Vail’s presidential love affairs

Vail has demonstrated an amazing capacity over the years to put its politics aside and show a fawning allegiance to presidents, politicos or royalty of any sort — especially if they’re dead and plastered on paper currency.

 

But the live ones, too, will do.

 

We love the limelight, though we feign indifference, and are able to effect chameleon-like clamoring for any ideologue — no matter the ideology.

 

Take, for instance, the sea change that occurred when I first moved to town in ’91 and Dan Quayle, trying to be “more down with the kids” in an election year, learned to snowboard at Vail.

 

Turns out Quayle should have hit the books instead of the slopes. That summer saw “Potatoe-gate,” and five months later he and Bush the Elder were out of office.

 

Not to worry, the incoming administration showed an affinity for our fair valley that lingers to this day. First President Bill Clinton, accompanied by his future presidential prospect of a spouse, Hillary, and daughter Chelsea, stopped by in August of 1993.

 

It was the height of the Whitewater real estate affair, and one local scandal sheet superimposed the Teflon prez’s head on the body of a whitewater kayaker, as if to say, “See, we here in the Happy Valley find allegations of real estate fraud humorous.”

 

It should be noted that Bubba and the Bubbettes never came back — even though we voted for him twice.

 

Clinton’s veep, Al Gore, perhaps enamored of the place because of a personality closely resembling that of our local lodgepole pines, paid a number of visits to the valley, once causing me a two-week delay in obtaining new phone service because he tied up all the phone crews to set up Naval Observatory (the veep White House) West.

 

Contrast that junket with a post-2000 “But-I-won-the-popular-vote” visit when a ski shop manager alleged that the people’s prez, bearded and sporting the rumpled professorial look, had his credit card denied. An aide allegedly rushed to his rescue.

 

But American royalty aren’t the only frequenters of our fair alpine retreat. In 1995, Princess Diana came on ski holiday, and Vail’s penchant for protecting the rich and famous paid dividends as frustrated non-local paparazzi languished in lodges and sulked in local watering holes owing to their inefficiency on skis.

 

And we’ve had a long dalliance with independents (Ross Perot) and independent-minded politicos (Jack Kemp), even going so far as to nearly carry the county for the Reform Party in 1996 (3,821 votes for Perot to Clinton’s 3,870) — a clear indication that second homeowners can count on at least 500 votes from localreal-estate agents.

 

Of course, our longest and most lasting love affair was with a former Republican president whom we (nor the rest of the nation) never voted intoour nation’s highest office: Gerald R. Ford. We had a chance in ’76, but the Beaver Creek resident who started skiing here as a Michigan congressman likely cost himself that presidential election by pardoning his former boss, Richard Nixon.

 

“Had to do it,” he told me gruffly in his first interview after Nixon’s death in ’94. “Had to heal the nation.” His wife, Betty, took that healer role even more personally, surviving then very publicly battling the twin demons of alcoholism and breast cancer. A ski town could have no finer friends in high places.

 

But the Ford family has been phasing out of the valley following the death of Jerry in December 2006. The name still graces an alpine garden, an amphitheater and now the Vail post office, but ithas been years since they skied; they had even been replaced in the annual tree-lighting ceremony by reality TV stars Ryan and Trista Sutter.

 

I’m not saying the Sutters aren’t politician material (stranger things have happened: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger), but it seems unlikely, and so we’re left wondering whom to hitch our marketing bandwagon to next.

 

In a blatant attempt to suck up to another skier (although he probably prefers the more liberal climes of Aspen and its fatal attraction for his friends the Kennedys), we carried the county for Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

 

But Dubya didn’t hold it against us, sending his veep, Dick Cheney, here on numerous occasions to titillate the nation with a mysterious visit to the Vail Valley Medical Center in 2004, and then again in 2006 for the AEI World Forum at Beaver Creek, where a Denver man was arrested for criticizing the war in Iraq. That’s no way to welcome the tourists.

 

But Cheney’s a Jackson Hole lover anyway.

 

So who’s next for the Vail Valley? Neither Obama nor McCain seem the snow-riding types, with Obama clearly preferring pickup hoops to picking his way down the slopes.

 

And once again Aspen is out ahead of us on that front anyway, with Aspen Skiing Co. owner Lester Crown of Chicago coming to Obama’s defense on Israel earlier this year and his son Jim one of Barack’s biggest Windy City fundraisers.

 

So what’s a ski town like Vail sans presidential prospects to do? Newt Gingrich is in town Friday to sign his latest book. Might be worth picking up a couple of copies, just to hedge our bets for 2012.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.

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