With six mayoral candidates expected to split somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 votes, local political observers are anticipating an extremely close race when the polls close on Tuesday.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who is not on a local ballot for the first time in recent memory, predicted that with such a crowded field, no more than 700 votes will be needed to win.
Of the six candidates, four are sitting City Council members and one of the non-elected officials is running a $30,000 campaign — by far the most financially flush in the race.
Never before in Aspen’s electoral history have all four sitting council members run for the mayor’s seat. That means the field is well known to many voters, with candidates bringing established credentials to the race.
The race also marks the beginning of the post-Mick Ireland era in city politics, as term limits force the mayor to step down after being elected three times to two-year terms. Ireland declined a run for City Council, after flirting with the idea over the winter.
With Aspen’s city charter requiring a majority — 50 percent plus one vote — to be elected mayor, a June 4 runoff is a near certainty. Candidate Maurice Emmer — who raised $13,600 and loaned himself $17,240 for the campaign — put the likelihood of a runoff at 99 percent at a forum last week.
The other candidates are Steve Skadron, Derek Johnson, Torre and Adam Frisch — all sitting council members — while LJ Erspamer is on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Ireland said this mayoral election is the toughest to predict since the 1985 contest that saw the first reelection of mayor Bill Stirling. The mayoral contest that year was a three-way race pitting Stirling against Dick Kenecht and Fred Crowley.
According to Ireland, Kenecht was a chamber-of-commerce type, while Crowley billed himself as a “thinking man’s redneck.” Stirling, who served as mayor until 1991, was associated with historic preservation and holding the line on growth. The race led to a very splintered electorate, Ireland said, adding that he sees similar characteristics this year.
Stirling, who remains active in local civic discussions, wound up winning with 39 percent of the vote — this was before the city went to runoff elections. Kenecht and Crowley each took about 30 percent of the vote.
Stirling said he wasn’t sure whether this race is the toughest to call since then or not, but he agreed there is great uncertainty over who will advance to the runoff this time. He said he thought around 500 votes should be enough to advance.
In the council race, there are four candidates running for two open seats — Historic Preservation Commission member Ann Mullins, former Councilman and developer Dwayne Romero, attorney Art Daily and Jonny Carlson, a local resident with no political experience.
A council seat is won with 45 percent of the vote plus one vote, and there could be a runoff in that race as well.
In person early-absentee voting that has been available at City Hall for the last two weeks will not be allowed today, although people who have already received an absentee ballot may drop it off today. The polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 7 p.m., when vote counting will begin. Voting will take place by precinct, with polling places the same as in the November election. To find your precinct’s polling place, call the city at 920-5000.
With 176 ballots filled out, dropped off or mailed in on Friday, nearly 950 people voted early in this year’s election, which is the second-highest total of the last 10 years. However, many more ballots were mailed to voters this year than in prior years, because of a change in mail-in ballot policies.