Light voter turnout expected to decide three-way race for remaining Town Council seat
After what seems like the longest election season in the town’s history – five months, in fact – the final seat on the seven-member Vail Town Council is up for grabs today. Polls are open for voters registered in Vail at Town Hall on South Frontage Road from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“It’s still warmer than Back East, so there’s just no excuse not to get out and vote,” candidate Lou Meskimen, listed last on the ballot below Farrow Hitt and Mark Gordon, said Monday. He was referring to the local forecast, which calls for cloudy skies and snow showers, high temperatures in the 20s and winds up to 30 mph.
In November, four seats on the council were filled after an election campaign that began in September. A brief lull ensued as the new council got down to business while longtime councilman and former Mayor Ludwig Kurz honored his pledge to finish out his eight consecutive years before term limits removed him from office.
Soon came the race toward today’s special election. Gordon, 40, remained in “full campaign mode” as Hitt, 48, and Meskimen, 61, threw their hats in the ring in December. The trio’s knocking on doors and making rounds of phone calls hit fever pitch last week.
“A long day’
“My ideas haven’t changed, but I think I’m getting better at communicating them,” said Gordon, whose Election Day plans include braving elements and greeting voters outside the polls for the entire 12 hours with signs leftover from the last campaign that say “See the future; make it happen.” He’s got the day off from his job as lead foreman at Vail Mountain’s communications center in Lionshead.
“It’ll be a long day, but I look forward to it. I think it’s important to meet the voters face to face. That’s key,” adds Gordon, who has made about a thousand phone calls since September. “The energy and enthusiasm I’ve been sending out there has been exciting.”
Hitt said Monday he was on the phone all day from his campaign headquarters – the Park Meadows Lodge in West Vail, which he manages – and if business allows it today he plans to join Gordon at Town Hall as much as possible.
“I’ve got to run the lodge. But I’m getting out my long johns, a hat, thick socks and some gloves for the day,” said “the Hittman,” whose sign reads: “The right choice for your voice.”
Meskimen said the weather itself will determine what, if any, last-day rally he can muster. The owner of Thank You Masked Man Services, which among other things offers snowplow services, said he expects to be quite busy.
“I’m at the mercy of the weather. I very well may have to be out there all day plowing and shoveling and telling my guys what they should be doing,” said Meskimen.
“A quiet day’
November’s election was a mixed bag, as first-time candidate Kent Logan won the most votes in what is believed to be a record turnout – 1,111 ballots cast, for 31 percent of eligible voters – for an “off-year” election. He joined fellow challenger Kim Ruotolo and incumbents Rod Slifer and Greg Moffet next to sitting council members Dick Cleveland and Diana Donovan.
Today’s turnout is not expected to even approach that, however. While there are 4,151 total registered voters, Vail Town Clerk Lorelei Donaldson is predicting a “light” turnout based on election results from January 1996, when Vail held its last special election. At the time, 362 votes were cast, a 10 percent turnout, when voters first elected Kurz to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor Peggy Osterfoss.
The town’s communications director, Suzanne Silverthorn, said history, coupled with the weather, is not encouraging.
“All indications are it will be a quiet day,” Silverthorn said.
“It’s been exciting’
Low turnout can have its advantages for a successful campaigner. A candidate successful in convincing even an extra few dozen people to go to the polls could win a close battle. Some insiders have suggested the two older, more conservative candidates, Hitt and Meskimen, could split the vote of that constituency, leaving the door wide open to the more liberal-minded Gordon.
“I’m approaching the same problems with a different philosophy,” Gordon says.
Meskimen, who previously served on several town boards as well as the Eagle County Planning Commission, says no matter how much you campaign, you just never know what’s going to happen.
“You know, you just go out there and listen to everybody and they tell you you’ve got their vote,” he says. “Then if you lose, you wonder how that can be.”
No matter what happens, Hitt, who plays rhythm guitar and sings in a local rock ‘n’ roll band, Bad Little Doggie, said he’s enjoyed his first campaign for public office. He even hopes “to get a few gigs out of it,” he added.
“Win, lose or draw, it’s been exciting,” Hitt said.
Special election info
– Today – Election Day. Polls at the Town Hall open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Results will be posted on TV Channel 19, as well as the town of Vail’s Web site, http://www.vailgov.com.
– 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.
The special election this year is not coordinated with any other election.
For more information, contact the Vail Town Clerk’s Office at 479-2136.