Editorial: Byars, ‘made of this place,’ for Carbondale mayor | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Byars, ‘made of this place,’ for Carbondale mayor

For the sake of transparency, which we advocate for public officials and even the private sector when it’s possible, we need to be open about our affinity for Carbondale as we make a mayoral endorsement for the town.

Half of the Post Independent news staff lives in Carbondale. We like the location, access to outdoor recreation, the scenery, the relative quiet, the arts and, simply, the feel of the town.

That latter quality, feel, is admittedly intangible, but if you’ve ever been to First Friday in June or experienced the few minutes after the Crystal Theater seats fill up before the show starts or eaten at Señor Taco Show or used the Rio Grande Trail on a Sunday, that’s all part of it. And that feel weighs into the Post Independent’s preference for mayor, Katrina Byars.

Carbondale is quirky, friendly and artistic, an amiable mix of ethnicity, age and economic status. It’s got a world-class modern sculpture in its roundabout rather than a metal elk, and real elk right outside town in the colder months.

It’s also under economic pressure, because of the wealth that spills downvalley from Aspen, that could change it to an exclusive enclave that feels less welcoming and relaxed.

Two town trustees, Byars and Dan Richardson, are running for mayor, and either is capable of filling the role and, we think, helping strike the balance needed to maintain the town’s character.

Former Trustee Ed Cortez also is running, but our hand-wringing choice boiled down to Richardson or Byars. While we appreciate Cortez’s passion and grasp of the key issues facing the town, we don’t see him as a coalition-building leader who guides collegial discussion.

In some ways, our head tells us that Richardson, an experienced architect and consultant who’s a Roaring Fork Valley native and former Glenwood Springs councilor, is the right choice.

If the chief role of mayor is to set the agenda and lead meetings that, as he puts it, “foster a good dialogue on the board” and among residents, he likely is best suited for the job.

A Carbondale resident for 10 years, he is seen frequently around town and told the PI that attainable housing and maintaining economic diversity are among Carbondale’s top issues.

Those are correct answers.

But our heart tells us Byars should be mayor, at least for the next year and a half to serve out the length of her trustee term.

Byars, we think, feels those and other issues more acutely than Richardson and has greater empathy for those at the lower end of the economic scale who likely are struggling to find work and housing that enable them to stay in town.

We want those working folks, white and Latino, to be able to stay. We believe Richardson’s support for them and their issues, but we think Byars will fight harder for them.

As she put it, “I’ve been here my whole life. I raised my family here. I’m made of this place. I’m in love with it.”

She describes herself as “part cowgirl, part hippie, part civil planner” — very much a perfect fit for what the town is, with its ranching/mining roots, more recent infusion of free spirits and artists, and strong entrepreneurial/professional streak.

Who better to lead discussion and help find creative solutions to tight, expensive housing than a native who nearly had to leave because of homelessness last year?

Who better to champion the working class than someone who has scuffled a bit and now runs the Main Street food co-op, renamed Dandelion Market under her leadership?

Who better to help residents feel heard, such as women who came to the town board to express concerns about assaults and lighting, than a woman who grew up in town and oozes empathy?

Who better reflects the endearingly eclectic nature of the town than a woman who, rather than raising money and buying yard signs and advertising, planned parties to hand-craft campaign signs from reclaimed cardboard?

(This isn’t, by the way, how we would suggest winning a political campaign, but in some ways, that’s not exactly the point. Which, in its offbeat way, is refreshing.)

Beyond the obvious issues, Byars also seeks to improve transportation and nutrition for seniors, and, in an environmentally conscious town, is interested in reducing auto emissions, something left unaddressed in last year’s failed carbon tax initiative.

Some leaders have concern about her follow-through and execution, but it’s not possible to doubt her sincere passion. She is of the place.

Finally, the choice between Byars and Richardson is a win-win for the town — the person not elected mayor will remain on the board and contribute to solutions. Carbondale is in good hands.

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