Forget predicting Vail elections |

Forget predicting Vail elections

Don Rogers

The third time running for the Vail Town Council was the charm for Mark Gordon, who pulled in the most votes of all candidates this time. Last time she ran, in 2001, incumbent Diana Donovan won the most votes of all the candidates. This time she didn’t make the cut, finishing fifth in a race for four seats. How times have changed.

The conference center went down by a wide margin. The surprise wasn’t so much that it didn’t survive this election, but that the vote was so convincing. Yet two of the biggest conference center supporters among the candidates ” Gordon and incumbent Greg Moffet ” showed very well and earned seats.

Moffet, who barely squeaked in for re-election in 2003, had a solid finish in third this time, behind incumbent Farrow Hitt, who opposed the conference center.

Kevin Foley, who served for six years on the council from the mid-’90s to 2001, when he declined to run for re-election, returns to a once-familiar seat with a fourth-place finish. I don’t think anyone other than the many, many “regular” folks he knows saw that coming. I’m happy for him. He’s against the conference center, too.

Incumbent Dick Cleveland, who won the second most votes in 2001, also got bounced this time, finishing sixth behind Donovan. This surprised me. Dick has been a very solid councilman these past four years and would seem to benefit from his anti-conference center stance.

Verbatim Booksellers owner Robert Aikens had a promising run, even if he didn’t win a seat this time. Incumbents have a large advantage in politics, between name recognition and a natural inclination to return them to office. But Robert, another big supporter of the conference center, came just three votes short of Dick’s total and 22 less than Donovan. He should run again.

Kristy Slack and Scott Pittman fell hundreds of votes behind Aikens and were not factors. So the electorate was at least awake. Nice people both, but neither was remotely viable compared to the rest of the field, which was strong this time around.

So what happened? How do the voters thoroughly defeat the conference center and yet vote so strongly for its biggest boosters?

Maybe the Crossroads project is a better predictor. Hitt and Moffet voted for the controversial redevelopment. Gordon would have voted for it if he had a chance. Foley said he wasn’t sure how he’d vote.

Cleveland and Donovan voted with the 4-3 majority to reject the plans last summer, citing the over 100-foot height and bulk of the building. Owner and developer Peter Knobel soon after withdrew his project.

Today’s Vail is booming by comparison to 2001, right on the heels of 9/11. Could there be clues there? 2001 was not exactly a hopeful time. Things looked pretty grim for Vail, and voters seemed to go for the most pragmatic candidates on the ticket.

Vail in 2005 is finally undergoing that long-awaited renaissance. It must be the crane capital of the universe right now. Big bucks condos sell in minutes before they are even built ” in Lionshead, to boot. There did seem to be a turn toward optimistic candidates to go with the times, at least in the case of Gordon and Moffet. Hitt and Foley are seen as a bit more conservative in their thinking, a couple of guys with their feet firmly planted.

Donovan’s tilt toward a frankly negative outlook in governance clearly caught up with her. My theory for Cleveland’s result was becoming too associated with her. Cleveland has the careful, well-prepared and watchdog approach in common with Donovan, but without the bitterness that bubbled up a bit too often.

Donovan went to great lengths to kill the conference center and finally succeeded in an effort that I believe started the evening it won by 50 votes back in 2002. I paired Donovan with the conference center in my own predictions. Approval for the center would go with Diana losing her seat. Thumbs down for the conference center had to mean thumbs up for the facility’s biggest foe on the council, right?

The voters did make a mistake turning down this opportunity, but at least they had the final decision. That was important, because too much time had gone by since the last vote, and much had changed. Also, make no mistake, it’s the voters’ town.

But why? Perhaps its the same four-letter word that felled Referendum D last week while Referendum C succeeded: D-E-B-T. Fear is a four-letter word, too.

You can bet this isn’t the last Vail has heard of a public conference center, though. The concept has lingered since long before snowboards were allowed on the mountain. It ain’t going away forever, or even very long. Some things don’t change.

One other thought about the candidates. The hardest-working one of the bunch won the most votes. Now that actually makes some sense.

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