With less than a month before ballots are due in the race for two open seats on Durango City Council, the five candidates running for those seats are vying for the support of voters.
The candidates are Douglas Snow, Gilda Yazzie, David Woodruff, Harrison Wendt and Carter Rogers.
Rogers is a Fort Lewis College junior and the student body president; Snow is unemployed and has a background in blue collar labor; Wendt is a recent FLC graduate and a youth programming coordinator at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango; Woodruff is the former president of the Durango Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and former general manager of El Moro Spirits & Tavern; and Yazzie has a background working in housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Habitat for Humanity.
In interviews with The Durango Herald editorial board, several common threads wrapped the candidates together, while simultaneously setting them apart from the current council.
Prompted perhaps by recent headlines on the ongoing disagreements between council members, all five candidates made the case that they would bring an open mind and a fresh breath of air to City Council.
“I’m not going to be fighting them, I’m going to move on with the work,” Yazzie said.
Woodruff emphasized this as well, pointing to his extensive experience in hospitality and creating hospitable workplace cultures as evidence of his ability to work harmoniously with others.
The two younger candidates – Rogers, 21, and Wendt, 25 – touted the value in their perspectives as people from non-affluent backgrounds. Both grew up without money: Rogers on a Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, and Wendt in Minneapolis. Wendt notes that he is someone who “has lived in Durango on $30,000 per year,” while Rogers highlights his experience as a network administrator working for the town of Ralston.
Both Rogers and Wendt referred to their youthful energy in offering a pitch for their candidacy.
“I am running for Durango City Council to bring a fresh perspective and a new generation of leadership – leadership that necessarily hasn’t been representative of Durango in a while,” Wendt said.
Woodruff countered that his 18 years in Durango have familiarized him with the landscape in a way that would benefit him on the council. Yazzie said that age alone is not a qualification.
“The way you view the issues is more important,” she said.
Although no specific proposal for a managed camp for houseless people is in the works, all five candidates said they would support such a solution while acknowledging the complexity of the issue.
Wendt provided the most concrete proposal. He says that in order to avoid levying additional taxes on residents or discouraging tourism, the city should redirect 0.25% of the 2005 sales tax that goes to parks and spend the approximately $3 million in revenue addressing Durango’s housing crisis. The sales tax will sunset in 2025, meaning voters could approve its extension without adding anything to their tax burden.
“Let’s deal with the things that are really crucial to our city right now: housing and transportation and homelessness,” Wendt said. “Let’s not focus on Durango Mesa Park, which is probably 10 years out, when we have these crises that are affecting the people of our city.”
Yazzie cautioned against relying on the sales tax to fund such a critical undertaking, warning that unforeseen events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, could jeopardize the revenue stream.
Woodruff and Yazzie both spoke of addressing the problem with measured practicality. Messaging, they both said, is critical.
“We need to make a decision” Woodruff said. “We can’t just wait for someone else to fall on their sword.”
Snow’s ideas were among the most imaginative, including a proposal for a managed camp with its own temporary ZIP code.
Whichever two candidates are elected will fill the positions vacated by Mayor Barbara Noseworthy and Councilor Kim Baxter, neither of whom is pursuing a second term on City Council.
Ballots will be mailed in mid-March and must be returned by 7 p.m. April 4.