Michael Cacioppo, longtime critic of local government, dies at 70

Cacioppo, who served on the Vail Town Council and ran for a state seat, had the courage of his convictions

The Cacioppos, from left, Mike Jr., Marie, Michael Sr. and Michael’s daughter Toni. Michael, spent countless hours traveling from the Vail Valley to Kansas City and back to care for his beloved mother.
Mike Cacioppo/Special to the Daily

Michael Cacioppo is water skiing among the stars, with his mom, Marie, steering the speedboat.

Cacioppo, a longtime Eagle County resident, died Thursday. He was 70.

Many communities have gadflies, people ready to call local government to account. But there was only one Michael Cacioppo. Whether he was advocating for cleaning the Eagle Mine site and Eagle River, lobbying to de-annex West Vail or suing the local school district, Cacioppo, a staunch conservative who published his monthly Business Briefs newspaper, had the courage of his convictions.

While many of us knew that Michael Cacioppo — he always preferred to be called Michael — plenty of people knew a man with a fully functional sense of humor, a hearty laugh and boundless love for family and country.

“He was a character, and a character builder,” Mike Cacioppo Jr. said from his home in New York City.

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“He’s probably the only person I know who is always willing to stand up for what he believes is right,” Mike said. “I appreciated that about him, and I did my best to let him know it.”

And, while the elder and younger Cacioppos agreed on very little politically, they could always bond over Kansas City Royals baseball or University of Kansas basketball.

Cacioppo was an enthusiastic basketball player, and was a mainstay for several years at the lunch hour drop-in games at the Eagle Valley Middle School gym.

Funeral service scheduled

Michael Cacioppo’s funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards.

In lieu of flowers, funeral and hospital expense donations are greatly appreciated. Monetary donations can be made through GoFundMe.

Alternatively, the family requests those who wish to express sympathy to consider making a donation to their favorite charity in Michael Cacioppo’s name.

Love of family, country

Former Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers was also a regular at those games. In an email, Rogers wrote that there may have been little the two agreed upon except that love of basketball, “and the sad fact we both passed a lot because we couldn’t shoot worth a you-know-what.”

Rogers added that the two also shared something “in our expressions of love for family, country in our differing ways, and life itself.”

That love of life found its expression in dancing. Cacioppo was an enthusiastic, talented dancer.

“It’s one of the things he was truly better at than me,” Mike said. “He would always say he was a better skier or a better runner. But I grew up skiing in Vail.”

One day, the father and teenaged son were skiing at Beaver Creek. After the son had flown off a cliff or two, father finally said, “You’re the better skier, now please take it easy.”

But people may not know Cacioppo was a talented water skier. That’s why Mike sees his father water skiing among the stars, with Marie Cacioppo, Mike’s grandmother and Michael’s beloved mother, piloting the boat.

It’s impossible to replace a father. But Michael Cacioppo had a large presence in the community, particularly in the halls of local government.

“He was a good guy to have around,” longtime friend Randy Milhoan said. “He was forceful, and he stuck to his guns, even if he was wrong.”

Milhoan recalled that Cacioppo was among the community advocates of holding the now-defunct New Jersey Zinc Company accountable for cleaning up the mine site at Gilman, the Eagle River and the tailings pile next to Minturn Middle School, now the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. Cacioppo and two other local residents filed a lawsuit to force the cleanup.

“That was a really solid victory for the area,” Milhoan said. “He was a spear point in that.”

Michael Cacioppo, left, and Diane Mitsch Bush greet each other at a 2016 debate. Cacioppo that year challenged Mitsch Bush, a Democrat, for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Vail Daily file photo

Cacioppo occasionally sought to make change as an elected official. He served a brief term on the Vail Town Council starting in 1987, and in 2016 unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives.

A lifetime advocate

Mostly, though, he advocated from the citizen’s side of the podium and more than once quipped that he “couldn’t get elected dog catcher” in the valley.

While he often took local government to task, “he was right about a lot of things,” Milhoan said. He was a longtime advocate for building a West Vail fire station, a project finally finished 30 years after a court order compelled its construction.

Cacioppo’s advocacy, particularly regarding the ins and outs of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, constitutional amendment, won him few friends among government officials.

He “was a difficult person for some to like,” Rogers wrote. But, he added, Cacioppo “always made me think about why I held a certain position. I think this is healthy. I wish it was more common.”

Out of the public eye, Cacioppo had many steadfast friends. Local Realtor Heather Lemon is among them.

“He’s always been a friend to our family,” Lemon said. “He had a really big heart. … He would do anything for you.”

Mike Cacioppo said he’s been hearing a lot from his friends in the Vail Valley since his father passed. A lot of those people have written something similar to one message: “He left a damned fine son.” Others have written how much they liked Mike’s father.

“He was a really good dad,” Mike said.

Mike and his sister, Toni, are currently planning a funeral for their father. What’s certain so far is he’ll be interred in the Minturn cemetery, in a plot with a fine view, and visible from the walking path. The inscription for his headstone is appropriate for a man who always followed his beliefs: “The purpose in life is to matter — to make a difference that you lived at all.”

That’s a good epitaph.

Here’s a brief biography of Michael Cacioppo, excerpted from a 2014 Vail Daily story:

Cacioppo was born July 4, 1951, in Kansas City, Mo., and was a William Allen White School of Journalism graduate from the University of Kansas in 1974.

He often joked that he was the first student to ever graduate from “social promotion,” because his teachers and professors wanted him to graduate and not return to their classes.

He enlisted and served as a military policemen in the Kansas National Guard from 1970-73, and was in the Naval Air Reserve from 1974-75. He served at Buckley Air Field in Denver from 1975-76.

Cacioppo moved to Vail on Oct. 7, 1975, where he began his career as the advertising manager for the now defunct Vail Trail newspaper, then Colorado’s largest weekly paper.

Around 1976 he launched his own business, Vail’s first entertainment booking agency, Vail Entertainment Booking. He successfully ran the agency for 10 years, turning it over to the first of his two ex-wives.

He helped change Vail’s town charter in the 1970s, which enabled Vail voters to petition their government by initiating Charter Amendments or laws. He was spokesman for a group of local citizens who won three of four amendment changes. The fourth change would have allowed to speak as long as they like at public meetings, a change even Cacioppo refused to support.

In the late 1970s, Cacioppo became Vail’s Father of Public Access Television. He threatened a lawsuit against the Vail Town Council for refusing to enforce their cable television contract with the local cable provider. He also produced one of its first regular programs, “Speakout!”

If you hosted a party or event in the 1970s and 80s, chances are you hired Captain Video for the audio and video work. Cacioppo launched the first independent company of that kind in Vail.

Cacioppo has sued all kinds of governments over the years, always acting as his own attorney. He was the first to beat the Colorado State Patrol in a jury trial for an alleged speeding ticket determined by aircraft.

He sued the town of Vail several times, winning some and losing some.

He sued the Eagle County school district three times, winning twice. In one, he lost a $10,000 contract when he sued the school district after he caught the school board in what turned out to be an illegal secret meeting. He sued anyway.

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