Aspen’s conservatives missed a golden opportunity in the mayor’s race by not uniting behind a single candidate.
That’s not only apparent by studying Tuesday’s election results, but it’s also what election-watchers were talking about in the race’s aftermath.
In recent years, Aspen has proven to be a divided community, split down the middle on issues like the Castle Creek hydropower project (which narrowly failed in a nonbinding referendum in November) and Mayor Mick Ireland’s 2011 re-election bid (he avoided a runoff by pulling 50.7 percent of the vote).
This year’s election proved no different, Aspen Election Commissioner Ward Hauenstein said. His analysis from Tuesday’s mayor’s race showed that the three candidates considered to be conservatives — retired tax attorney Maurice Emmer and council members Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson — collectively garnered 1,111 votes.
Had all or most of those “conservative bloc” votes, as Hauenstein calls them, gone to a single candidate — a possibility, depending on the candidate — the conservatives would be sitting in the catbird seat now, waiting to pounce on the left-leaning second-place finisher in the June 4 runoff.
Instead, the two candidates on the left, Councilmen Torre and Steve Skadron, will face off in the first week of June. Their “liberal bloc” was smaller, 979 votes, but because two rivals divided those votes instead of three, it was enough to land both of them in the runoff.
Did the conservatives, longing to take back the city after six years of liberal Democrat Ireland in the mayor’s seat — shoot themselves in the foot?
“Absolutely,” said Hauenstein, who acknowledged that he was an early supporter of Frisch, arguably the least conservative of the three who ran. “It was stupid of them to split the vote. It was a 50 percent pie they split three ways, almost equally.”
Indeed, Emmer, the race’s only registered Republican, who finished a strong third in his first-ever bid for Aspen elected office, drew 396 votes, while Frisch gathered 369 and Johnson drew 346.
Meanwhile, the liberals prevailed: Skadron led the field with 516, and Torre got 463.
“Politics is a lot of ego,” Hauenstein said. “Two of the conservatives could have, or should have, put aside their ego for the sake of political position.”
Now, Hauenstein said, it’s incumbent upon the town’s conservatives to choose between two liberals — something conservatives hate to do. And Torre and Skadron have to figure out how to win votes from supporters of the right-leaning candidates they bested in the general election.
After the votes were counted Tuesday night, Skadron said he doesn’t consider such political machinations. He took issue with The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News endorsements of Torre, which were partly rooted in the fact that Skadron has two years left in his council term and the newspapers’ editorial boards wanted him to stay in his seat so that the slow-growth majority on the council would stay intact.
“Unlike (the newspapers), I think the mayor’s seat should be based on principles, skill set and the most effective leadership,” Skadron said. “I don’t think we should be trying to strategic vote, and I know what Torre’s position is going to be: Put both Torre and Skadron on council (by electing Torre mayor).
“But the mayor’s position is quite different from the council’s position. It requires different skills, and it impacts this community far beyond the two years the mayor sits there. So I hope Torre and I have a debate on principles and leadership skills, and then the community will vote.”
Regardless of who wins the runoff, the worry over development advocates taking over the council is considered moot.
Johnson is out in June, having sacrificed a re-election bid to run for mayor.
If Torre wins, Skadron remains in his seat, and the slow-growth crowd can rest easy with a 4-1 majority on the council: Torre, Skadron and newcomers Ann Mullins and Art Daily, who cruised to victory in the race for two council seats Tuesday night. Frisch would be in the minority, although he has been known to vote unpredictably on development issues.
If Skadron wins, Torre is out of office because his second council term ends in June, as well. Skadron’s seat would have to be appointed by a majority of the new council, but the slow-growth edge would remain intact with a majority of three: Skadron, Mullins and Daily.