In April, the sixth time proved to be a charm for Torre, the tennis pro who finally won the mayoral seat he’s been seeking over the past 18 years and takes office in June. What’s his game plan for a town where strong opinions can get in the way of progress? We teamed up Torre with former Pitkin County sheriff Bob Braudis for a conversation about today’s issues. Their discussion, edited and condensed, follows.
Bob Braudis: What do you want to do in your two years as mayor?
Torre: Job number one is creating a city hall that is responsive to the citizens, that is efficient, progressive, and forward-thinking. Number two: the housing crunch. I’m looking for ways to improve our current program, as well as create new opportunities and new units. Thirdly, I am an environmental advocate from start to end, so I want to make Aspen truly a global leader.
BB: I see a lot of “help wanted” signs on storefronts. We will be begging for more close-in employee housing in the near future. Do you agree that we’re at a full housing crisis?
T: Getting trustworthy employees is difficult these days. I do think our crisis is upon us.
BB: How much more development can Aspen take without totally changing its character?
T: I’m an advocate for slow, smart growth. We need to be conscientious about what our valley can take, whether that’s transportation or development, even in outlying rural and remote areas. But absolutely, there is a tipping point. Have we already passed it? I’m going to say no.
BB: By charter Aspen has a weak council–strong manager form of municipal government. Should that be changed?
T: Yes. The mayor and the council are elected officials. I think the citizens should be able to rely on us to follow through on their behalf. My vision is to provide some oversight of city hall.
BB: A bunch of us were discussing a bumper sticker that would read “Aspen—Where the Crumbs Are Bigger.” Are we inextricably wedded to the luxe crowd?
T: My knee-jerk is yes. Is that a bad thing? No. It’s about balance. What we have here has led us to a closer relationship with the very wealthy. We need to make sure that that comes with responsibility and that the impacts can be offset to support our community.
BB: The ultra-rich are very fickle. I feel we need to broaden our appeal to the University of Kansas ski club, to Daddy-O Daylie’s Eastside Ski Club from Detroit, who used to come here because they could afford a lift ticket and a hotel room. They’re not coming anymore.
T: We need to increase the middle and attract a different visitor base. Aspen’s uniqueness, power, and strength will always be here. It’s not just about the Gucci and the Louis Vuitton stores.
BB: “Fat City” is pretty fat right now, sitting on a lot of cash. I asked a couple of architects what the life expectancy of the [planned] new city hall would be. Forty to 50 years, they said. Why not build something that will stand for 250 years?
T: Well, first of all, I disagree with the city hall plans and design that have gone on to this point, and I advocate for redoing them. We have the opportunity to make this a community building that we are proud of.
BB: What I’m hearing is you want to build something more permanent than temporary.
T: There’ve been a lot of conversations recently about a transportation hub being there instead of at Rubey Park. So I am talking about not only something with permanence, but something that can be adapted. That civic center area is going to be more important to us as we move forward.
BB: Most small towns in America have a state highway running through them. We do, but there’s an S curve involved. I don’t mind it. How do you feel about the [proposed] straight shot?
T: I sit on Main Street trying to get out of town, and I look at my watch. It takes about six extra minutes. None of us like the idea of car pollution and exhaust and all that stuff. I get it. But you’re talking about just six or seven minutes, you know? The straight shot was one of the issues that got me to run for office in the first place. I thought that it would change the nature of the town in a direction I was not looking forward to.
BB: When we put in the first pedestrian mall, people bitched that we were giving away parking places: “I can’t sit at the Red Onion, drinking my beer and watching my pickup truck filled with tools.” I would like to see more malls and less parking. How do you feel about expanding the mall?
T: I’m hoping to do a couple of test weekends and weekdays. We should shut down a street or two, just on occasion, and let people enjoy a pedestrian-priority city. So I’m for it, but there are steps to make it a reality.
BB: What role should the city play in approving a new airport?
T: The city should have a strong voice in it. I’ve been serving on the advisory committee and am looking into creating a City of Aspen caucus to join in the Pitkin County caucus system. The airport is going to directly impact transportation, employment service levels, and housing.
BB: You ran for mayor six times. Where do you get your resilience?
T: When I was in high school, people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was: “Happy.” There’s really nothing better for me to do than try to make the earth better. And that goes for my local community and the everyday lives of people I know.