Milias: Conspiracy? Or common sense? |

Milias: Conspiracy? Or common sense?

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant
Elizabeth Milias

It’s the final week of election season in Aspen. The mayoral and council races are in full swing, with one challenger to the sitting mayor and three candidates running for two council seats. It’s rare to have such a narrow field in which more candidates will win on March 7 than will lose.

Battle lines have formed, notably between the incumbents and the challengers. The palpable outrage in the community marked by widespread discontent and dissatisfaction with the current council’s policies and regulations (71 of 72 decisions in 2022 were made in 5-0 votes) has resulted in loud cries for change.

These cries aren’t just coming from the usual City Hall critics and fiscal hawks like myself. I’m joined by child-care families, downtown businesses and restaurants, subsidized housing residents, West End residents, anti-growth advocates, local homeowners, second-home owners, historic-preservation supporters, and those looking for a responsible and transparent 2023-era process for the Castle Creek Bridge replacement.

It’s been a relatively civil process thus far. Town is peppered with colorful yard signs from all five candidates, and for the first time in many election cycles, such signs are not mysteriously disappearing in the night. It was, however, hard to stomach Mayor Torre’s rude public rebuke of his opponent, Tracy Sutton, about how infrequently she skis, ignoring her notable knee injury. He is obviously feeling the heat.

So, too, apparently, is sitting Councilman Ward Hauenstein. Writing to the papers in support of his colleague Torre, he clarifies what City Hall watchers have been saying for years: “Tracy knows the business side, and Torre knows the government side,” adding that Torre’s job “ushering us through COVID-19 is reason enough to reward him with a final two years as mayor.” Even Hauenstein sees Torre’s re-election campaign as one seeking a “reward” vs. something earned.

A 33-year Aspen resident, Sutton is a popular, successful businesswoman and thoughtful problem-solver with a background in construction management, real estate, and accounting. Given the over-$150 million annual city budget, in Hauenstein’s laughable opinion, she would be a “mayor with no experience.” As arguably one of the largest developers and real-estate owners in the valley, the city of Aspen would undoubtedly benefit from a leader who specializes in these fields, just as it would under Mayor Torre if Aspen were a tennis club. But we’re not. Perhaps this is why we have the problems we do.

Despite the relative civility, don’t be fooled. Conspiracy theories abound. In fact, after being shamed for proudly touting his dubious record as mayor, Torre is now running campaign ads that call for “community not commodity.” Cute. He claims “this election is about a single interest group commoditizing our community to benefit clients not constituents.” Councilman Skippy Mesirow, of vacancy-tax and psychedelic-legalization fame, has joined the chorus, vocalizing his angst over Sutton, Guth, and Rose yard signs being found together throughout town. Palace intrigue indeed.

Sutton, with council challengers Bill Guth and Sam Rose, clearly offers a stark departure from the status quo. Guth is a 13-year successful local entrepreneur and father of three young children with experience in real estate, development, historic preservation, and hospitality, as well as tenure on the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission and with the Buddy Program. Rose is employed by Pitkin County and serves as an Aspen volunteer firefighter/EMT, Planning and Zoning member, and Response Hotline advocate and recently completed his master’s in finance and risk management at CU. 

In short, the challengers are highly-qualified, far more so than the existing council, where no member has ever signed the front of a paycheck.

But “commoditizing our community?” Poor Torre is simply lashing out the challengers’ comprehension of basic business principles. Isn’t retiring Councilwoman Rachael Richards supposed to be the business hater? Perhaps it’s their abilities to read spreadsheets and budgets or their management experience and willingness to challenge city staff that intimidate Torre. And just who exactly are the challengers’ vilified “clients”? Locals? Homeowners? Families? Restaurant patrons? Commuters? Women? Tourists?

Elected leadership in Aspen should be representative of a broad constituency, not just city voters. The challengers represent a group, all right — not a nefarious “single interest group” but the greater community itself: diverse, self-aware, and looking for actual common sense solutions to local issues.

There’s nothing scary about that, unless you’re an incumbent with no record to run on for re-election. Or unless local registered voters do not participate in the election. Without a controversial tax or development measure on the ballot, Aspen voters have historically been relatively indifferent to municipal elections regardless of the election date, with only around 40% casting ballots.

If you’re an Aspen voter, how well have Torre and Skippy acknowledged and addressed your specific issues? Or were you ignored and steamrolled by one of their detrimental 5-0 decisions? Are you better off today than you were two or even four years ago?

This year’s ballot, while short, is a referendum on the status quo. There is no conspiracy. There are only common sense solutions. Vote for change.

The election is March 7. Drop off your ballot at City Hall today. You can also go inside to vote in person. Contact