Whitsitt, Schendler, Schwoerer and Riffle win in Basalt election

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt (right) works with Roger Adams and Jae Gregory to identify voters to contact by phone in the waning moments of the campaign Tuesday.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Basalt’s division over the Pan and Fork site was reflected in the mayoral race Tuesday when incumbent Jacque Whitsitt won a squeaker over challenger Rick Stevens.

Whitsitt won with 560 votes to 533 for Stevens, a percentage of 51 to 49 percent.

In the at-large race for three council seats, Auden Schendler, Katie Schwoerer and Jennifer Riffle were the top vote getters. Schendler pulled in 612 votes. Schwoerer had 604 and Riffle had 562.

Former mayor and councilman Leroy Duroux, who won multiple previous elections, received 448 votes. Two incumbent councilmen got tossed — Rob Leavitt with 362 votes and Herschel Ross with 315.

Town Clerk Pam Schilling said 1,100 voters cast ballots, or about 54 percent of registered voters. That was a high turnout for a Basalt municipal election, she said. There are 18 outstanding overseas ballots. They had to be postmarked today. They will not change the outcome of the race.

Schilling and Town Manager Mike Scanlon said the outcome wasn’t close enough to trigger an automatic recount in the mayor’s race.

Three amigas win

Whitsitt, Schwoerer and Riffle ran coordinated campaigns as the “three amigas.” They championed preserving as much of the Pan and Fork property as possible for a park, with limited development.

Whitsitt said it was difficult to decipher what the mayoral vote means. “It certainly wasn’t a landslide,” she said.

The mayoral race featured a difference in campaign styles. Whitsitt estimated she knocked on doors of more than 1,000 residences and she and her volunteers spent numerous hours calling voters. She said she had lists of voters that were identified as supporters in her 2012 mayoral bid and a 2008 council race, plus more than 400 voters that signed a petition in support of a park at the Pan and Fork.

Stevens said he knocked on very few doors. His campaign used social media and neighborhood meetings to get his message out.

Whitsitt and her allies poured over a list of voters Tuesday, identified alleged supporters who hadn’t yet voted and tried to reach them to encourage them to fill out a ballot.

“We spent all day calling the people we thought supported us,” she said.

In the council race, Schendler received the most votes, by a narrow margin over Schwoerer, even though he didn’t put much effort into the campaign. He said a top goal for the new council must be bringing together a divided community.

“That’s the issue now. That was a very close race,” he said of the mayor’s tally.

He said he will make sure the 49 percent that voted for Stevens still get heard, yet he acknowledged that there was a strong sentiment for the candidates who want less development on the Pan and Fork.

Changing of the guard?

The council results appear to represent a changing of the guard. Leavitt and Ross were incumbents serving out first terms. Duroux served 9½ years as a councilman and eight years as mayor prior to sitting out the last four years.

Riffle and Schendler are newcomers to elected office. Schwoerer served an earlier term on council but was out of office for several years.

“There’s a young generation in town that’s been mobilized,” Schendler said.

Riffle, the youngest candidate in the race at age 37, said some voters were excited that someone younger was stepping up to be on the board. Others mentioned they appreciated her “ability not to talk like a politician — yet,” she said.

Duroux said it was difficult to determine the message from voters.

“I don’t know what they were thinking,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where you won’t know (what happens) until it’s too late.”

Stevens said the results seem to indicate that the community has “shifted” and perhaps set a definitive direction.

Riffle said she wants to follow through on an idea she mentioned at a candidates’ forum to get the community together after the election, put aside the differences and sing Kumbaya. There will be no “gloating” over victory, she said.

“There have been some digs that need to be forgotten,” Riffle said.

Schwoerer said she believes the council can move forward “in a positive way.”

Whitsitt, who was often on the losing side of votes during her first four years as mayor, said she is looking forward to working with a new board.

“Just having a huge change on the people on council is going to make a big change,” she said. “An immediate council retreat is in order.”

She said she wants to move forward with plans for the town to purchase the 2.3 acres of the Pan and Fork site owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. so the town can determine its future and limit development.

The winners will be sworn in April 19. They will join councilmen Bernie Grauer, Mark Kittle and Gary Tennenbaum.

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