The sixth time was the charm for Torre, who was elected Aspen’s next mayor in Tuesday’s runoff after coming up short in five previous campaigns for the city’s top political office.
The former two-term councilman nearly matched his margin of victory from the March 5 first round of voting over Ann Mullins, who is currently in the middle of serving her second council term. Torre collected 1,527 votes in Tuesday’s election, or 56.3 percent out of 2,711 cast, besting Mullins by 343 votes. He was 341 votes ahead in March but did not clear the 50-percent-plus-one threshold needed to avoid the runoff.
Tuesday’s turnout was a record for a runoff election, thanks surely in part to the date being moved up on the calendar two months. Voters changed the date in November, moving the general municipal election from May to March in an effort to capture more participation by holding a vote when more people are in town. The previous turnout record for a runoff — which used to be held in early June — was 2,136 in 2007.
When asked what was special about this year’s race that got him over the hump and into the mayor’s seat, Torre noted his 18 years of involvement in local politics.
“Who knows if the timing was right or if people have learned enough about me — who knows,” Torre, 49, said.
He added that the last three-and-a-half months of campaigning has been rigorous.
“This campaign has changed me,” he said. “It was rigorous. It was a cause for a lot of communication and outreach and a lot of introspection as well. It was a heavy-duty one.”
Torre will replace Steve Skadron as mayor. Skadron, who served on city council for six years before becoming mayor, has been elected to three two-year terms and must step down due to term limits. Two of Skadron’s victories came against Torre, one of which involved a 2013 runoff decided by a few dozen votes.
Torre will be sworn in as mayor, along with the rest of the new council that will include Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards, on June 10. The extended time between the elections and the seating of the new council is because this was the first election cycle after voters opted to move the general election from May to March. The current council members and mayor will still serve out the full length of their terms.
Torre said his first priority would be working on city hall management and the search for Aspen’s next city manager. The current city council dismissed former City Manager Steve Barwick in January, after a 19-year tenure, and Interim City Manager Sara Ott, formerly an assistant city manager, has been at the helm since February. Torre said he is concerned about priorities that may be on hold during the management transition, where existing department heads and upper-level managers have been promoted to help carry the load, but the senior city administration staff is still short-handed.
Torre said he intends to meet with Skadron and current council members in the interim, “getting not just up to speed but as involved as I can be.”
Once the new council is seated and gets together in July to outline its goals for the next two years, Torre said he aims to shake up the process that has traditionally resulted in a top-10 goals list. He will gauge the council’s interest in changing that format and focusing goals so that they are specific to departments within the city.
Mullins said she was confident going into Tuesday evening but noted she was “swimming upstream” due to her deficit in the March 5 race and both local newspapers endorsing her competitor.
She said she believes that she worked hard, ran a good campaign and “connected with an enormous amount of people.” She too highlighted the lack of upper-level managers as an issue in city hall, noting that throughout the election, candidates have been talking about all the things they want to do — most of which won’t get done until a new permanent city manager is hired and the leadership team is solidified.
Mullins, 70, said it is too soon to know whether she will run again for mayor in two years. She will continue serving on council for two more years, then will have to step down from that seat because of term limits. But she would be free to challenge Torre at the end of his first two-year term.
She said she will use her remaining time on council to keep fighting for all the issues she talked about in her campaign, especially doing more to support young families with childcare and affordable housing solutions.