Mark Gordon keeps his drive for a seat on the Vail Town Council in high gear
If there’s a died-in-the-wool optimist in the race for that coveted seventh seat on the Vail Town Council, it’s undoubtedly Mark Gordon.
Two months ago, after campaigning long and hard since summer, he barely missed his goal, finishing 85 votes shy of a seat on the Town Council. But Gordon, 40, hasn’t missed a beat, continuing his campaign at fever pitch with the same slogan: “Bringing the town back to Vail.”
“My proposals and ideas are the same because the problems are the same. Nothing’s changed my mind. I’ve just added to it,” he says. “The reaction I’ve gotten from the people has been amazing. I’ve been flattered. They do believe I’d look after the interests of all the people in town, as well as the future of the town.”
What Gordon, who works for Vail Resorts as lead foreman at Vail Mountain’s communications center in Lionshead, has added to the campaign chatter is his stated mission of making the Town Council more accessible.
“The residents of Vail want a government that listens to them. They want a say in the decisions that affect their future. They say for too long they’ve not had that representation on the Town Council. I’m going to change that,” says Gordon, a Vailite for three years, having moved from Louisville, Ky., with his wife, Tracy. “This all comes from my discussions with people through the process and since the last election.”
The Gordons live in the Matterhorn neighborhood, in West Vail, having come to town by “random luck,” he says. They had visited to “check out the Back Bowls” on a ski trip to Breckenridge about five years ago and, upon their return to Louisville, decided “to make a change” and move to “a mountain town.” A letter-writing and resume campaign ensued, and ultimately they found employment in the Vail Valley. An artist, Tracy Gordon serves as a member of Vail’s Art in Public Places committee when she’s not painting or working at The Home Depot.
Mark Gordon has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in comparative literature from Indiana University in Bloomington. Both degrees had concentrations in filmmaking. Since college, he’s been a publisher, he’s owned his own record label – Boss Snake Music – he’s produced corporate training videos and he founded and managed a cable television channel. A player of the electric and bass guitar, he’s also written a few short stories, published online.
A “lifelong activist,” Gordon says he’s interested even more since the November election in being a member of the Town Council.
“I’m happy they postponed the traditional council retreat until after this election,” he says. “Frankly, with the makeup of this council, we have serious talent and intellect and forward-thinking people. I’m looking forward to working with them.”
A former marketing consultant to the trade-show industry, too, Gordon says his “well-rounded” background makes him the perfect candidate to help the town in building a voter-mandated conference center.
“With my background, I’d love to take the lead on planning the conference center. I have a lot of experience in the conference industry,” he says. “The building of the conference center is an amazing marketing opportunity. The ground-breaking itself could offer a couple days of skiing or whitewater rafting and a hard-hat tour for conference planners. Let them sign on the dotted line.”
With half a billion dollars or so in other private and public redevelopment projects waiting in the wings, however, Gordon wants to make sure the conference center doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
“We need to look at the big picture, that the timing of every project coming online is the right time,” he says. “I mean, don’t open up a conference center while there’s nothing but big holes in the ground everywhere else.”
Anyone who’s paid attention to the conversations and campaigns of Gordon and his rivals in Tuesday’s special election – Farrow Hitt and Lou Meskimen – should notice a big difference in their political beliefs, especially about the role of local government.
“There’s definitely a philosophical difference,” says Gordon. “I believe a local municipality can be a force for good for the community – as long as it’s managed properly. Government as an institution is not a problem; a poorly managed government is a problem. I want to make sure Vail’s government is a solution-creator.”
“No hidden agenda’
Some people say Gordon’s job at Vail’s communications center would be a conflict of interest, as his paycheck comes directly from the valley’s economic engine and largest employer, Vail Resorts. He says he doesn’t see a conflict.
“I want to set policy for the town; I don’t set policy for Vail Resorts,” says Gordon, adding he has “no hidden agenda” and would step away from becoming involved with any issue that even had the appearance of a conflict, a method employed by other council members in the past.
An idea man
Besides his optimism, Gordon is becoming known for his creative, innovative ideas, such as town-issued vouchers in the parking structures. Worth money at local businesses and restaurants, the vouchers would encourage people to stay in town longer – and presumably spend more money, providing a much-needed boost in sales-tax revenues.
“If people just ski and leave, we don’t gain anything,” Gordon says, adding the merchants he’s talked with like the idea. “We need to turn them into consumers, whether they are downvalley guests or Front Rangers.”
Then there’s what Gordon calls a “business incubator” – a task force or business advocacy group of sorts that could “recognize what needs to be filled in town and then make it happen.” The group – made up of volunteers from the business community, government agencies, chambers of commerce and Colorado Mountain College – could provide advice, expertise and training to Vail businesses, be they existing or new to town. That would go a long way toward filling Vail’s more than two dozen empty store fronts, he says.
“My father, my mother, my grandmother, they were idea people. They’re not set in their ways; they always look at new ways of doing things,” Gordon says. “I’m not just a pie-in-the-sky kind of guy. I want to see many of these things through, but I don’t have an ego invested in these ideas. If it’s going to help the life of the people in Vail, all the better.”
A family affair
It’s clear Mark Gordon wants to make Vail the ideal mountain community, and Tracy Gordon is clearly behind him in that endeavor. The Gordons, in fact, are in the process of adopting a child from Russia, adding to a family that also includes a black dog aptly named Kafka, known for his “sense of the absurd.”
“We’re blessed we can have a meaningful affect on this town’s future. That’s what’s great about this town, and we want to see more of that,” Mark Gordon says. “Tracy? It’s her town, too, and she wants to see me succeed. And Kafka and I spoke the other day. Basically, as long as I keep feeding him, he’s OK with it. Of course he wants to see me on the Town Council, too.”
– Full name: Mark Gordon
– Age: 40
– How long have you lived in Vail, and where did you come from originally?
“I’ve lived in Vail for a little over three years. My wife and I moved here from Louisville, Ky. I have lived in Long Island, N.Y., Tampa, Fla., Bloomington, Ind. and Jerusalem. I have also traveled extensively throughout the United States while working in the conference industry.”
– Occupation: “Lead at the Vail Mountain Communication Center, which is responsible for monitoring fire and burglar alarms, lost and found, security dispatch and grooming and snow reports.”
– Political/government experience:
“I have been a lifelong political and community activist. I have volunteered for many political campaigns, and I have worked as a poll judge. I was president and co-founder of the Graduate Employee Association at Indiana University. I have always been involved, from religious organizations to neighborhood associations.”
– 1) – What specific concerns or issues led you to run for Vail Town Council?
“I want Vail to be the best that it can be. My candidacy is focused on making sure that Vail is a vibrant town and an inclusive community with a thriving, diverse business sector.”
– 2) – What do residents of Vail want from local government, and how do you plan to meet their needs?
“During my many conversations throughout my campaign, I’ve come to recognize that the residents of Vail are starved for interaction with the Town Council. They want a government that is responsive to their needs. I will always be approachable and open to meeting with any community member.”
– 3) – What personal qualities do you feel you offer that will best benefit town government?
“I’m smart enough to know I don’t have all the answers, and I’m optimistic enough to believe I can make a difference.”
– 4) – The most recent Vail Community Survey identified “sustaining economic vitality of businesses in Vail” as the most important issue on the minds of Vail’s residents. How do you plan to address that?
“We need to turn day skiers into overnight guests through better marketing and incentives. We need to fill the empty storefronts by seriously looking at instituting an empty storefront assessment as well as a dialogue with the landlords. We should immediately start a new, targeted business “incubator’ to work on our retail mix. The town has to expedite the approval process for the conference center, the new hotels and new retail space.”
– 5) – Declining sales-tax revenues are being blamed for a decline in Vail’s economic vitality. If elected, how would you turn things around?
“We need to continue to market Vail effectively to the identified target consumers. It is important to continue the transition to a year-round economy. I’d like to turn parkers into consumers through a parking voucher system.”
– 6) – A common question has been “how can the town help the business community? But how do you think the business community could become less dependent on the town?
” I think a business improvement district is worth exploring. This would give the local merchants a say in how their tax dollars are spent within the town.”
– 7) – A lot has been said recently on “accountability.” What does that mean to you?
“Accountability is being able to completely explain any of my stances on any issue. It also means not making any decision until all sides of the argument have been carefully examined.”
– 8) – Streetscape improvements, including adding snowmelt capabilities, are due to begin this spring and continue in phases for several years. How can the town and the business community work together to minimize the short-term negative impacts?
“We need to always look at the big picture and keep the timing of the projects in mind. The town needs to make sure that our guests know how to get around the construction. We also have to use the construction as a marketing opportunity.”
– 9) – The previous Town Council adopted tax incremental financing, or TIF, as a way of funding public improvements to go along with a substantial amount of privately funded redevelopment in Lionshead. How can you help ensure the process works to the advantage of both Vail and the larger community in the valley?
“We need to do an exceptional job of managing the redevelopment. It is obviously to our advantage to expedite the project, the sooner the construction is done the better off the community will be. It is imperative that we keep the big picture in mind throughout the redevelopment process.”
– 10) – Traffic noise from Interstate 70 has become a big issue in Vail. Should the town get serious about burying the interstate, or do you think noise walls are the solution?
“I believe that burying the interstate is seriously worth looking into. I believe that the ultimate solution will be a combination of reduced speed limits, tunnels, noise walls and expanded mass transit.”
– 11) – Vail began as a ski resort and evolved into a community. Where do you see this ongoing evolution going over the next 10 years?
“Vail becomes a thriving and vibrant town. Our conference center becomes the premier mountain conference destination. New residents are brought into our community through affordable housing options and remodeling loans. Many second-home owners decide that they truly want to vote in Vail so they declare Vail as their primary residence. Vail’s retail mix becomes diversified and we have a sustainable year-round economy.”
– 12) – The Donovan Park Pavilion is the first permanent community amenity built by the Town of Vail since the Vail Public Library in 1983. What kind of facility, if any, would you most like to see in the future and how would you propose funding it?
“We need to build the conference center. Its funding is already assured through the lodging tax. We must also fund the reconstruction of the public areas in the Village Core and Lionshead. In addition, I’d like to see serious consideration of a recreation center, an art museum and increased mass-transit capabilities throughout the valley.”
– 13) – The approval of housing at Middle Creek and the purchase of Timber Ridge are significant steps in Vail’s efforts to bring affordable housing to its employees. Do you believe the town should be more involved – or less involved – in providing housing?
“It is a municipality’s responsibility to insure that the town has a diverse citizenry. In order for a resort community to remain vibrant and relevant, the government must advance the agenda of affordable housing. The market alone will never do this. I want to see Timber Ridge redeveloped into a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood. I’d like to see the town administer a program for low-interest remodeling loans. This will help families move into and stay in Vail.”