Elizabeth Milias: How about some 2021 electioneering?

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

The Aspen political scene in 2021 is shaping up to be one giant eye-roll. Again. We are exactly six weeks out from our municipal elections when we will elect a mayor and fill two council seats. And yes, unless something unusual happens, it is likely to be as boring as it sounds.

Despite the recent push by our current electeds to boost the pay 60% for those elected to the next council in an effort to attract a wide range of qualified candidates, the slate is in, and upcoming campaign season appears to be one big collective yawn.

Just think, our incumbent mayor, Torre, who has struggled with the more nuanced aspects of the job like keeping his campaign promises, directing and managing the city manager, staying on top of the massive construction project that is the Taj Mahal City Hall, including its ever-growing expenses, and even leading a meeting, is unsurprisingly running for re-election to a second term. Never mind he would surely be happier if the role was that of “Aspen Ambassador,” without all the bureaucratic nonsense and difficult decisions, and more time in a seer-sucker suit, glad-handing at the Food & Wine Classic and other Aspen social events. But despite his mediocrity as mayor, he is a shoe-in for re-election. His sole opponent is housing scofflaw Lee Mulcahy, whose numerous, years-long court battles with APCHA have recently resulted in the forced sale of his home to the housing authority. Currently doing what he can to avoid an actual eviction, Mulcahy and his mother are squatting in the now APCHA-owned property while $500 a day is being drawn down from the escrow account that holds the sales proceeds. The Aspen address of this property is ostensibly the one Mulcahy is using to dubiously register his candidacy.

Current councilwoman Ann Mullins is term-limited out after eight years on council. Her decision not to challenge Torre for mayor is curious, as he narrowly defeated her for the role just two years ago, but the reality of keeping Torre while losing Ann at the council table is, in the end, negligible. But councilman Ward Hauenstein, with just one term under his belt, has changed his “one and done” stance and decided to throw in for another four years. Apparently he wants to be in office to celebrate the grand opening of the Taj with its monolithic third floor, and the new Chase bank at the corner of Monarch and Main where he ensured we would not have an affordable lodge.

We’re looking at one newbie to council for certain, that being whoever is to fill Ann’s seat, and a second if Hauenstein is to be defeated. The seven new contenders include Kimbo Brown-Schirato, a sitting member of P&Z, volunteer firefighter and Clark’s market employee Erin Smiddy, longtime local artist John Doyle, entrepreneur and restaurant owner Mark Reece, ski instructor Jim Stockton, Pitkin County COVID-19 contact tracer Samuel Rose, and small-business owner Casey Endsley. It’s actually a refreshing list of newcomers to the political scene, and any excitement to be had during this campaign season will have to come from this group as they vie for the two open seats.

Remember the days of truly contentious local election battles? Most notable was Hunter S. Thompson’s bid for county sheriff in 1970, the stuff of legends, but numerous more recent municipal races have also engaged and titillated the community. Hotelier Terry Butler ran for mayor against incumbent Bill Stirling when Stirling’s attempt to ban the sale of fur in Aspen became fodder for embarrassing national headlines. She lost by a mere 36 votes. And in 2009, in a classic “capitalist vs. communist” matchup, incumbent mayor Mick Ireland was challenged by his political nemesis, businesswoman Marilyn Marks, in a divisive election that was conducted utilizing the controversial ranked choice vote-counting platform that yielded a re-election victory for Ireland but a multi-year legal battle for the city when Marks challenged access to the ballots for a hand tabulation of the results.

Those were exciting elections. The candidates were known and popular in differing circles, their platforms were clear and their personalities were big. The campaigns were colorful and controversial. With a foil figure like Ireland in the mayoral seat, it was fitting that he was subsequently again targeted in a notorious “Sick of Mick” campaign two years later. In the past decade, there hasn’t been anything close. As we strive to generate greater voter participation with our new in-season election date, a little electioneering excitement certainly wouldn’t hurt. And it sure would be a lot of fun, for a change!

We won’t see anything creative or even interesting from the incumbents, and the mayoral race is a joke, so, to the seven newcomers, welcome to the circus. Please make yourselves known. Don’t force the electorate to rely on virtual online Squirm Nights, Zoom calls or boring questionnaires to get to know you. Spare us the clusters of yard signs at high-traffic intersections. Show us what you’ve got. In a demonstration of what you’ll bring to the council table, make an initial impact by reinvigorating the time-honored tradition of political campaigning in Aspen.

A civil disobedient, The Red Ant was proudly the campaign manager for Marilyn Marks, as well as the instigator of the “Sick of Mick” and “Get Jack Off City Council” campaigns, among others. Contact