is asking voters for permission to add two bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout, but added that there is no consensus about the actual Entrance to Aspen.”We can’t do anything unless we reopen the record of decision,” Kronberg said.
Michael O’Sullivan moved to Aspen “kicking and screaming” from Miami when his parents bought a lodge in 1976.”But I fell in love with Aspen when I moved here,” he said.He graduated from Aspen High School in 1978, studied in Durango, then had a five-year career as a stockbroker in Atlanta.”I got burnt out in the big city,” O’Sullivan said, and after meeting his wife in Florida, they moved to Aspen where he started a painting and property management business.O’Sullivan entered a “dozen lotteries” but never won, rented at the Centennial housing complex, bought a condo in Basalt and was “just another car on the road” before landing an affordable unit near Aspen High School where he lives with his wife and two children, 8 and 1.”I’m a big supporter of affordable housing. It’s the reason I’m still here,” O’Sullivan said. And he called the city’s affordable housing program a model.”Like many in Aspen, I’m just not too crazy about the explosion in development,” O’Sullivan said, and he said the pendulum has swung a bit too far, a time for stiffening of city codes and preserving historic structures to save the town’s “heart and soul,” he said.O’Sullivan said he was an early advocate of infill during an earlier bid for mayor. And he encouraged foresight on affordable housing projects like Burlingame which could have been “a bunch of monster homes,” O’Sullivan said.”Government went too far” with limits on the renovation of the Hotel Jerome. “Now we’re going to get condos,” he said, and spoke in support of projects like the Lodge at Aspen Mountain.O’Sullivan drives because his business requires him to be mobile, and transportation is one of the biggest reasons he’s running, he said.”It’s brain damage,” O’Sullivan said of the city traffic, which can mean a half-hour wait to get back to town when he goes on an errand to the Airport Business Center. “We’re sticking it to the working man.”A longtime supporter of the Straight-shot entrance, O’Sullivan said he supports the preferred alternative solution – a new four-lane highway connection to Main Street with two lanes dedicated to buses – because it’s better than the status quo. “We’ve looked at everything before.”
Dwayne Romero and his wife moved to Carbondale 10 years ago and did a “reverse migration” upvalley. “Like salmon swimming upstream,” he joked.Originally from Texas, the West Point graduate served seven years as an engineer in the Army, earning a Bronze Star for service in the Gulf War and later an MBA from Harvard Business School.It was a job as a project manager for Gerald Hines at Aspen Highlands Village that brought Romero to Aspen, but he fell in love with the mountains and the town, he said.”It’s a wonderful family neighborhood,” Romero said of his home off Cemetery Lane, something uncommon in a town with so many second homes.Romero runs a development firm that manages projects in Aspen and Vail.To get around town, Romero rides what he calls a “Pee Wee Herman-looking bike” when weather permits, but he uses his Toyota Prius to carry his three young kids.”I believe affordable housing is not a problem, but a campaign to build on,” Romero said. The goal is to have more people “live, work and play in one town,” and Romero is proud that his work has generated 164 affordable residences.Romero said he knows the development field and advocates slow growth.As current president and a four-year board member of the Aspen Historical Society, Romero said preserving buildings is just as important to the “fabric of the town” as building community through housing.As a longtime valley commuter, Romero understands the frustrations of folks stuck in traffic, but said the urge to build our way out of the problem must be tempered with the need to maintain Aspen’s small-town feel. The ultimate answer to Aspen traffic is a long way away, he said, and Romero believes in short- and midterm solutions, including improved mass transit and more intercept lots.”I want my kids to grow up here,” Romero said of his reason for running. “This call to duty for me is authentic.”
“I wanted to live in a ski town for a while,” Steve Skadron said, and that’s why he moved to Aspen from St. Paul, Minn., in 1995.Armed with an MBA, Skadron came to Aspen with goals, and found a balance between his passion for the outdoors – he is an accomplished marathon runner – and professional achievement. Skadron runs a marketing firm and owns a free-market condo in Hunter Creek.He joined the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission four years ago to “have some impact on the direction of the town.””My position grows out of my values,” Skadron said of his take on affordable housing in the community, and said he wants a more “balanced Aspen.”High-end retail stores such as Prada and Gucci are great, he said, but “the town is better off with a more moderate mix.””I think all of our problems could be addressed if we could add to our affordable housing base,” Skadron said, and city infill might be important, but not when it means adding extra floors to a building.”I think for the most part we all benefit from development,” Skadron said. He supports moderate development, but was careful to distinguish development (of buildings) from growth (in population). Skadron does not support tearing down buildings to put up structures that look like any other town, and said maintaining the city’s historic character is vital. He supported the city’s moratorium on new development applications.Skadron does nothing more than “roll out of bed” in his commute to his home office. Driving is his “fourth option” after walking, cycling and taking the bus, and he logs more hours running and cycling than driving.”I am an enormous advocate for transportation options that prioritize mass transit,” Skadron said.He supports another look at the split-shot and short-term fixes to the S-Curves at the Entrance to Aspen. To Skadron, the preferred alternative is “intimidating” and would mean “four lanes of hot blacktop,” and cars “roaring across open space into town.”
After college in Indiana, Michael Wampler landed in Aspen in 1976 and liked the ski bum life so much he stayed.An avid bike racer, Wampler opened his first bike shop in 1984 and has been in the same spot in Aspen for 20 years.A father of two boys, ages 9 and 12, Wampler lives in a deed-restricted house on Williams Road in Aspen.”I’m into having fun,” Wampler said, and that means meeting people, getting out on the road and the hill, and running his business.”I’m very lucky,” Wampler said of his home with a garage and basement, and Wampler believes affordable housing is vital to keeping working people in Aspen.While the housing program is cutting-edge, unique and a model for other communities, it needs some tweaking, Wampler said. New projects need 100 percent affordable housing for employees, and the town might look one day like a healthy European burg, where shopkeepers and employees live above every shop, he said.”You either grow or you die,” Wampler said of development.But, Wampler said, “enough is enough” and with more than 1 million square feet of planned construction in the pipeline, things needs to slow down. He believes in limiting construction hours further, with no construction allowed on Saturdays.He supports historic designation “as long as it makes sense,” adding that current codes might earn his mundane ’60s-era shop an historic designation.Wampler drives his Dodge pickup truck to work most days to carry gear and cart his kids to after-school activities. But he logs many miles on his bicycle and said the local bus system is “to die for. We’re very fortunate to have that.”As for traffic issues, Wampler said, “I’m an S-curves guy.” The best solution to Aspen’s traffic woes is a three-lane road with a multiuse center lane for traffic mornings and evenings. “I think it’s manageable,” he said of the existing curves, and suggested the town buy the highway from the Colorado Department of Transportation and slow traffic to 15 mph (the current limit is 25).”I’m running for my kids and for the benefit of Aspen,” he said. “I desperately care about this town.” He is frustrated with the direction of the council, and said he’s tired of defending Aspen to others. He promised definitive answers, not talk.
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