And then there were three |

And then there were three

Tom Boyd

Lou MeskimenThe air was cold biting, bitter, tooth-hurting cold but town council candidate Lou Meskimen was unfazed as he made his morning rounds through Vail Village Jan. 20. It seems 30 years in town have given him a preternatural ability to shake off sub-zero temperatures and frosty morning weather.Besides, there’s too much else to do: line out the workmen, check the Christmas tree lights outside of Gorsuch, go see George at the West Vail Amoco, wonder if the loader is up and running yet, and in the meantime try to win some votes, cull some community favor, explain his vision to the local papers, and hopefully win a seat on the Vail Town Council by the end of special election day, Tuesday, Jan. 27.A busy day.But Meskimen seemed to take it all in stride. A calm stride. A slow stride. A saunter really, as he made his way toward Crossroads and the warmth of his Masked Man Services work van.”We had a lot of fun when we started this town,” he said, with his breath billowing past his bushy moustache before crystallizing in the cold. “None of us really thought it would get this bigWe used to say, ‘Hey, this sounds like a good idea, let’s try it.’ And now we’ve got to crunch the numbers, see if something’s going to work, and look down the road five, 10, 50, even a hundred years from now.”But he didn’t say all of that at once. In fact, Meskimen barely made it through a full sentence without saying hello to someone he knew and knew well. Cheerful shouts of good morning came from behind the wheel of big Cat loaders hauling snow, and storefronts, and nearly everyone from every walk of life stopped to banter when they saw ol’ Lou coming their way.After a few quick comments the weather, a quip, a joke Meskimen closed each conversation with his small-town version of a campaign talking point: “Need your vote!””You got it, Lou!” they would say. “You got it.”But the votes weren’t enough to get him elected in his run for council in the 1980s, and a procedural breakdown left him out of the runoff with former Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz eight years ago. So why try again, and why now?Meskimen said his return attempt at council is based in the belief that Vail’s future and Vail’s past need to be linked together: lessons from the town’s short history are paramount, he said, during a time when redesigns and redevelopments are shaping the town’s future.”We aren’t as unique as we used to be, and now other resorts have caught up with us,” he said. “We need to keep some of that old spirit alive, and at the same time think ahead, and revitalize, and remain a forerunner.”Among his forward-thinking ideas is a centrally located skateboard park already a huge hit in Denver, Aspen, Glenwood and Salida, among other places.Who knows? He’s willing to listen, to try different ideas, to be creative about planning for Vail’s future.And that’s a theme that fits well with his life. After all, it took a bit of freewheeling and open-mindedness for the son of a traveling minister to find his way to the Colorado mountains.And as old-school as he may be, Meskimen is hardly traditional. His Golden Bear earring may be the first and most obvious sign of his iconoclast nature. But there are certainly deeper signs of mild, or perhaps even accidental, rebellion. When it comes to the matter of what other people’s opinion of him may be, one need look no further than his sense of fashion (or, perhaps more accurately, his lack thereof).Not that Meskimen doesn’t choose his clothes with care, it’s just that utility seems to win out over color coordination. With his backup pair of ’80s-era ski gloves, a Carhart base and a ski-cap finish, Meskimen seems to capture the perfect look of the honest-to-goodness, real-deal, 30-year local.Or, as one local voter put it: “He’s an old curmudgeon, just like me.”A well-liked old curmudgeon, it seems. One who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, one who found a way to keep the dream alive in a high-priced ski town, and one who has a long-standing respect for the wilderness around us.And so Meskimen blends past and future together like so much milk into his tea (which he keeps in a special spot under the counter at George’s Amoco, by the way), and he talks straight, and he doesn’t make up answers to questions he doesn’t have an answer for.And therein lies his strength and also, perhaps, his weakness. Because when he talks it seems his ideas are like his breath: billowing past his bushy moustache before crystallizing in the cold.Or, as he said, “I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have all the answers. I’m a nuts and bolts kind of guy.”So there’s Lou: a little hard to define, but ever-present and easy to see.Farrow HittA couple of chimney sweeps were arched over, peering up the smokestack of the Park Meadows Lodge in Matterhorn. Farrow Hitt was observing with interest, wondering if his Park Meadow guests will be able to enjoy the trademark wood-fire-in-the-round when they returned from a day of skiing.Chances looked slim. One chimney sweep had already been crossed off the list a few months ago for late arrival and messy service. The jury was still out, it’s clear, on the new sweeps. One sweep explained something about the wrong brush and a two-hour delay.”I grew up in the South,” Hitt told the guy, by way of a gentle warning. “And when you tell somebody you’re going to do something a certain time, you do it, know what I mean?”This wasn’t the first time Hitt had delivered this kind of message. Like each of the three candidates running to fill Mayor Ludwig Kurz’s spot on Vail Town Council in this month’s special election, the 48-year-old Hitt has spent a remarkable amount of time working with local media, current council people, and local VIPs in his bid for the seat.And in the meantime, he’s generated a few phrases that describe his core ethics, his methods, and his belief system. Family is clearly a major part of Hitt’s life so much so that it’s hardly possible to describe him without including his wife, Bridget, and his 13-year-old daughter, Talli.And Hitt also comes across as a person who upholds certain conservative ideals, borne of his upbringing by a father who was one of the FBI’s top men during the J. Edgar Hoover days: fidelity, integrity, bravery; earn your keep; streamline burgeoning government; be efficient.”I think we waste a lot of money on studies and consultants,” he said of the recent town councils. “Take the conference center and the (West Vail) firehouse. It’s absurd.”His words come across in a smooth voice so deep and well-enunciated that it’s soothing to listen to him speak. There’s no doubt that, if he hadn’t come to town 14 years ago to manage the lodge, then he could have joined Tony Mauro or Diana Honey as a DJ on local radio.But for all the pleasing acoustics, Hitt manages to be jarring, at times, when it comes to content.”The media will write whatever you tell them,” he said at a recent candidate forum. “We need to have negative stuff in closed meetings and positive stuff, we need to send out positive press releases.”The comment immediately put Hitt in backpedal mode, but he managed to overcome the chagrin of media types with a kind of southern charm the witt of Hitt, perhaps that inevitably gets his true point across.And we know what he means. Vail’s image and marketing must be handled with care, and Hitt’s advice was directed more at local gadflies than the media at large. It’s easy to see that Hitt’s gentle-giant mentality is rooted in a big heart, and his slips come from a kind of verbal clumsiness not any sort of malice. So a few ties of the tongue add color to a campaign that is otherwise clearly defined and well-groomed from top to bottom.Take the Hitt list five items that define Hitt’s platform:1) Fiscal responsibility2) Support for the proposed revitalization3) Maintenance of infrastructure4) Increased year-round economy5) Noise mitigationWith those notions in mind, Hitt hopes to get on board with a government that, he believes, can sometimes do more with less. And although he brings some “Republican” viewpoints to the non-partisan election, he also supports the quasi-Democratic idea of looking at and he’s clear about “looking at” creating a living wage for people in the Town of Vail.”How can you expect families and individuals to buy into a company, be loyal to a company, if they’re going to go home and worry about making car payments and paying the grocery bill,” he said. “It’s something we need to examine.”Helping people help themselves seems to be another major theme of the Hitt campaign. Part of the reason many people haven’t brought their families up-valley lately, he said, is that many aren’t knowledgeable about how to buy a house.”Look at me, I did it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know how to buy a house; they think it’s a major hurdle. I think we need to educate them more on how to do it. There are first-time buyer programs, and a lot of other avenues.”And after a day working with his wife, serving guests at the lodge, and concentrating on pressing political issues, Hitt likes to kick back and jam with his band, “Bad Little Doggie.” A little guitar, bass and singing will keep him rockin’ through election day and hopefully, he said, through a council term.Mark GordonPicture Mark Gordon talking to a teamster.Picture Mark Gordon talking to a high-powered executive.Picture Mark Gordon talking to an everyday Joe from Louisville, Ky.And picture Mark Gordon on the phone, calling hundreds of Vail residents and asking their opinion on local issues.It’s clear that communicating with all different types of people gives Gordon a kind of rush he leans forward and his eyes dilate slightly when he talks about the response he’s had from Vail voters of all kinds.Adjusting to the various personalities he encounters, said the 40-year-old Gordon, is the key to connecting with voters.”It’s a matter of changing your approach to other people, recognize who you’re talking to, and making adjustments,” he said. “You play by the rules of the house you’re in.”These are skill he said he picked up working in the convention trade, showing CNN material on multiple television screens inside convention centers and selling closed-circuit television advertisements to foot the bill.His success, at the time, was measured more in straight business terms, but now Gordon has put his roots down in Vail and redefined his version of success.He and his wife, Tracy, just celebrated their ninth anniversary. Although they don’t have any children, the couple has applied to adopt a child from Russia, and they’re hoping to raise a family inside Vail’s town limits after just four years in the town.While some see Gordon’s relative newness as a weakness, he sees it as a strength.”This community is going to grow by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Someone who has been here for 30 years doesn’t understand what newcomers are facing.”Gordon is facing two candidates who have a combined 41 more years in the valley than he does.But Gordon is eager and clearly hard working, and he hopes that what he lacks in experience can be made up for in loyalty and dogged determination. He has done meticulous research on each of the council’s major issues, and he was the only candidate who recognized that the election winner won’t have the option to hold a special election again when their term runs out in a little less than three years.As the foreman for Vail Resorts’ communication center, Gordon says he has a unique perspective on the town one that is similar to the voting public’s.”Vail is so cool because it’s so approachable,” he said. “People like me can actually run for council. People like me who make an hourly wage can actually be somebody. If you want to get involved and want to make a difference, you can do that. It’s so cool that we can have this kind of effect. That’s one of the great things about this place, and it’s one of the great things about America.”And the effect Gordon hopes to have is clear. By offering financial assistance for remodeling some of Vail’s older homes to potential home buyers through the Eagle County Down Payment Assistance Program, Gordon wants to bring more families and locals back up-valley. The effects, he says, will be far-reaching.”As much as we look like Disneyland, we’re a real community,” he said. “We already have a Beaver Creek, and that’s great, but if we lose locals living here, if we lose the people being able to rub shoulders with locals in the bars and figure out where the (powder) stash is, then we’re no longer a ski town, we’re a resort.”Gordon was only 85 votes shy of landing on town council during the regular election in November. Now he says he’s even more prepared to make council, serve the town, and be proactive in reviving Vail’s community.Vail special electionVoting for all eligible Vail voters in Vail’s special election takes place at the Vail Municipal Building on Tuesday, Jan. 27. Early voting began Jan. 15, and the last day to request an absentee ballot is Jan. 23. For more information, contact the Vail Town Clerk at (970) 479-2136.

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