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Getting candid with council candidates

Tom Boyd

Somebody watching the Jan. 14 Vail Town Council candidate’s forum had a fine sense of humor.And it was not lost on the crowd.The 40-or-so-member audience wasn’t exactly starved for entertainment during the hour-and-a-half question-and-answer session, but a few beard jokes do help.And it certainly helps that humor goes an extra-long way in the otherwise business-as-usual Town Council chambers.So when mediator Dan Smith read one of the questions written on a card by an audience member, he was, no doubt, expressing the thoughts of almost everyone in the room.”Why is it that all of the candidates have beards?”And although it seemed to be the thinnest question of the night, the pundits in the chamber seemed more alert than ever as the three candidates pondered their response. And why not? The gauntlet of wit had been thrown down, and in a town that makes its living off of having a good time, the public had a right to know: are these guys funny?And isn’t there something deeper in the question of the beard? After all, Abe Lincoln just wasn’t the same man until he backed his words with bearded stuff. And the Biblical man Sampson would certainly never give up a hair it’s there, he’d swear, where power has its lair.And cheers to the citizen who noticed that it’s true: all the candidates do have beards.Kind of.Technically speaking, bald-headed candidate Lou Meskimen of Masked Man Services only has a moustache. Farrow Hitt, manager of the Park Meadows Lodge, has a full, dark brown goatee and candidate Mark Gordon, lead foreman at Vail Resorts’ communications center, completes the trio with a well-trimmed number similar to Hitt’s but lighter in color.With a stumped look behind square black spectacles, Gordon toyed with a few humorous options before deciding on a fashionable response: it looks good, was essentially his answer.Ah yes, how deep.And how fitting for a candidate who says that the Vail Village and Lionshead redevelopment projects are, collectively, the single most important issue facing the town as he and his rivals jockey for ex-mayor Ludwig Kurz’ vacant seat (up for a special vote to be held Tuesday, Jan 27.)Hitt and Meskimen agree on the importance of the redevelopment project, but they were silent on the issue of Gordon’s sense of fashion.”What they said plus parking,” Meskimen said when his turn on the “most important issue” question came along. And he indicated that the new level to the Lionshead Parking Structure, utilization of golf course parking, and a view of Vail 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 years into the future was the key to making parking (and other things) work.Thirty-one years in the valley and a list of service that reads like alphabet soup (VRD, DRB, Eagle Planning Commission, hunter safety, etc.) has taken the hair from Meskimen’s head. But the moustache saves the day. Or, as he put it: “I’ve got to have some hair somewhere!” And with a joke, the chamber atmosphere lit up like one of Meskimen’s Masked Man Christmas trees.In all seriousness, as Hitt indicated with a nod to his wife and daughter in the front row, the ex-Georgia man’s choice of facial hair is delegated to his wife as are many of the important decisions in the household, he claimed.But Hitt, the son of an FBI man who came to town 14 years ago, said he is willing and ready to work hand-in-hand with Vail Resorts on their $500 million redevelopment project. Part of the help, he said, may come in the form of facilitation, not governance. That is to say, the Town Council may need to get out of the way at times. And this holds true on the question of improving local businesses, too.”I don’t think it’s the role of the Town Council to tell business what they should be selling or what they should stock, but it is our goal to market properly and bring people into town, to be in the town and to be at the shops,” Hitt said.And there is too much money being wasted on studies, he said, which received a stern nod from the stoic-looking Meskimen.Gordon came together with Meskimen and Hitt on many of the issues, including a smartly trimmed budget (ala his very own goatee, perhaps?)And on the subject of the conference center he was nearly bursting out of his chair with enthusiasm. As a former member of the conference-center culture (a huge, huge culture, as Gordon pointed out), he said the mere mention of the center in Vail to his old colleagues raised eyebrows from the Pacific to the Atlantic and beyond.”Five years from now we’re going to be talking about expanding the conference center, and I’m going to be voting yes on that, too,” he said.And if visitors turn into residents, Gordon wants to make sure they have options for living on the Vail side of Dowd Junction. His plan involves providing long-term loans for the purposes of renovation and remodel. Sprucing up some of Vail’s older homes and apartments will, he said, draw local families back to the eastern side of the valley.”A lot of people can afford to buy (300,000) fixer-uppers, but not to remodel them,” Gordon said. New families would pay borrowed money back upon re-financing or selling of the property.The driving concept behind Gordon’s campaign his platform, as it were is that community is the touchstone for economy, vitality, tourism and business. If people actually live here, he argues, people will want to visit here, spend time among the locals in a town that feels, looks, and is a warm, friendly, small-town kind of place.And at the end of the session everyone in the chamber was clearly thinking deeply, stroking their beards (if they had one) and recalling the good times had by all, and pondering which candidate they will vote for come election day.


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