Aspen Mayoral And City Council Candidates Set Out To Tackle City's Issues
Ballots have been mailed to most Aspen residents who will elect their next mayor and fill two city council seats in the municipal election on Tuesday, March 2. There are eight candidates running for the two open council seats. Incumbent Mayor Torre is running for a second, two-year term and faces a single challenger, artist Lee Mulcahy.
The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News recently held their signature “Squirm Night” virtually with both the Mayoral and City Council candidates on Grassroots TV. Each candidate gave a short opening statement and answered a few rapid-fire questions before diving into more in-depth topics ranging from affordable housing to climate change to COVID-19.
Aspen Mayoral Race
If reelected, Mayor Torre says he will prioritize connecting residents to each other and to their local government, as well as improving community health and small business opportunities amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and mental health challenges.
“I have an open ear and I’m always willing to listen to my constituency and represent you and what makes your life better on a daily basis,” he said. “I am dedicated to this work as well as navigating our community through this pandemic emergency.”
Torre also highlighted his commitment to continuing the initiatives he and the city council have been working on for the last two years.
“We started comprehensive housing programs and created new alliances for community health,” he said. “We also forged environmental initiatives and implemented transit improvements with pedestrians as our priority.”
In his opening statement, Mulcahy praised Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who has stirred up controversy since taking office, for her Christian values of “love and peace,” and said he would follow her lead and make gun rights a priority.
“Lauren believes that the democrats’ plan is to take away the right to defend our lives,” he said. “She says they’re not hiding it anymore, the democrats are coming for your guns.”
The Aspen Daily News reported Mulcahy donated $2,800 to Boebert’s campaign and he said his family sponsored several events for her in Garfield and Pitkin counties when she was running for congress last year.
“She made her claim to fame here in Aspen,” he said.
When asked whether he supported QAnon and the Proud Boys, Mulcahy answered, “Of course I do not believe in QAnon and regarding the Capitol, I condemn any kind of violence.” He went on to explain, “I’m a liberterian, but I ain’t a domestic terrorist.”
In addition to gun rights, Mulcahy also listed affordable housing as one of his top issues and said he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“I’m a laborer, I’m a union guy,” he said. “I believe that Aspen has a real, huge problem with inequality.”
In terms of policy around affordable housing, Mulcahy said he would like to improve private-public partnerships, build more tiny homes, and increase transparency in the city’s housing programs, including the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority, or APCHA, which he claims is corrupt. Mulcahy’s been in a years-long court dispute with the agency over the home he currently lives in with his mother.
Torre agreed on the importance of affordable workforce housing and making Aspen a more livable place for local residents, citing the community’s plans for the Aspen Lumberyard Affordable Housing project. The new site across from the Aspen Airport is expected to serve more than 500 residents who qualify for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley and construction is expected to begin in 2024.
“Building is not the only thing we need to do here. We need to be sure our program is working fairly and effectively, and we need to take care of existing units,” Torre said. “What we really need is to reconvene as a community on a long term, strategic plan and redefine these values that we have.”
Torre also focused on the city’s COVID-19 response. He is a member of the Pitkin County Board of Health, and was asked about his recent board vote to move Pitkin County temporarily into red level restrictions, including closing indoor dining at restaurants.
“I try to represent my city council and while I may have been conflicted with it personally, we had an incredibly high incidence rate at that time and we were looking for some action,” he said. “I want to give us a lot of credit for not closing for five weeks during the height and start of winter like so many communities did.”
Mulcahy, on the other hand, made it clear he did not support the county moving to red level restrictions despite the public health concern, but added, “I don’t want to criticize Torre because I think that he tried to support the small businesses.”
As “Squirm Night” came to an end, the candidates were asked to make a final case for why they are the best fit to be Aspen’s next mayor. Mulcahy reiterated his commitment to serve his community and reminded voters that he’s a libertarian.
“I’m not an authoritarian like the local Democrats here, I just want to be left alone,” he said. “And I think that Mayor Torre, let’s be honest, he’s going to be reelected and I want to be the first to congratulate him right now.”
Torre called attention to his ability to bring people together during his closing remarks, and to listen to all sides of an issue and then lead forward with consensus.
“One of the priorities for me is empowering this community, bringing them back into their governments and making sure their voices are represented on council,” he said. “That’s really the ultimate job here.”
City Council Race
In a year that has brought about a myriad of new health and economic challenges, a wide field of contenders is vying to tackle them on Aspen’s city council. Eight candidates are competing for two open seats.
The pool includes a number of local small business owners, an artist and a contact tracer, among others. One candidate has been in Aspen since her early childhood, while some others are recent transplants.
During the “Squirm Night” debate, candidates tackled a number of issues confronting the community. The spotlight swung to local government response to the pandemic, and a number of candidates took issue with the current city council’s handling of restrictions.
Candidates in the local business community pushed back on capacity limits and shutdowns levied against restaurants during stretches where local infection rates were high.
“I would’ve trusted the locals a little bit more,” said Mark Reese, an Aspen-area restaurant owner. “Instead of going after the local businesses, I think I would’ve targeted the airports a little bit more. You trusted everyone coming into town and signed an affidavit and took a COVID test, yet you didn’t trust the locals to take care of our own town.”
Moderators acknowledged that pandemic-related challenges are far from over, asking candidates to opine on the lingering economic effects felt by the area’s businesses.
“I’m not sure if all the businesses that have been affected will make it through to the other side, and that’s a travesty,” said Kimbo Brown-Schirato.
Candidates also weighed in on the pace of development in Aspen and the availability of affordable housing for the area’s workers. Moderators focused on the development of the Lift 1A area, asking about a policy that allowed developers to avoid certain employee housing construction requirements.
“I don’t think we’re at the point where we’re eventually going to run out of locals,” said Erin Smiddy. “We’ve hit that point. The more of these developments we keep letting get away with that, who’s going to work there? Who’s going to be the volunteers? Who’s going to be the city council candidates?”
Some candidates were also asked about another perennial issue – Aspen’s role in protecting the environment and mitigating climate change.
“Every single issue that comes before city council has an environmental component,” said John Doyle. “The environment is why people come to visit Aspen. Without a stable climate, we’re not going to have visitors coming here.”
City Council candidates must earn more than 45% of the vote to be elected. If candidates do not meet that threshold, there will be a runoff election on April 6 for the top two candidates.
The eight candidates for Aspen City Council:
Ward Hauenstein (incumbent)
How To Vote
Aspen residents can cast their ballots at the secure drop box in front of City Hall, return them by mail, or vote in person early or on Election Day.