Andy Stone: A right to `change her mind’? No, it’s not nearly that simple
September 11, 2003
I have always been somewhat ambivalent about the Burlingame affordable housing project.
Certainly, providing affordable housing is a worthy goal for this community. Certainly, Aspen has lost a lot of its character – yes, I’ll use the word, its “soul” – as the working class … and the middle class … and the upper-middle class have all been forced out of town by the bizarre real estate prices.
And, certainly, Burlingame is an excellent opportunity – perhaps the last opportunity – to make a serious dent in the housing shortage.
And yet, it’s too big. And it’s in the wrong place. And it’s too far out of town. And … and … and you know all the arguments.
It’s an easy project to hate. It’s a hard project to love. Everything’s wrong with it … except for the fact that it’s affordable housing.
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And we need affordable housing.
I remember agonizing long and hard over the editorial in which The Aspen Times gave its endorsement on the Burlingame question in a citywide election three years ago. Our editorial board debated at great length, and I wound up writing most of the editorial, spelling out the pros and cons of the project, before I knew whether the last few lines would urge voters to approve or reject the project.
I had mixed feelings when I wrote the sentences urging citizens to vote “Yes” on Burlingame.
And I had mixed feelings when the voters did exactly that and approved the project by a substantial margin.
So, yes, I am indeed ambivalent about Burlingame.
But I am not ambivalent about politicians who break their promises to the voters.
I am not ambivalent about politicians who act in direct opposition to the will of the voters.
And that seems to be what’s happening in Aspen.
Mayor Helen Klanderud cast a vote this week to kill the Burlingame project.
In a way, that’s not surprising. Klanderud has long made her distaste for the project very clear. She was against it from the start. During the campaign leading up to the Burlingame election, Klanderud was prominent in her opposition.
So, on one level, we shouldn’t be surprised that she voted against it this week.
But, in her own campaign for mayor, a hotly contested race, not long after the Burlingame election, Klanderud promised to respect the will of the voters.
And her margin of victory in that race was so narrow that it is easy to believe that she would have been defeated by her strongly pro-Burlingame opponent if she had not promised to abide by the vote in favor of the project.
That was three years ago and this spring, running for a second term, Klanderud repeated her vow to accept the will of the voters on Burlingame.
Now, she has apparently decided to declare that promise “inoperative.”
When asked about her decision, Klanderud said, in her defense, that over time people have the right to change their minds.
If she had been talking about her right to change her mind about Burlingame itself, she would have been right.
Indeed, even though I do not approve of politicians breaking campaign promises, if Klanderud had campaigned on a pro-Burlingame platform and then, later, changed her mind and decided she opposed the project, I would reluctantly support her right to do that.
But that’s not what’s happening here.
Helen Klanderud has always been opposed to Burlingame and she has not changed her mind in the least about that.
What she is “changing her mind” about is her willingness to accept the clearly stated will of the voters.
And she most certainly does not have the right to change her mind about that.
Yes, this is a “representative democracy,” which means we elect officials to make decisions for us. And sometimes those officials make decisions that the voters, if asked, would not approve.
But in this case, the voters were asked. And their answer was clear.
And Klanderud, in turn, was asked if she would accept the will of the voters. And her answer was clear.
For her to now declare that she has changed her mind is unacceptable.
For her to turn her back on a promise to accept the will of the voters is deeply discouraging. It is deeply cynical. It is deeply undemocratic.
And, again, bear in mind … I don’t really like Burlingame all that much. If at all.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]