Four-way battle set for council seat
Four candidates, all men, have thrown their hats in the ring to replace Vail Town Councilman Ludwig Kurz in next month’s special election.Friday, the deadline for filing nominating petitions with the Town Clerk’s Office, Lewis “Lou” Meskimen and Raj Bhakta doubled the number of people seeking a place on the ballot Jan. 27. Mark Gordon and Farrow Hitt filed their petitions earlier in the week.”Masked Man’ in the raceMeskimen, 61, has run for the Vail Town Council before. In November 1995, he tied with Kurz for fifth place in a race for four seats, losing out by just four votes.”I figure it’s time to give something back to the community,” Meskimen said Friday.The bearded owner of Masked Man Services – a full-service janitorial and landscaping company based in Minturn that’s perhaps more well-known for its Christmas decorating operations – Meskimen has lived in Vail for 30 years, having arrived in the 1970s as manager of the Montaneros condominiums before starting Masked Man Services. Meskimen’s never been married.”I work too much,” he said. “I want to represent the small businessman. I’m still a small grunt.”Even so, Meskimen has been a public servant off and on in a variety of capacities, having served on the Vail Recreation District, the town’s Design and Review Board and committees overseeing liquor licenses and business licenses. He also has served on the Eagle County Planning Commission.Meskimen said he’s considered running for a seat on the Town Council over the years, but typically campaign season comes during the busiest time of year for Masked Man Services. Next month’s special election offers a special opportunity for him, he said.”I’m revamping my business a little so I can have more time for other things,” he said.Meskimen said he hopes to help Vail continue to be a “fun, viable community.””I’ve been on enough committees to know I can only be one vote,” he said. “But you gotta keep your mind open, because the public might have a different opinion.””Positive bias’Also joining the race on Friday was Bhakta, a 28-year-old managing partner of the West Vail Lodge. Originally from Philadelphia, he moved to Vail two years ago to buy into the lodge and transform it. The hotel now is undergoing substantial remodeling, and Bhakta and his partners hope to re-open the hotel soon, he said Friday.”The past two years have been spent immersed in understanding the key economic drivers and challenges of the redevelopment process in the town of Vail,” Bhakta said.Preferring to be called an “entrepreneur” rather than a “developer,” Bhakta said he’s learned a lot about the town’s approval process. Some projects should be given a “positive bias,” he said, meaning they could be “fast-tracked through” – as long as they bring jobs to town, improve the appearance of the town and enhance it’s image.”That’s not to say I’m for unlimited development, but government should ask how they can get things done instead of throw up hurdles and red tape,” he said. “With the Lionshead redevelopment in the wings, it’s critical we do what we can to support and cooperate with Vail Resorts and give them what they need – but not on the back of the Vail taxpayer.”Bhakta said his campaign platform will focus on “creating a positive bias” for small businesses, as well as bringing a “common sense approach to government” and “effective marketing for the town.”Looking forwardAnother Vail lodge manager – as well as an owner – Hitt and his wife, Bridget, run the Park Meadows Lodge, a 29-unit condominium near the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa.A fixture at Town Council meetings over the years, Hitt has served the town on various committees and community task forces and has been an occasional contributor to the Vail Daily’s commentary section.He says he’s happy to see a serious set of candidates materialize and looks forward to the campaign.”It’s good to have people with an interest in the town, who want to step up and do something to contribute and help,” he said Friday.”Keep the momentum’Then there’s Gordon, 40, who has been campaigning for a seat on the Town Council since September. A “lifelong activist,” he stands behind his slogan of “bringing the town back to Vail.””I’m going to run on my issues and my mission for the town of Vail,” he said Friday upon learning it would be a four-man race. “I feel I’ve connected with the voters in the community.A resident of the Matterhorn neighborhood for three years, Gordon works as lead foreman at Vail Mountain’s communications center in Lionshead. He moved to Colorado from Louisville, Ky., with his wife, Tracy.Gordon said it’s “tough” being a candidate who just ran for office six weeks ago, but he’s hoping to see another big turnout after November’s record 1,111 residents – or31 percent of registered voters – went to the polls.”I want what everybody else wants: a diverse community,” Gordon said. “I’m stressing we need to help the business community and make Vail the No. 1 town, as well as the No. resort. Let’s keep the momentum.”The town clerk, Lorelei Donaldson, has said she expects to verify signatures on the submitted petitions to run for office next week. Monday, meanwhile, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming election.Special election infoImportant dates include:- Today – Last day a person can move to town and register to vote.- Monday – Last day to register to vote.- Jan. 7 – Last day for write-in candidates.- Jan. 15 – Early voting and absentee balloting begins.- Jan. 23 – Last day voters can request an absentee ballot. (The town clerk recommends out-of-state voters request a ballot application by Jan. 16; in-town voters, Jan. 20.)- Jan. 27 – Election Day; polls at the Donovan Pavilion open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.- Feb. 3 – Winner sworn in for a term ending November 2005.To be eligible to vote in the Vail elections, a person must be:- A full-time resident with a current, legal address in the town of Vail for at least six months.- 18-years-old or older.- A U.S. citizen.- Registered to vote in Eagle County.This special election is not coordinated with any other election.For more information, contact the Vail Town Clerk’s Office at 479-2136.