Mesirow: Let’s go bold, and doable
Early in planning my campaign, I made a conscious decision: In my reelection, I would prioritize moving the conversation first and winning second.
I wasn’t going to guess what voters wanted to hear and tell you that. It would be easy to give vague platitudes supportive of housing, environment and community, free of meaningful policy detail, and win.
This would not move our community forward. Rather, I would listen deeply, work hard, share honestly, and know any outcome was the right one for our community.
In 1969 Joe Edwards ran for mayor. In his campaign ad, Joe, backed by the Citizens for Community, said, “Generalities will not solve the problems. We need specific solutions.” Old models were no longer working, and a change in approach was needed to achieve the historic vision from the ’40s. Joe and his team laid out a specific platform that took Elizabeth Paepcke’s initial vision and transformed it into policy. Affordable housing, parks, open space, downzoning, growth control, walking malls, and environmental reforms: It was all there in black and white.
(View courtesy of the Aspen Historical Society: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=skippymesirow&set=a.10109997558594333)
These changes made Aspen what we love today. Many of us take them for granted as foregone conclusions. They weren’t at the time. What was seen as radical and controversial mere decades ago are now the things we love most.
Joe took a gun to council meetings in response to death threats. The malls, a whittled-down version of the initial “Mall It All” proposal, took 17 years to complete. Affordable housing was seen by many as a crime against American capitalism and vehemently opposed by red-faced protesters at council meetings. These changes happened doggedly and intentionally as Joe and Dwight Shellman and later Michael Kinsley brought people together across their differences.
Now as then, we face challenges. Now as then, we are unbelievably lucky to have inherited the best mountain town in the world. Now as then, there is a shared and pervasive sense of unease and decline. Now as then, we can solve our challenges with bold policies to achieve a historical vision and leave a legacy to our children and their children’s children.
Aspen does deserve better.
We won’t get it by talking about Aspen’s decline in our silos while pointing, shaming and blaming others, hoping that applying the same policy solutions will yield different results. These ants need to work together.
We have taken the policy frameworks created to solve the problems of the 1980s, or in the case of our democratic systems, the 1780s, to the end of their usefulness. We must now update our policy approach and create new systems and structures to meet today’s reality and revive that initial Aspen vision we love so much, ensuring it lives on.
My campaign, our campaign, is centered on three bold, specific and achievable policy solutions:
- Creating a new “development-neutral” model for affordable housing without new development.
- Transitioning our downtown to a people-first core, complete with an affordable business district, parks, community space and 24/7 free, on-demand, all-electric transportation for you and “bags, babies and bernedoodles.”
- Open and fund an office of government innovation, bringing in the world’s best minds to reinvent how we do government, as only Aspen can, creating processes that we trust, that we are included in, and that reliably deliver the results our community needs.
These are not the only things we need to do. These are first-principle systems foundations that, if enacted, will meaningfully improve the quality of life in multiple areas of our community and make all other issues easier to solve.
These proposals are not perfect, and they are far from final. They are a beginning of a conversation and an invitation. They will change with community collaboration and take years to enact, decades in some cases, just as those in Joe Edward’s 1969 platform did.
Over that time and during this campaign, I propose we come together as a community to rigorously discuss and debate these ideas in a safe space, knowing we all love our town and want what is best for all of us.
Diversity of all kinds, including thought, is a strength. By openly listening to and understanding one another, we will co-create policy far better than the initial ideas shared in this campaign. As we do, we will create a container to reconnect across incomes and “how long have you lived here?” stories, reducing fear and repairing and improving connection and compassion.
We can no longer shy from controversy for fear of conflict. We must lean into the conversation to cultivate compassion. Only in this way can we deliver the change in policy our community needs to reach a higher expression of Elizabeth’s original vision.
This is the spirit of Joe and Dwight. Of Homeyer, and Kinsley and Hunter, and Braudis, and Bennett, and Daily, and so many more. We honor their investment with our own. We deserve better — we deserve Aspen, and the collection of our beliefs and actions is Aspen.
Join me in this. I have written three op-ed-style pieces describing the specific changes, rationale, and benefits for each of our three policy solutions. The first, a case for a vacancy tax, will be published in the Aspen Daily News in the following days. All three will be sent out in my email newsletter, then placed on our website http://www.skippyforaspen.com
Read them in full. Think about them honestly, deeply, and critically while keeping an open mind. Share them. Talk about them. Debate them. Criticize them. All is welcome.
It’s time to look up from our problems and toward the possible. It’s up to all of us. We have no time to wait.
Current Councilman Skippy Mesirow is one of three candidates for two open seats on the Aspen City Council.