bill guth

Bill Guth campaigns on Main Street in March 2023 before winning a seat on the Aspen City Council that month. 

Sam Rose and Bill Guth officially joined Aspen City Council in April 2023. Both councilmembers say onlookers have grouped them as allies. 

But each contends to have his own style and preferences. Grouping them together can be, they say, an oversimplification.

“Sam and I pledge no allegiance to one another at all,” Guth said in an interview. “We’re friendly and we happen to see eye to eye on a lot of things, but there’s never been any kind of conversation of, like, ‘you and I are in this together.’”

In their first year in office, Guth and Rose have made their voices heard at the council table, shaking up what they describe as an echo chamber. 

In the roughly 13 months since joining council, Guth and Rose have each cast twice as many “no” votes on ordinances and resolutions than any other council member. Guth is council’s most oppositional voter (14 no votes), and Rose is second (12 no votes).

Mayor Torre is next (7), followed by Councilman Ward Hauenstein (4) and John Doyle (3). Those numbers are out of 222 roll call votes on resolutions and ordinances since Guth and Rose first took their places at the council table nearly 14 months ago. (Doyle’s number spikes to nine if one applies his vote not to approve a Feb. 13, 2023, consent calendar to all the resolutions within it). 

Rose and Guth have jointly voted against their three colleagues 11 times, though many of the votes have to do with a single city program (the demolition permit allotment program) that both council members strongly dislike. 

That said, Guth and Rose have diverged on several important issues. The most significant has been entitlements for the planned Lumberyard affordable housing project — which will be the city’s largest housing development if constructed. While Guth supports the project in general, he voted against approving land-use entitlements for the 277-unit development because of concerns about its impacts on traffic, its mix of ownership and rental units, and its ability to attract a private developer partner. Rose, on the other hand, joined other council members in voting yes.

“I voted to entitle the Lumberyard. Bill didn’t for the same reasons why I probably did,” Rose said in an interview.  

sam rose

Sam Rose won the largest share of votes in a three-person race for two Aspen City Council seats in March 2023. 

Guth and Rose also were split when council passed its new citywide speed limit of 15 mph(effective on every street where another speed limit isn’t already posted) in September. Guth fought hard for the new limit, while Rose said it was unnecessary. 

Both councilmen say they walk their own lines. During their 2022-23 campaigns, Rose described himself as being “the middle” between his two opponents, Guth and former Councilman Skippy Mesirow. Rose described Mesirow as pushing for “bold, progressive policies” in a 2023 interview with The Aspen Times, while Guth, in Rose’s words, was on the “other end of the spectrum.” Mesirow sometimes advocated an entirely pedestrian downtown for Aspen, while Guth tends to oppose idealistic visions in favor of reduced government involvement.

The three candidates were vying for two open council seats. Rose won the largest share of the vote (45%), Guth won 29% and Mesirow 25%. 

Rose campaigned on a platform of pragmatism and community engagement, arguing that he represented “the people.” Guth, meanwhile, criticized existing city policies, saying he would roll back what he viewed as overreach and bureaucratic inertia within city hall. 

Today, both council members bemoan what they see as an oversimplified view of council in which Rose and Guth stand in one corner, and Torre, Hauenstein and Doyle stand in the other. 

“I really feel like I am my own person, and I am beholden to the constituents,” Rose said. 

guth oath of office

Bill Guth signs his oath of office on April 11, 2023. 

He said the impression likely stems from the fact that his similarities with Guth are often more visible than their differences.

“I voted with John (Doyle) on certain things. But those usually don’t make the paper in the same way,” Rose said, adding that some areas where he agrees with Guth, like their opposition to the city’s demolition permit allotment program, come up at the council table often.

Their alignment on the demo allotment issue was most visible when they jointly refused to enter an executive session and discuss the controversial city program in May. Rose and Guth said they would only discuss the program and its attending legal challenges for the city in a public forum. 

Council requires a 4-1 vote to enter an executive session, or private conversation during which council members can receive legal advice from the city attorney. At the time, City Attorney Jim True told the Aspen Daily News he could not remember another time when a motion to enter executive session had failed. The event triggered a sniping match between Guth and Mayor Torre, in which Torre said Guth and Rose were being “obstructionist” and “disrespectful.”

sam rose council table

Councilman Sam Rose is the youngest person to sit on Aspen City Council.

Flag fracas

Outside local politics, they also found themselves standing together in an unplanned conversation that ensued when Guth asked the city to hang an Israeli flag from the eaves of the former city hall building (Armory Hall) three weeks after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

When asked about what surprised them this year, both councilmen quickly mentioned the conversation and vote that followed that proposition. Guth and Rose, who are both Jewish, were the only two council members to vote for the flag. 

During their debate, Councilman John Doyle compared the Gaza Strip to a “concentration camp,” offending many members of Aspen’s Jewish community for the insinuation that the Jewish state is comparable to Nazis. Doyle has since apologized for the remark several times. 

“I’ll always be honest in saying that in my year-plus on city council, it’s amazing that Israel and antisemitism was the hardest thing that I had to deal with,” Rose said. “I would joke with you that a distant second was the lowering of the speed limit.”

Guth said the incident did not create an air of division at council but exacerbated an already-developing rift.

“I can totally respect those with different viewpoints on fairly mundane, low-consequence things like city of Aspen politics. It becomes much more difficult when someone shows, what in my opinion is pretty serious disrespect toward things that are deeply personal to me,” Guth said.

Later in the year, Rose turned his back to a group of activists who asked council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Guth turned aside and looked at his phone as the speakers made their comments. 

Rose, who prides himself on engaging community members with “empathy” and “communication,” has since apologized for refusing to face the group. 

Doyle has pointed out that he never turned his back on members of Aspen’s Jewish community who came to express their offense and hurt following his remarks. 

Rose said he has learned from the incident and that he will strive not to preference his personal reactions over productive conversation in the future. He said the situation was “unique” for him given his deep personal feelings about Israel, but that he didn’t believe his actions were productive for the community. 

In any case, Rose said he has received more praise for the move than direct criticism. He said he has spoken directly with the handful of people who contacted him with critiques.

rose turn away

Councilmen Sam Rose turned his back to public speakers who asked Aspen City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during a February meeting. Councilman Bill Guth turned aside and used his cell phone. 

New viewpoints

While they don’t coordinate their moves together, Guth said he and Rose do seem to share some values. Guth said he was confident that he and Sam agreed on a few core approaches to local politics. 

“We believe that fostering community is really what makes Aspen great,” Guth said. “Not trying to be world leaders in certain categories or not trying to bring back a bygone era, things like that.” 

Both councilmen say they are proud of their work at the council table so far. For Guth, that work has meant bringing new viewpoints to city hall.

“I now have a voice in the matter, and whether people agree with me or not, at least they have to hear this viewpoint,” Guth said. “I feel that in the past council makeup, there were no perspectives aligned with mine, really ever.” 

While he doesn’t expect to win every vote or argument, he said he is glad his views are being heard. 

Guth’s efforts to express his views, however, have not gone without some friction. Guth sharply criticizes city functions including the community development department’s permitting processes. He has begun prefacing some of his remarks by saying he does not mean to insult or criticize any staff members personally, though his comments are often directly critical of their performances in their positions. 

Guth said he has had to navigate some of the “personalities” among council members and staff, as well as the “bureaucratic roadblocks” that often impede actions he supports. 

“When I try to suggest a different way of doing something or a different perspective, there’s a lot of roadblocks that get thrown up, like, ‘No, that’s not the right way to do it. We can’t do it for this reason or that reason.’” Guth said. “You’re not even really listening to what I’m saying. You’re just trying to find reasons why bureaucracy will prevent us from trying something different.”

Guth clarified that he did not mean to say anyone has a “bad” personality, but that different people at Aspen City Hall approach things differently and it is difficult to navigate those differences.

Rose said he believes hard discussions and disagreements at the council table have been good for council. 

“I feel like this council probably represents this community better than the previous council did,” Rose said. “With some disagreements, they’re healthy and warranted. It’s enjoyable to have these productive discussions, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface sometimes.”

All the same, Rose said he has not always felt welcomed by other council members since joining the body. 

“It definitely has been interesting working with the other council members,” Rose said. “I don’t get to collaborate with them as much.”

Both Rose and Guth have about three years left in their terms. Rose said he has “every intention” of seeking re-election. Guth said he doesn’t have plans regarding a possible next run.

In the meantime, Torre, Hauenstein and Doyle will all reach the end of their terms in April of next year. Torre and Hauenstein will have reached their term limits and must leave their current posts.

Rose said he is interested to see who will replace Torre as mayor, saying he believes the best candidate is someone already sitting on council. He said a mayoral run is not at the front of his mind, but he did not rule it out. 

“It’s not something that I feel pressured about right now, even though I will tell you I’ve had many people reach out to me, hoping that I’ll be mayor at least one day,” Rose said. 

Without saying names, Guth said he knows of several Aspenites like him who are considering running for council in 2025. He said he does not have plans to run for mayor at this time. 

In the near term, Rose said he will push his colleagues to make a decision on how to replace the aging Castle Creek Bridge — a topic of local debate for at least three decades. 

Consultants and city staff presented council with several options for how to replace the bridge (the city can build the new bridge in the same location or in a new location that aligns directly with Main Street, eliminating the S-curves). Council has requested an additional $600,000 study on the bridge to glean more information.

If council does not make a hard decision in August after receiving more information from consultants, Rose said he hopes to put the issue to a public vote by placing a binding advisory vote on the November ballot. If it gets to that point, Rose said he would be “deeply disappointed” in council.

“I just think one of the things I also learned this year is that not everyone’s gonna love you back,” he said. “Some people really enjoy hating on anything and everyone, but you really just have to make a decision and have some political courage that you’re doing what’s best.”