The race for mayor
Aspen and Pitkin County political campaigns often follow a predictable formula: Challengers accuse the incumbents of being too tough on growth and claim people want regulations eased, then the challengers get trounced at the polls.This year’s four-candidate race for Aspen mayor doesn’t fit that mold.Instead, the incumbent and one candidate who is already on the City Council find themselves under attack by two challengers who claim the existing council is too growth-oriented.Challengers Bert Myrin and Terry Paulson acknowledge they are working as a team to try to set the tone of the debate. They portray Mayor Helen Klanderud as the leader of a council that allows too much growth, exemplified most clearly by the proposed Burlingame affordable housing project. They claim councilman and mayoral candidate Torre is enthusiastically following Klanderud down the pro-growth path.”If it was just me running, it would be Helen and Torre against me,” said Paulson, who has served on the council since 1993 but can no longer seek the same seat because of term limits.Klanderud said it’s strange finding herself targeted as a pro-growth candidate. She served two terms as a Pitkin County commissioner from 1980 to 1988, after controversial growth controls were in place but had to be vigilantly defended and applied. Klanderud has won two two-year terms as Aspen mayor and is running for a third term on a platform whereby Aspen must continue to grow, slowly, to be successful and economically viable.”I’m clearly not a no-growth candidate. I’m a controlled-growth candidate,” Klanderud said.The most peculiar spin of the campaign revolves around Torre. Paulson and Myrin are trying to convince voters that Torre is too much like Klanderud. Klanderud is happy to align herself with Torre – and to tell voters they should stick with her. Torre will remain on the board, Klanderud is quick to note, because he has two years remaining of his council term.Torre portrays himself as the centrist who would implement a “balanced approach” to growth while preserving much of Aspen’s small-town charm.He said it is incorrect for other candidates to say he is aligned with Klanderud. Their differences, he said, inspired him to run for mayor. For example, Torre has always supported Burlingame, while Klanderud added her support only after the public and council direction was clear. He said he and Paulson share many positions, but he differs from Paulson on approach and process. Torre characterized himself as a mediator and opinion-gatherer, unlike Paulson.Staunch growth foeMyrin entered the mayor race at the eleventh hour, at Paulson’s urging. They figured that if both were in the race, they could steer the direction of the debate.Intuitively their approach seems risky because they could split votes and fail to advance in the event of a runoff election. But both are confident that by working together to focus the campaign debate, at least one of them will make it to the runoff.In Aspen the winner of the mayor’s race must receive at least 50 percent of the ballots cast, plus one vote. If no candidate achieves that majority in the May 3 election, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election.Myrin, 37, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2003, acknowledged that he and Paulson share many positions. They are both outspoken critics of the city’s plan to build Burlingame.For Myrin, Aspen and the entire Roaring Fork Valley are fouling their nest by developing too much. The signature at the bottom of Myrin’s e-mail messages includes a scenic picture of Aspen taken from the hills above. The message sarcastically states, “It’s beautiful. Let’s develop it.””Things have changed so much. I’m not sure that growth is sustainable,” he said.Myrin feels betrayed by Klanderud. He worked on her first campaign because their positions were so similar. After she won, he claimed she recruited him to serve on the planning commission. Myrin joined that volunteer board, but later wasn’t reappointed. He said Klanderud and the council were angered by his opposition to their “infill” policies, in which they eased regulations and attempted to steer development into vacant land within town boundaries. “We’re 180 degrees different from one another – definitely on Burlingame and infill,” Myrin said about Klanderud. “In a couple of years Terry hasn’t changed, I haven’t changed, Helen has changed.”He’s willing to bet that the majority of Aspen voters are more aligned with him than Klanderud on growth.’Smaller is better’Paulson said his vision for leading the town is inspired by trips he has taken to Europe. Towns there have concentrated on staying small, sustainable and vital. “Sustainability, in a nutshell, is what I’d strive for,” he said. “Smaller is better.”For him, sustainability means doing what you are doing for perpetuity. Aspen cannot do that on the track Klanderud and the current council are following, he said.”I feel pretty strongly on that. The last few votes have told me that,” he said.The council has changed its codes and eased requirements on developers to encourage infill development. The result will be big boxy buildings that block views and alter the town’s scale “by changing the face of Aspen,” according to Paulson.He is also opposed to the city’s contribution to growth with its plan to build Burlingame.Paulson, 54, a taxi driver and guest-services worker for United Express, has won election to three four-year terms on the council. He has served since 1993 and enjoys high name recognition and a reputation for defending the environment. But he often finds himself opposed to the rest of the council and is seen as the odd man out – one who doesn’t work well with the rest of the board.It begs the question of whether Paulson could apply leadership skills to implement his vision. He said leadership comes in different forms. He said he isn’t “the bold, charismatic guy that charges forward and all that stuff. I’m a little more subtle.”He said he builds grass-roots support and feels he has a good feel for the pulse of the town.Like Myrin, he feels betrayed by Klanderud. He said he supported her candidacy when she first ran for mayor because she wanted to “calm things down a bit” on growth. Since then she’s become more of a proponent for growth, he claimed.Paulson ran against Klanderud in 2003 and lost. He said there weren’t enough differences to distinguish him then. “It’s a bigger gap now than it was before.” he said.Proud of her recordJust as challengers often have to go on the attack in political campaigns, incumbents often stand on their records. That’s exactly what Helen Klanderud is doing.She noted that she was once opposed to Burlingame, like Paulson. But voters supported the project and the city’s community plan, created by residents, sets a goal of housing 60 percent of Aspen’s work force. For those reasons, Klanderud said she dropped her opposition to Burlingame and worked to make it the best project possible.She reaffirmed she has always been a “big supporter” of infill development because it courts growth where growth should be.Nevertheless, she said, Aspen continues to grow more slowly than its growth-control plans envisioned.”We’ve been below our growth quotas for five years,” she said. “I don’t see Aspen becoming bigger. I see it getting better.”She invited voters to examine her record closely and they will see she supports controlled growth. She criticized the absolutist stance of Paulson and Myrin as unrealistic and unhealthy. Aspen is a tourist town that must continually attract tourists, and make sure they return, she said.”I certainly hope that no-growth doesn’t mean reducing our tourist base,” Klanderud said. “That would be suicide.”If it doesn’t grow at all, it dies. We could go back to the quiet years. Some people, I guess, would like that.”When Klanderud, 67, discusses her vision, it’s not as simple or clear-cut as her opponents’ calls for slower growth. It’s more of a polished approach, helping Aspen evolve while maintaining its special character, she said. She uses terms like “looking after the health, welfare and needs of its citizens” and building economic prosperity.She also stressed the need to build budget reserves in case of another economic downturn as Aspen suffered after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.Seeking balanceTorre said the political positioning that his three opponents have already exercised in the campaign “is a little disappointing.” But he has an explanation for it.”I don’t think any of the three other candidates want to be in a runoff with me,” he said.Torre is particularly disappointed about the efforts to lump him and Klanderud together. A careful examination of his voting record would show they are different. In fact, he claims he has voted opposite from Klanderud more often than any other council member.Torre said he doesn’t want Aspen to tip too heavily in favor of the needs of owners of second homes or fractional units. He voted against a variety of projects he said gave away too much to developers of high-end residential projects.However, he said he opposes the no-growth positions of Myrin and Paulson. He wants to strike a balance that will keep Aspen economically viable and fresh but honor its past.Torre lamented that high rents have forced the closure of some businesses, while other longtime institutions have had to change the uses of their properties.”I shed tears this last weekend [April 9-10] over some places we’re losing,” he said, noting the closures of the Skiers Chalet and Mother Lode restaurants.”I don’t think Aspen is in a good balance or equilibrium,” he said. He aims to find that balance as mayor.Even though he is a younger candidate and supports changes the Aspen Skiing Co. has made to bring in a younger, hipper crowd with events like the X Games, he stressed that he respects Aspen’s past.”We don’t want to punk out Aspen,” he said.The city election is May 3. In addition to the mayor’s race, seven candidates are running for two council positions. Voters will also be asked to cast ballots on the annexation of land for Burlingame.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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