ACRA forum entices lively exchange among candidates
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times
Incumbents Art Daily and Ann Mullins lauded their work aligning development rules with the community's desires.
Candidate Ward Hauenstein stayed on his message of protecting local businesses and having the voters decide on damming Castle and Maroon creeks, should it ever come to that. Thirty-year-old Skippy Mesirow continued to emphasize his youth and innovative problem-solving and community-building as an asset.
Torre remained true to his message of rolling up his sleeves to help the worker bees, stave off dams and keep the economy humming.
And Sue Tatem vowed to place herself in front of a bulldozer to prevent the damming of the pristine streams.
So it went at the Aspen Chamber Resort Associations' forum, held Wednesday for the six candidates running for the two open seats on City Council.
With Aspen's mail-ballot Election Day less than two weeks away, candidates for City Council as well as the contestants for mayor, incumbent Steve Skadron and challenger Lee Mulcahy, once again hashed out their positions in a public forum, this one held at The Gant. Aspen Public Radio's Carolyn Sackariason moderated both forums.
The last day to turn in ballots is May 2. As of Thursday, 468 mail ballots had been returned to the city, Clerk Linda Manning said.
MULCAHY VS. SKADRON
In the mayoral forum, government critic and activist Mulcahy stayed in attack-mode, once again accusing Skadron of being part of a hypocritical and "corrupt" City Hall that is bent on damming Castle and Maroon creeks and applying its own set of development rules for its new government offices. He also said that if elected, he would accept $1 for his services and "turn the reins over to Bert (Myrin, who currently sits on the council) in 2019." The mayor's term is two years and is limited to three terms.
Skadron responded by offering Mulcahy some customized M&M chocolates promoting his re-election, then went into describing his legacy "that I hope has made the community better for success."
Skadron, along with Daily and Mullins, have been defending their records over the duration of the campaign while heralding their 13-month effort of revising the land-use code to match the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is a document outlying Aspen residents' vision for the city's future.
One of Skadron's chief goals for his third and final term, provided he's re-elected, is to expand the Hyman Avenue pedestrian malls two blocks to the east.
To Mulcahy, that's another example of Skadron's "war on cars," because such a redevelopment would remove more parking spots in the downtown core.
Mulcahy also called Skadron a "glamorous globe-trotting politician," in reference to the mayor's participation in international climate-change conferences.
Growing wary of Mulcahy's rhetoric, Skadron called his opponent a "disciple" of Myrin and claimed that neither of those adversaries has an interest in finding solutions to Aspen's problems but instead employ scare tactics and engage in a blame game.
"We have serious problems," the mayor said. "And we need serious people to fix them."
While the exchange was fiery at times, the two did hone in on the issues as well, one being whether government should subsidize commercial space for locally owned, retail startups.
Mulcahy offered that the city could consider using a lottery system — one modeled after Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority for would-be affordable-home buyers — with the winning retailers getting cut-rate rent on city-owned commercial buildings. Skadron said regulating spaces, while well intentioned, presents difficult scenarios for the city in deciding who gets to use the coveted spaces. He did not address Mulcahy's lottery idea.
When asked whether they would consider allowing affordable-housing developments outside of the city's urban growth boundary, Mulcahy said he would while Skadron said he would not.
One recurring theme during this election cycle has been what the incumbents' challengers have called a "disconnect" between City Council and Aspen's residents.
Hauenstein said he would call on the city staff to offer both pro and con arguments for issues that go before the council, rather than just taking one position.
"What I see is staff present one side of the issue, and before I can make the decision, I want to know the best arguments for and against," he said.
Sackariason, the moderator, asked the candidates if Aspen has a vocal minority that is distorting the issues. The candidates agreed the city could do a better job of public outreach, but it only goes so far.
"I do think there's a vocal minority that speaks up," Mullins said. "And we need to find other ways for people to contribute and participate."
Mesirow advocated for diversity on the council, saying the community would be best served with a cross-section of elected officials both young and old, men and women, and ethnically diverse. Another pressing issue is lodging, with the voters' defeat of the Base2 in November 2015 resonating in this election.
Mullins and Daily sat on the council that gave the project land-use variances, which sparked a citizen referendum that overturned the council's decision at the polls. Mesirow supported Base2. Hauentsein and Torre did not at the time. Tatem has maintained that she is against most forms of redevelopment in Aspen.
Future council members will be deciding on the Gorsuch Haus lodge on the Lift 1 side of Aspen Mountain. As chair of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, Mesirow voted to recommend its denial in September, meaning he would be precluded from weighing in on the application as a council member.
Hauenstein said he would support rezoning the property to lodging, but he also would support voters deciding on it, which Torre and Tatem also backed.
"If they wanted to vote for it, I would support that," Torre said.
Torre and Hauenstein renewed their stance against the City Council's position to preserve its water rights that could result in the building of dams on both Castle and Maroon creeks. In October, the City Council voted 5-0 to proceed with the extending the water rights.
Talk about building damns, Mullins insisted, has been misleading. She said her vote was justified because extending the rights prevents another jurisdiction from trying to claim them. Hauenstein disagreed, saying that if Aspen can't get the rights, "nobody gets them." The two did agree, however, on having an underground storage system, rather than reservoirs, for the water.
Daily, Mesirow and Tatem said they would support the development of affordable housing outside of the urban growth boundary. Hauenstein, Mullins and Torre said they would not.
The question of expanding the Hyman Avenue mall received affirmative responses from five of the six candidates. "No," Tatem deadpanned, when asked if she supported it.