Wednesday’s candidate forum in Aspen turned the normal debate format on its head, with the applicants vying for city office directed to ask the audience questions.
Sponsored by the Pitkin County Democrat and Republican parties and held as part of the Aspen Business Luncheon series, about 100 people packed the upstairs conference room of the Sky Hotel to witness the final candidate forum before the May 7 vote, when an Aspen mayor and two new council members will be elected.
“One of my jobs today is to make sure you all talk more than they do,” moderator Steve Wickes told the crowd at the outset of the discussion.
Mayoral candidates went first. Adam Frisch and Maurice Emmer both asked questions about what issues should be getting more attention from elected officials. This prompted those who had paid the $35 admission price to sound off about frustration over the entrance to Aspen, restrictive parking policies, and the difficulty and expense of air travel to and from Aspen.
Steve Skadron asked audience members if they supported the 28-foot height limit that he supported and council passed for new downtown buildings. (The policy has since been amended to allow for taller height limits for lodging projects.) The crowd seemed mixed, with some voicing support for preserving mountain views by keeping building heights in check. Others, such as former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, pointed out that Aspen’s historic buildings are much taller than that and said a “leveled-out” plane of two-story buildings would not work.
Torre asked audience members how the resort economy could better maintain the community. This provoked responses about getting more visitors in the off-seasons and seeing more city cooperation with nonprofits.
Asked to sum up the feelings they heard expressed from the audience, Torre suggested that everyone try to “enjoy Aspen a little bit more.”
Council candidates, each of whom are making their first run for office except for Dwayne Romero, all said one of the most difficult aspects of the campaign is the intensity of the time commitment.
“I haven’t worked this hard since grad school,” said candidate Ann Mullins.
Mullins later asked the audience their thoughts on health and human services issues, prompting a suggestion that the city set up an independent board that has power over a dedicated funding source.
Candidate Jonny Carlson asked the audience how many had been touched by suicide or attempted suicide of a friend or loved one, and what people thought could be done about the Aspen area’s frightening suicide statistics. Respondents said that the issue is now more at the forefront of the community than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the fact that a council candidate was raising it at a forum. Still, there have been several local suicides this year.
Romero asked for attainable goals for the new council’s first 100 days. One suggestion was to meet with every business owner in town.
In his closing comments, candidate Art Daily explained his faith in the power of kindness, and how it binds the community together with invisible threads. His words were going beyond the one-minute time limit.
“Sorry, but no matter how much you pay me I am not going to cut off a sermon on kindness,” Wickes said.