Two candidates who are currently on city council defended their records at Squirm Night on Tuesday against a challenger who argued that the current council has been responsible for a string of leadership failures.
The mayor’s race is between Councilwoman Ann Mullins, Councilman Adam Frisch, political newcomer Cale Mitchell and Torre, a former councilman who has run for mayor multiple times, so far without success.
Mullins acknowledged communication failures, both between the city and the community and within the city, even among council members.
“There are times when our current council has become somewhat siloed,” Mullins said, which has led to initiatives not getting off the ground.
If elected, Mullins said she would hold office hours and take other actions to reach out to the public, instead of having the public have to show up in council chambers to make its voice heard. “Transparent, inclusive and strategic” is how she characterized the communication style she would employ.
Moderators Alycin Bektesh of Aspen Public Radio and David Krause of the Aspen Times asked Frisch to explain his reasoning for backing a $4.3 million subsidy to support amenities that are part of the Lift One corridor project, after arguing against granting the funds.
Frisch said the council was deadlocked and he wanted to see the project go to voters, even though he said he would rather it be decided at the council table.
Torre said that the packaging of two land-use applications under one ballot question “was a poor use of council’s ability to extend things to voters.”
“I think this council has put us in quite a jam,” he said. He argued that the city should “partner in” with the Lift One Lodge in order to bring the new lift down to Dean Street without approving a second hotel — the Gorsuch Haus — that would be built on land currently part of the ski area that is zoned for low-density buildings and open space.
Torre denied the premise of a question asking why he only seems to show up at election time when it comes to local civic issues.
“That’s just not true,” he said. While he acknowledged being active with a campaign every two years, he said he has been in touch regularly with this council on issues. However, he said that he “seems to have a negative effect on the causes I work toward,” meaning that his advocacy seems to have turned the current council against his initiatives. He noted public comment appearances against the city’s project to build a new office building near Rio Grande Park and trying to establish a citywide composting program.
The moderators challenged Torre on his effort in 2012 to pass an emergency ordinance that would have implemented a moratorium on new land-use cases, so the council could get to work on downzoning the downtown core. Because he had the support of only two other council people, the emergency ordinance — which requires a four-vote supermajority — failed and 11 or 12 land-use applications were filed before the downzoning could be passed six weeks later without the emergency ordinance.
Torre said the failed emergency moratorium ordinance was “not a mistake” and that the failure rested on the two council members who voted no. Those members were Derek Johnson and Frisch, who was first elected in 2011.
Frisch, later in the debate, touted his efforts in 2016 to implement a moratorium to work on another land-use code downzoning.
“I knew I had the votes,” he said, pointing to behind the scenes outreach.
“I really feel like I have a good pulse on this community,” he added.
Mullins said she sees the candidates in agreement on many issues, and that she would focus her mayoral term on support for families and businesses and trying to help a middle class that seems to be losing its grip on Aspen.
Mitchell said he saw his candidacy was his effort to “do my civic duty” and further his education on politics. His main proposal so far involves a community greenhouse on the Marolt Open Space. His leadership training has involved working in the Roaring Fork Valley and though he said he has not managed people in an employment setting, he said he is a motivating leader who listens.