Aspen’s mayoral candidates lobbed criticisms at one another for their performance in office and defended their political ideologies as moderators tried to make them squirm during a forum on Thursday.
All four current council members — Steve Skadron, Derek Johnson, Adam Frisch and Torre — are running for the leadership role in the May 7 election alongside newcomer Maurice Emmer and L.J. Erspamer, who is the chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
The event kicked off with moderators asking Frisch and Skadron why they decided to run for mayor when both are in the middle of serving a four-year term. If one of them is elected, council will appoint a replacement.
Frisch decided to run because of support he received from a number of people based on his performance on council, he said. He also saw a gap in leadership, which he hopes to fill, Frisch added. Skadron considered running for mayor in the last election, when he was ultimately reelected to council. He decided not to do so as a professional courtesy to Mayor Mick Ireland, whom he supports, Skadron said. Both Skadron and Frisch agreed that the situation was not ideal, but they expressed their confidence in City Council appointing an appropriate two-year replacement.
Torre and Skadron butted heads after the moderators asked how they each thought the other failed as a council member. Torre criticized Skadron for supporting the city’s $18 million purchase of the BMC parcel at the height of the real estate bubble in 2007 and his initial support of the hospital expansion. Recently Skadron has argued that the expansion is not appropriate in mass or scale.
The hospital expansion as it currently exists was not accurately represented to council during design stages, Skadron said in his defense. The fact that Torre couldn’t successfully convince the rest of council not to back the expansion is proof that he doesn’t have the right skills to be a good leader, Skadron added.
The same argument could be made against anyone on council who voted against the majority, Torre responded.
“It’s possible my compelling argument snuck by you,” Torre said.
Meanwhile, Johnson panned Frisch for voting against looser rules for vacation rentals by homeowners during the initiative’s first reading, which generally serves as a procedural formality.
Frisch said he understands that first readings are a procedural courtesy, but he voted against it because that’s what he believed. He noted that council eventually came around to his suggestions for tweaking the policy.
Skadron also criticized Frisch for not being clear on his position against the city’s proposed hydro plant. Frisch had supported the hydro plant on environmental grounds, but came out against it in a letter to the editor, Skadron said.
When Frisch ran for council in 2011, he ran on a platform against the hydro plant, because it had gone over budget, Frisch said. He always stood by that belief, he said.
“I’m sorry if you didn’t read the tea leaves in 2011,” Frisch said. “ ... I stand by what I did. ...I’m sorry that I didn’t give anyone notice.”
Meanwhile, Johnson refuted the criticism that he hasn’t brought forward initiatives during his four-year term on council. He pushed the city’s Mining for Ideas program, which funded new special events; new marketing and school sales tax initiatives passed by voters; and a committee to oversee departmental budgets, he said.
When asked about the negative tone he’s taken in letters to the editor, Emmer argued that he has been playing the role of city critic. If elected, that would change, he said.
Erspamer also defended the fact that he’s had multiple unsuccessful campaigns for mayor. Although he hasn’t won the votes, Erspamer never felt defeated, he said. Erspamer runs so that his opinions get heard, and that has happened after past elections, he said.
Emmer, Frisch and Johnson endorsed Dwayne Romero to fill one of the two open seats on council. Skadron said he is supporting Ann Mullins and leaning toward Art Daily. Torre endorsed Mullins and Jonny Carlson, whom other candidates said would be unacceptable due to his lack of experience and knowledge of local issues.