A pro-business candidate, Burke became much more during eight years of service | SummitDaily.com

A pro-business candidate, Burke became much more during eight years of service

Councilman Mark Burke, center, reacts as friends offer kind words during the public comments portion of the Breckenridge Town Council meeting last Tuesday at Town Hall. It was Burke’s last meeting before the end of his second-consecutive term.
Eli Pace / epace@summitdaily.com

Having served two terms on Breckenridge Town Council, Mark Burke is done, at least for now.

Over the last eight years, Burke has been a strong ally for not just local business, but early childhood education, the environment and much more.

He helped preside over Breckenridge town government as the town rebounded from the recession, and he played roles in what he sees as some of the town’s greatest achievements over the last eight years, including construction of the Arts District, the addition of so many workforce housing units and creation of the Summit County South Branch Library in Breckenridge, just to name a few.

For his efforts, Burke was the center of attention at Tuesday’s council meeting. It was his last as an elected official and punctuated by a heartfelt sendoff with a standing ovation from his peers, along with his family and friends who filled the audience.

In a follow-up interview, Burke wouldn’t rule out another run for public office, perhaps sometime down the road for county commissioner or a seat on the board of education.

However, the man originally from Enfield, Connecticut, who decided to make Breckenridge his home was more focused on the town he’s come to love, its people and their collective future, even as he takes a step back from public life.

“Listen, I’m still going to be an active citizen,” Burke said of his plans. “How do you back off after eight years and say, ‘I don’t care about these issues anymore?’”

Obviously, he can’t.

While Burke said he won’t miss getting his ears bent over dinner anymore or pouring over 100-plus page council packets, he conceded it’s going to be tough not being “in the know” or having a vote in town affairs. More than anything, though, Burke thinks he’ll miss the people the most, no longer working with council or the town staff he’s grown to respect so much over the years.

That will be likely the hardest part of leaving office, he said.


A business guy

Burke came into office as “the pro-business guy,” winning election in 2010 as the town was trying to cope with the economic downturn of the recession.

Burke recalled that, at the time, many of the people people who supported his candidacy liked his experience as a business owner, including Burke & Riley’s Irish Pub inside the La Cima Mall.

“You have to keep in mind that the La Cima Mall was vacant at the time, and when I say vacant, I mean it was vacant,” Burke said, remembering occupancy rates as low as 30 percent when he first moved to town.

And it wasn’t like voters were lacking in choice when they put him on council, either.

Burke was one of seven candidates vying for three open seats in 2010, but he emerged as the top vote-getter, receiving 158 more votes than the candidate who finished with the second-highest count.

Four years later, as Burke sought re-election, he found himself in another full lineup of candidates. But once again, he led the field, this time receiving 620 votes out of 1,020 ballots cast, a record for turnout.

As things would have it, Burke turned out to be an advocate for environmental causes, taxpayer-funded early childhood education and other initiatives that have little to nothing to do with the business community. There were even a couple times, like voting to allow open containers at some downtown events, that Burke went against local business interests because, he said, “It was the right thing to do.”

Looking forward, Burke said he believes balancing growth with the town’s strained infrastructure will continue to remain the single biggest issues facing Breckenridge because, as he put it, “everything is affected” by growth.


Council’s control

Burke won his election campaigns focusing largely on three issues, including promises to fight for a better grocery store, an expanded post office and more parking in town.

It’s funny, he said, because even though the post office had been a long-standing problem in Breckenridge — and continues to be an issue — council actually has little control over it.

“And this is the challenge for our council,” he explained. “The citizens that don’t come to the meetings, which is 95 percent of voters, don’t really understand what we have control over and what we don’t. Council absolutely has no control over the post office other than we can try to use our influence.”

During his first term, Burke recalled the town actually offered the U.S. Postal Service free land on Airport Road for a new post office, but that offer was ultimately rejected.

Over the years, Burke has also tired unsuccessfully to leverage the town’s biggest grocery store, City Market, for an expansion. He acknowledged not everyone currently serving on council feels the same way, but Burke contends that access to food is a basic need and believes an expansion is in the public’s best interest.

Getting a better grocery store remains an issue for Burke, and he’s happy to see the town’s efforts there are ongoing. As for parking, Breckenridge is moving forward with plans to break ground on a new parking garage at Tiger Dredge and F Lot this spring, and Burke believes that, after years of studying the problem and its potential solutions, now is the time to act.


Greatest achievements

So much has happened with Breckenridge over the last eight years Burke struggled to identify a specific council action as the one that made him most proud.

If he had to pick though, Burke is certainly pleased with the Arts District, which he highlighted as one asset that helps Breckenridge exist as more than a ski town. Furthermore, the plan had included 10 to 15 years of construction to build the district, but council got it done in just three.

The South Branch Library is another “gem,” Burke added, explaining that he believes it was the largest historical renovation of its time in Summit County and, looking at how often it gets used, thinks it was money well spent.

The renovation came as the result of a three-way partnership between members of the public who supported the project through donations, Summit County officials and Breckenridge town government.

Progress in the town’s workforce housing arsenal, which almost didn’t exist eight years ago, Burke said, is another major piece of progress that he thinks stands out as a move in the right direction, just like the town’s efforts to fund early childhood education even tough voters were against raising taxes to do it.

But more than anything, Burke concluded, Breckenridge’s greatest asset is its people.

“I really believe our greatest asset is our staff,” he said. “I really do… I think there’s a strong feeling now that our staff, our people are the most significant asset we have, and I like to think I played a little role in that.”

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