Vail’s favorite gadfly leaving town
EAGLE COUNTY – Michael Cacioppo is moving to warmer climes, but not as warm as some may want.After spending nearly 30 years in Eagle County, the community’s infamous critic and watchdog has stopped publishing his well-known paper, Speakout!, and is leaving the valley. Cacioppo is headed to Mexico for the winter. Perhaps longer. “As I always say to anyone who leaves Vail, you’ll be back,” Cacioppo said. “So I’m saying I’ll be gone for at least the winter. It just depends how much I like it.” Whether it be his lawsuits against the local school district or his published lashings of public officials in his paper, Cacioppo may be best known for making a lot of people mad. Some people admire him for it. “He just had a fervent belief that things were going to hell in a handbasket and someone needed to raise awareness about it,” said Mike Spaniola, a Minturn resident who sometimes wrote for Speakout!.Others believe the community may be all the better without Cacioppo’s help. “He may have had some pretty good ideas, but he couldn’t present them with any kind of rational restraint,” said Jim Bottomley, a former Eagle County school board member. “It always came out to be more harm than good.”On Speakout!Never afraid to speak up, Cacioppo became a regular fixture at local government meetings. His comments and questions, seen as pointed by some, caustic by others, often put politicians on the spot. A self-proclaimed conservative, Cacioppo is quick to point out that he is not a fan of either of the major American political parties. But it’s safe to say “the liberals” get the brunt of the man’s criticism.Five years ago, Cacioppo created a forum to voice his discontent without interruption. Aptly called Speakout!, the free, once-a-week paper featured articles on local politics. Many of his stories revolved around his own interactions with local police and politicians. The former district attorney, Democrat Mike Goodbee, and Democrat County Commissioner Arn Menconi were frequently criticized in Cacioppo’s editorials. He called Menconi un-American for refusing to sign a county resolution condemning the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and supporting the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies.
“Michael has been a great teacher of mine,” Menconi said. “He has helped me to practice patience and compassion towards others when I did not think it was possible. I wish him well in his new endeavors.”The local media, local judicial system, and the State Patrol were targets.Even high-profile, private individuals weren’t immune. Avon resident Walter Dandy received front-page play in Speakout! for protesting the size of the flag and flagpole in the parking lot of Avon’s Wal-Mart Supercenter – an action Cacioppo believed was unpatriotic.”Cacioppo was colorful. He ran a picture of me front and center with the clear implication that I had stolen (the) flag because I’m some sort of leftist,” Dandy said. “Had he checked, he would have learned that I was away at the time, and also, that I have been an enthusiastic Republican all my life.”So I hope he is not holding his breath waiting for a Pulitzer for that piece,” Dandy said. “On second thought, maybe he should.” But Gypsum resident Marty Lich said she is grateful for Cacioppo’s role as “the devil’s advocate.” Cacioppo wanted to make Eagle County a better place, she said.”I think of him as the watchdog,” Lich said. “I think he kept government entities, and that would be all of them, on the up and up because they knew he was watching.”Without him doing that, if they truly think he is gone, it is possible they will rush beyond the legal line and no one else will pick up on it,” she added.On schoolsThe common theme for Cacioppo’s criticism has been his belief that government should represent the will of its constituents, he said.”I resent them, any government, dictating to us. I’m not interested in them courting us from cradle to grave,” he said. “Liberals do that. Their whole power is derived from the Robin Hood concept of taking from one group to buy power for another group.”He sued the school district over a voter-approved employee pay raise that he argued violated the state’s taxpayer rights laws. Cacioppo also believed the school district urged employees through the district e-mail system to boycott Speakout! as retribution for filing the case. So he filed another lawsuit.The case made it all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, where it was ultimately thrown out because Cacioppo had failed to meet some filing deadlines. Bottomley appreciated Cacioppo’s willingness to discuss and debate issues like school budgets and funding, he said. But Bottomley, who served on the school board from 1999 to 2001, said Cacioppo was unwilling to see both sides. “The problem with Michael was when he was opposed, he became irrational,” Bottomley said.
After upsetting the school board president so much she left crying, Bottomley said, he once pulled Cacioppo aside and warned him that if he couldn’t “behave like a gentleman, I will call the Sheriff’s Office.”Cacioppo left but wrote an article in Speakout! stating that Bottomley tried to have him arrested, Bottomley said. “It always got twisted the way he wanted it to look,” Bottomley said. “That was the difficulty in dealing with the guy.” While most who disagree with Cacioppo seem to feel persecuted by him, Spaniola said it is Cacioppo who felt chastised for his beliefs. “I know he had a hard time going to the supermarket,” Spaniola said. Regardless of if you see him as the county’s best example of the power of the First Amendment, Cacioppo believes he has had an effect on Eagle County politics.He uses the local political debates of yesteryear as a prime example. They were called Beer and Baloney nights back then, and the friendliness and camaraderie among candidates were just a bit too soft for Cacioppo. “They were so-called debates in which, of course, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “There were no debates until I started engaging the fellow candidates. I set the tone about what the debates were going to be about. “Politics isn’t about complimenting each other and telling each other you are all wonderful people,” he said. “It’s about telling the voters what you stand for and what positive things you plan to do.” Searching for freedomCacioppo still remembers his first night in Vail. It was Dec. 31, 1974, and he was on vacation.”The skiing was outstanding,” he said. “Vail Village and Lionshead were, at that time, very fun places. There were 63 bars and restaurants … Everybody liked each other. There weren’t any politics, everybody was out here to have a good time, to work hard, to play hard.”He moved to Vail in 1975, worked about a year as the advertising manager of The Vail Trail, then opened an entertainment booking service. Cacioppo has been a DJ, a businessman, a publisher and even served on the Vail Town Council in the late 1980s.Now, greed and development sprawl have changed Eagle County, he said. “It’s turned into a police state,” Cacioppo said. Cacioppo has a one-year visa to work in Mexico. He plans to spend the winter there at least, heading up his new business: A travel agency specifically to help people vacation in Playa Del Carmen, Cacioppo’s favorite resort town on the southern coast of Mexico.
He left on Jan. 1, making no guarantees about when he’ll come back. “I don’t know where my home is,” Cacioppo said. “I have a lot of freedom right now. My kids are grown. I don’t want to own anything.”I’m a man without a party,” he added. “I’m just more interested in seeking freedom than worrying about things.”While the man likes to make predictions – particularly in regards to local elections – he stops short of making any guess on how his departure will be received. “I’ll let the public decide that,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.===================================================Cacioppo factsHome state: KansasCollege: University of KansasMoved to Vail: Oct. 7, 1975First business plan for Vail: “I was so naive at the time that I actually thought I would open a hot dog stand below Chair 1.”First attempt to leave Vail: “It was around 1999. I was gone for about three weeks. I actually had a second home in Kansas and ran a second office of my audio visual business, Captain Video. But my manager back here got divorced and he decided to leave, so I ended up having to come back. I intended to go back and forth and be based in Kansas.”His new travel Web site: http://www.BookPlayaDelCarmen.com===================================================Vail Colorado