Council candidates squirm a little

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

The four candidates for Aspen City Council attempted to distinguish themselves from one another Thursday at “Squirm Night,” with moderate success, as the city campaign enters its final stretch.

The candidates — barfly Jonny Carlson, attorney Art Daily, Historic Preservation Commission Chair Ann Mullins, and developer Dwayne Romero — are running for two open seats in the May 7 election. Voters may vote for two of them.

All four said they were generally in favor of private clubs for smoking marijuana in Aspen, after Colorado voters legalized the drug for recreational use.

Mullins said she was uncomfortable, however, with the disconnect between state and federal marijuana laws. Daily said he was still grappling with how to regulate, or whether to allow, retail shops that might sell pot here. Romero said he had opposed the state constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana, and said he expected the council to discuss how much pot business it wants in Aspen.

“I remember the conversation about how many fur shops do we need, so maybe it will be a conversation about how many marijuana shops we need,” Romero said, referring to past council efforts to limit high-end stores downtown.

As Aspen tradition dictates, the forum attempted to pin down candidates on issues that might make them squirm.

Moderators Carolyn Sackariason and Rick Carroll, editors of this paper and the Aspen Times, respectively, asked Mullins if she would re-introduce controversial historic preservation designations that she supported as a member of the 2009 Historic Preservation Task Force.

“If I was elected to council, there’s no way I would re-introduce that,” she said.

Dwayne Romero pledged to serve his full term on council, if elected. Romero, who left a previous stint on council in 2011, four months before his term ended, to join Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet, pledged not to leave to run for mayor in 2015 or for any other job.

Romero also defended his role developing base villages at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass Ski Area, though they remain unpopular endeavors among locals.

“I’m not ashamed of those projects,” he said, saying he seeks challenges rather than taking over “winning teams.”

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
City Council and mayoral candidates take part in “squirm night” on Thursday in City Hall council chambers. Council candidates, from left to right: Ann Mullins, Art Daily, Dwayne Romero and Jonny Carlson. Mayoral candidates from left to right: Maurice Emmer, Steve Skadron, Derek Johnson, Adam Frisch, Torre and L.J. Erspamer.

Daily defended leaving Aspen for a week-long yoga retreat last week, during the height of the council campaign, saying he and his wife had planned the vacation long before he decided to run for office.

Mullins, a landscape architect by trade, said that the flat height limit of 28 feet on buildings downtown didn’t make sense for all of downtown. And she decried the direction local architecture has gone in recent years, saying it’s been “dumbed down.” The city should encourage more distinctive buildings, she said.

“They’re not particularly distinctive,” she said of buildings like the new structure at 625 E. Main St., where the Stage 3 Theater used to be. “They’re not bad looking but they’re not really of this town or region. They could be in the Midwest; they could be in California.”

She and Daily both said they’d be interested in bringing the Castle Creek hydro power plant back up for discussion on council. Romero said he opposed it, but supported other renewable energy sources.

Mullins, the only woman among 10 candidates for council and mayor, said she did not believe City Hall is a “boys’ network,” but called for age, gender and ethnic diversity in city leadership.

All candidates gave positive reviews of long-serving city manager Steve Barwick. Romero, during a round of city trivia, even knew the year Barwick took the job: 1999.

All of them also said they’d support putting up municipal funds to meet increasing social services and mental health needs in the city, but none offered specifics on how to do so. The current council has backed a policy of scaling down what was at one time a $400,000 yearly city contribution to nonprofits served by the county-property-tax-supported Healthy Community Fund.

They agreed on much during the hour-long forum, in front of a crowd of little more than a dozen and a television audience viewing on Grassroots TV. This included their favorite member of congress. Mullins and Romero picked Sen. Michael Bennet; Carlson and Daily chose California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Carlson was the only candidate who stated who he was supporting for mayor, while the others demurred, saying he’d vote for Torre.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Carlson said.