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Carbondale’s new mayor says the coffee is on him

On Wednesday, Michael Hassig woke up and thought, “Man, it’s another great day.”

It was the start of a new chapter in life for the 50-year-old architect, elected Tuesday as Carbondale’s new mayor.

That chapter will smell like coffee.



Hassig plans to take a table at 7 a.m. every Tuesday at the Village Smithy to hear what is on the minds of his constituents.

“I’ll buy `em a cup of coffee,” said Hassig.



Hassig won his job by snagging 523 votes in Tuesday’s election, compared to 382 for incumbent Randy Vanderhurst, and 46 for fellow challenger Erik Mazur.

He was handed the gavel in an upset election that saw two other incumbent Carbondale trustees voted out of office.

Carbondale’s board of trustees election reflected a town continuum that has the left-leaning, anti-growth Mountain Folks for Global Justice on one end, and the pro-business, pro-growth Committee for Economic Sensibility at the other.

Trustee candidate Scott Chaplin, a Green party member, endorsed incumbent and fellow Green Krista Paradise and challenger Russell Hedman. The right-leaning Committee for Economic Sensibility endorsed Vanderhurst, former trustee and Carbondale Chamber of Commerce President David Rippe, incumbents Fred Williams and Mark Whalen, and River Valley Ranch project manager Chris Kelsey.

When it was all over Tuesday night, Williams, the town’s former police chief, received the most votes at 417, followed by Chaplin with 415, and Rippe with 355. They were the winners in a crowded field of nine candidates chasing after three open seats.

Whalen was fourth with 331, followed by Kelsey with 319 votes, Paradise with 316, Hedman with 299, Libertarian Barry Maggert with 168, and Maureen Miles with 77.

“There wasn’t a clear mandate in any direction,” Hassig said of the politically mixed outcome.

In assessing the trustee winners, Hassig said Williams is “honest and genuine,” and “people responded to that.”

He described Rippe as someone who has worked hard for the town and knows the issues.

Chaplin, a community activist and fellow member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, is “the hardest working man in Carbondale. He’s the James Brown of Carbondale,” Hassig said, alluding to Brown’s nickname of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”

Hassig’s goal is to make town government accessible for residents.

In recent months, the trustees have dealt with contentious issues, including the Mountain Folks for Global Justice commercial zoning proposal and a liquor license for the Black Nugget.

Hassig said he understands how intimidating it can be for residents to address the board in a room full of people.

Part of the problem comes because trustees are more familiar with issues and proceedings than their constituents. Trustees mistakenly assume people in the audience understand what’s going on, he said.

“But there’s a new class every Tuesday,” he said of the chance to learn.

Hassig said he’ll try to restate simple assumptions during trustee meetings and explain the nature of the process.

“If I can remember to do that, we’ll have meetings where people are more engaged,” he said.

Hassig was a strong proponent of the Mountain Folks’ proposal to restrict commercial buildings to 60,000 square feet.

He supported the size limitation because national retail chains have their own development criteria which sometimes don’t mesh with a town’s.

“Above 60,000 square feet, it becomes less negotiable in what they want. So I doubt national retailers can be flexible enough to work with the community on design (and so forth). I saw caps as a way to short cut that painful dialogue,” he said.

But the trustees nixed the limit in a 4-3 vote, and Hassig does not plan to reintroduce the idea, calling it too divisive.

But similar issues will come up as Carbondale reviews, for a second time, the 247,000-square-foot Crystal River Marketplace.

“We’re going to grapple with what are their standards, and our standards. That’s where the political grinding will take place,” he said of the Marketplace and other future commercial ventures.

The first Crystal River Marketplace proposal was larger, and eventually turned some friends and associates against each other.

Hassig puts the political debate into perspective by talking about the basic joys of living in Carbondale.

He said he likes to get off work at 4 p.m. and go fish, or look at Mount Sopris as it changes through the day, or just stop to talk to friends on the street.

“I get wrapped up in the day to day amazement of what we have here,” he said.

The vast majority of the people in the world don’t live in a place nearly as nice as Carbondale, he reminded.

“That attitude puts all this moaning in a different perspective,” he said. “If you lose sight of what we’ve got, venom and disruptive anger sometimes erupts.”


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