Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission member L.J. Erspamer announced on Wednesday that he is “95 percent” positive he is running for mayor.
If he doesn’t run for the mayor of Aspen, he will make a bid for one of two council seats open in the May 7 election. Erspamer said he if doesn’t see a solid line-up of candidates for council, he will focus his candidacy on that race.
Erspamer, 68, has made three unsuccessful runs for a city elected position — a 2009 run for mayor, and two attempts for council in 2007 and 2011. During the council races, Erspamer didn’t raise campaign money so as not to be beholden to anyone or any political interest. During the mayoral bid, he raised between $3,000 and $4,000, and spent $2,000 of his own money on the campaign.
This time around, Erspamer said he will raise money and get serious about earning support from the community both financially and politically.
Erspamer, a 40-year local, said he wants to bring his business and community experience to bear on council. He now works in real estate and property management. He also runs heavy equipment at the airport.
From 1979 through 1997, Erspamer was the owner-operator of the Colorado Riff Raff rafting company.
“I know the challenges that businesses face,” he said. “I have a lot of knowledge of the issues because of my experience.”
The mayor’s job is appealing and one he thinks he would succeed at because he views himself as a consensus builder. As the chair of the P&Z commission, he said he is effective on setting agendas and moderating public meetings.
Erspamer said council needs to get away from making ideological decisions and start making practical and realistic choices that positively impact the community. He pointed to the concept of eliminating parking as a way to reduce traffic as an ideological decision. In reality, traffic congestion is just as bad as it was before parking policies were implemented by City Hall.
Erspamer has been the chair of the P&Z commission for three of the six years he has served on the citizen board, which makes recommendations on land-use applications and policies to City Council. He has two years left on that appointment.
He also has served on the Historic Preservation Task Force, a citizen board that worked on creating new rules governing redevelopment of historic buildings.
Erspamer said as a citizen he helped raised funds for the swimming pools and ice rink at the Aspen Recreation Center.
As mayor, he said he would be able to foster civility into the conversation between City Hall and the community, something that has been missing in recent years in council chambers.
“I can create an atmosphere of respect where people are heard,” he said. “You can’t talk to the public in a negative way no matter how you feel. ... That comes from an ideological view, not a realistic one.”
He said land-use rules need to be tweaked so they are more reliable, and create compatible and consistent development.
He said he is not supportive of the new Aspen Art Museum development on Hyman Avenue and how it was approved as part of a settlement agreement with the land owners, who were suing the city over a denial of a previous land-use application.
“That should have been an open and transparent process,” Erspamer said. “It was shocking and when it will be built, it will be shocking.”
He said the development is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, much like the redevelopment and expansion of the Aspen Club and Spa, which he voted against as a P&Z member because of its mass and scale.
As mayor, Erspamer would not bring forward proposals that go to the extreme, like the council’s recent decision to limit downtown buildings to 28 feet tall, or the infill codes passed years ago that attracted scores of new development.
“You know what separates me from the other candidates? I have never drank the Kool-Aid,” he said.
Current council members Derek Johnson and Torre will see their terms end in June. Local lawyer Art Daily and former Aspen City Councilman Dwayne Romero have announced their candidacies for a council seat.
Councilmen Steve Skadron, Torre and Adam Frisch have all announced their candidacies for mayor. Mayor Mick Ireland, who is serving his third two-year term, cannot run again due term limits.
Johnson has said he is considering a bid for mayor.
“It’s going to be a party,” said Erspamer of the mayoral race.