Infante, Slack, Tennenbaum win Basalt council seats; tobacco tax approved
The Aspen Times
basalt municipal election results
Name Number of votes
William Infante* 460
Ryan Slack* 410
Gary Tennenbaum* 396
Carol Hawk 357
Bernie Grauer 307
Todd Hartley 212
*winner of council seat
Tax increase on the sale of tobacco and nicotine products:
Basalt voters ousted one incumbent but retained another in Tuesday’s Town Council election, signifying a desire for new direction but not wholesale change.
Political newcomers William Infante (460 votes) and Ryan Slack (410) cruised to victory in the race for three seats while incumbent Gary Tennenbaum (396) easily won re-election.
Incumbent Bernie Grauer was fifth among the six candidates. Candidate Carol Hawk was a distant fourth in the race and Todd Hartley came in sixth. Incumbent Mark Kittle didn’t seek re-election.
The election was at-large, so the three candidates who got the most votes earned four-year terms.
“I was hearing that people wanted change. They wanted Basalt to move forward,” an exuberant Infante said upon learning the results.
Infante, 56, lived and worked overseas for 30 years in economic development positions before moving to Basalt in 2014. He said he brings a fair amount of experience and perspective to the town and that seemed to resonate with voters.
Infante said he is eager to work on a new land-use and strategic master plan for Basalt and wants to the council to “get our arms around the Pan and Fork” development so it can move on to other important civic issues.
Slack said it was difficult to pinpoint why he did so well in the race.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I have no clue,” he said. “This is a testament to signage.”
He placed a lot of yard signs around town to get his name out there. He also credited his wife for her support.
Among the challengers, Slack pressed the point the hardest that new blood was needed on the council. During one debate, he gave the seated council a grade of “C” for its performance. He said the council was dragging out decisions on the Pan and Fork property, where various development proposals have gone nowhere.
Slack, 35, brings a younger perspective than is typical in Basalt governing. He and his wife have two young children, and he is a co-owner and operator of a small business.
He picked up a key endorsement from Councilman Auden Schendler, who received the highest number of votes in the council election two years ago.
Slack said he was “honored to come in second” in the race.
Tennenbaum’s strong performance makes it difficult to label the results a full-fledged call for change. He embraced the council’s accomplishments over the past four years during the campaign.
“I think I was a moderating voice for the council,” he said. “Yes, I like open space and trails and I’m on the slow-growth program but not on the no-growth program.”
He said he felt he had a “pretty positive message” during the campaign. Tennenbaum has been a champion of early childhood care and he is particularly interested in public school issues in part because he has a son is in the Basalt school system.
“I know a ton of people because of that, so that helps,” he said.
He credited Grauer with paying particular attention to fiscal issues facing Basalt town government.
Tennenbaum said he is “refreshed” and eager to serve another four years and looks forward to working with the new council.
“The great thing is all the candidates care about Basalt,” he said. “Nobody was far off on one end or another.”
The campaign was tame, at least among the candidates. One person immersed in Basalt politics labeled several of the challengers as “pro-growth.” A different faction, long upset with town government, beat the drums for wholesale change.
Basalt mostly yawned. The turnout was about 38 percent. There were 844 votes cast, according to unofficial election results. Town Clerk Pam Schilling said about 2,200 ballots were mailed. She said she needs to verify signatures on 19 ballots. That isn’t enough to change the outcome, if they are counted.
While Grauer was ousted, he went out with a distinct billow of smoke.
He championed a municipal tobacco tax proposal that won by an overwhelming margin of 630 votes in support, 203 against or a margin of 75 to 25 percent. It was placed on the ballot at Grauer’s suggestion.
It will add a new tax of $2 per pack of cigarettes and 40 percent on other tobacco products. It takes effect July 1.
Town officials estimate the tax will raise between $27,000 and $29,000 annually.
The ballot question says the tax revenues would finance “tobacco related education and tobacco related health issues, and addiction and substance abuse education and mitigation.”
Aspen was the first Colorado municipality to approve a local tobacco tax. Basalt is the second.
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Home values from Silt to Parachute are way up, according to tax assessors. That will contribute to a higher tax bill next year.