Recall Election Highlights Growth, Leadership Issues
ASPEN, Colo (AP) _ A recall election on Tuesday, the second time in a month residents will cast ballots, is shaping up as a battle between slow-growth advocates who have long held power and others who say development is vital to the economy.
Voters must decide whether to recall four-term Mayor Bill Stirling and three other city councilmen - Steve Crockett, Frank Peters and Michael Gassman.
Their critics say the four run a confrontational and unprofessional government and have done little to solve pressing housing and traffic problems. Also, they have been accused of being rude to constituents and promoting favorite causes - as in Stirling’s widely publicized campaign to ban fur sales, which failed in an election Feb. 13.
The four members of the five-member council drew the ire of many when they opposed a large-scale Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the base of Aspen mountain.
Residents voted 60 percent to 40 percent in February to let developer Mohamed Hadid build a 292-room, 66-foot-tall, $70 million luxury hotel. Stirling and his supporters on the council wanted to scale back the hotel’s size by 25 percent and down to 44 feet high.
The slow-growth advocates who have dominated city and county politics for decades fear they are becoming suddenly unfashionable.
Voter approval of the hotel ″was a real big departure - an aberration,″ said Michael Kinsley, a Pitkin County commissioner from 1975 to 1985. ″For the last several years, nobody has been elected to office who explicitly favored growth. And this election approved a major hotel.″
Kinsley, who had favored the scaled-back hotel plan, attributed the vote to intensive lobbying and campaign spending by Hadid.
The strongest supporters of the hotel came from more recent arrivals to Aspen, from the wealthy, and from people who call themselves moderates or conservatives, according to an Aspen Times Daily exit poll Feb. 13. About 70 percent of the town’s 3,700 registered voters turned out for that election.
Supporters of the larger hotel plan say voters simply recognized the reality that Aspen has become a world-class resort.
″This town’s 15 years behind the times as far as accommodations,″ said Don Kopf, 61, a contractor who passes out recall buttons.
He believes the City Council has failed to direct growth and has let the housing problem reach crisis dimensions. ″Government should be run like a business, not like a fraternity,″ he said.
Kopf accuses those in power of trying to close the door on future development. ″It’s an attitude that, ’I’ve got mine, you can’t have yours.‴
Carol Craig, an Aspenite for 34 years and a volunteer at the Thrift Shop, opposed both the larger hotel and a measure approved by voters to widen and straighten Highway 82 into town. She says the roads should be closed to cars entirely.
″That would preserve the essence of Aspen,″ she says. ″People come here for the beauty and the security of the place.″
In the recall election, voters will vote first on whether to recall each councilman, then may vote on a candidate to replace him.
Stirling’s post is being sought by Wainwright Dawson, 54, a management consultant and former Stirling aide; and Terry Butler, who lost to Stirling in last year’s mayoral race.
Rick Head, Margot Pendleton, Augie Reno and Ward Hauenstein seek to serve the remaining three years of Crockett’s and Peters’ terms. Marcia Goshorn is running to replace Gassman, whose term is up this fall.
Of the four subjected to a recall, Crockett is considered the most vulnerable. Critics say he made fun of a speaker at a city council meeting. He also was accused of calling tourists ″parasites″ on national television, but provided videotape disproving that charge. His accusers, however, refuse to apologize.
Stirling, who departed from his usual laid-back style and began taking out newspaper ads a month before this election, said there’s a new rancor in Aspen than goes beyond the spirited debate that always has characterized the town.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis agrees. ″Several issues have driven a wedge between 30-year friends here. There’s a mean-spiritedness that’s descended on this little valley here that’s new to us.″
Judy Gerbaz, who manages the Thrift Shop, says she’s weary of the infighting: ″Even the school board meetings in this town are wild.″
Still, she takes pride in Aspen’s argumentative and progressive spirit.
″Some say we’re a laughingstock, but I think we’re educating the world.″