One didn’t want her name in the paper, three weren’t sure if they could make the commitment, and only one said she was headed to town hall to register right away, but all in all, it was an enthusiastic group of prospective candidates who showed up Tuesday morning at Starbucks in Willits to learn what it takes to run for Basalt Town Council.
They had come in response to a request sounded by RFWJ columnist Amiee White Beazley and current town council member Bill Infante. The former, in her column on Nov. 28, put out the call for a diverse slate of candidates, particularly women, to run for the three and possibly four council seats that will be voted on in April. Infante helped Beazley’s responders make the process easier by organizing Tuesday’s information-disseminating get-together. Later on Tuesday, Infante announced he was running for mayor of Basalt.
The convivial affair, which also drew outgoing Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, outgoing council member Jennifer Riffle and mayoral candidate Bill Kane, a former Basalt town manager who declared his candidacy for mayor in December, succeeded in drawing four would-be candidates, three of whom were female, but it came up short in addressing a longstanding Basalt problem by attracting no candidates of color.
“We’ve been saying that forever,” said Whitsitt about the need for a Latino voice on the town council.
Part of the problem with attracting candidates of color is that many of the Mid-Valley’s Latino residents live in high-density areas, like Old Town’s Homestead Park and the Aspen Basalt Mobile Home Park, that, though surrounded by the town, aren’t within the town limits, instead lying in unincorporated Eagle County. That means that any prospective candidates from those addresses wouldn’t be able to run for a council seat despite living a short walk from the council chambers.
The situation could be resolved by the annexation of such areas into the town, but that would have to come at the request of the property owners, and to date there have been few talks about changing the status quo.
Of the interested parties who did show up Tuesday, Tiffany Haddad, a mother of two and yoga instructor who lives in Willits, was the most sure of her intention to run.
“I’m heading to town hall right now,” she declared, after learning more about the candidacy process.
Asked her reasons for wanting to get involved, Haddad cited the usual issues, including more community involvement, better communication and what she sees as a need for more affordable housing.
“Having two boys who are 14 and 11 and looking at their future, I’d like to ensure that they can afford to stay here after they graduate if they want to,” she said.
Another would-be candidate who seemed genuinely interested in giving it a go was Chad Russell, a Willits resident and national sales director for smart home technology company Josh.ai.
“I just have to convince my boss that being on the council won’t distract from my overall monetization objectives,” he quipped. If the company’s head honcho says it’s OK, though, Russell said he fully intends to run.
The two respondents who were still on the fence about running included a woman who lives in subsidized housing in Basalt after serving as a government worker in Aspen and Boulder, and Liz Bell, an Old Town resident who works for a local suicide-prevention nonprofit.
Though their backgrounds and current situations were all markedly different, the four had in common an appreciation for Basalt’s many positives, and they talked about their desire to help the town grow as an incubator of ideas, with in-town think tanks like the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Roaring Fork Conservancy, as well as the arts, with burgeoning organizations like the Art Base and The Arts Campus at Willits.
Should they all choose to run, the quartet have until Jan. 27 to gather 25 signatures from registered Basalt voters and file their paperwork with the town clerk. After that, they can get to work campaigning for the April 7 election. Three council seats, currently occupied by Riffle, Katie Schwoerer and Auden Schendler, will be contested. Riffle and Schendler have already stated that they won’t run again, and Schwoerer seems to be leaning that way, as well. Another seat could become available if Infante were to win.
In either case, it leaves Infante, Ryan Slack and Gary Tennenbaum, all anglo males, as the sole remaining council members, and as Infante and Kane, another anglo male, are the only declared mayoral candidates, Beazley’s concern was that Basalt might end up with a town government that doesn’t accurately reflect the makeup and voices of the town itself.
“The power of a diverse council is in helping us move away from group think,” she said.
“It’s like grassroots democracy,” added Infante. “We want to have as many candidates and ideas as possible.”
The duo managed to attract at least one non-male candidate Tuesday morning. Next, they’ll see if they can rally up any others with a similar event at CC’s Cafe in Old Town Basalt on Tuesday, Jan. 14.