Blake brings years of experience to Breck council
BRECKENRIDGE – Almost every morning, Ernie Blake can be found sitting at the back booth at Daylight Donuts “holding court” – talking with snowplow drivers, landscapers, court secretaries – the people who make up the heart and soul of Breckenridge.
“It’s like a family here,” said Blake, a Breckenridge town council member-elect. “Here, you can get a whole range of information – some good, some bad. When I moved here, I didn’t know a single person, and now I have lots of friends. Those corny little ads – “Real Town, Real People’? They’re true. I love this place.”
Discussion at the booth ranges from international dilemmas to what some of his coffee klatchers call the “green weenies” fighting on behalf of Cucumber Gulch on Peak 8. Blake takes it all in as he fills in the squares of a crossword puzzle.
Blake graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics and nuclear engineering. He received his post-graduate education at one of Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover’s nuclear power schools in Vallejo, Calif. And later, he earned a law degree from Duke University.
When he was young, he wanted to be a ski instructor, he said. But a guidance counselor told Blake if he wrote a paper outlining why he wanted to be a ski instructor, the teacher would flunk him. Blake instead wrote a paper about being a lawyer, although he really wanted to be a doctor.
After spending three years patrolling the seas in a nuclear submarine, Blake decided to get a law degree; the decade of schooling needed to become a doctor was too much, he said. He and his wife worked a variety of jobs to put him through school. A big family outing back then, Blake said, involved taking their two boys to RV open houses and letting them jump on the mattresses and eat free hot dogs.
Blake joined the Washington, D.C., firm of Shaw-Pittman and stayed there for 30 years, serving as counsel for the owners of the Three-Mile Island nuclear plant in New York, the company in charge of cleaning up nuclear contamination at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and for Phillipine President Corazon Aquino and Westinghouse.
Since his arrival in Breckenridge in 1997, Blake has delved into local activities: town meetings, events, fund-raisers. He sits on a variety of nonprofit boards, serves as a mentor to a local teen and offers his time as a ski patroller for Ski Cooper in Leadville and the Breckenridge Ski Resort.
In Breckenridge, his appearance was almost expected at town council and planning commission meetings, where each Tuesday, he said, he made some excellent decisions from the back row.
And he did all that while still working for the Washington, D.C. law firm.
But lawyering was taking up too much of his time. Spending hours locked up in Dulles Airport Sept. 11, then seeing the devastation at the Pentagon, finalized his decision: Blake wanted to do what he wanted to do.
“It wasn’t fair,” Blake said. “I wanted to be involved in this town’s government, and I don’t like to put things off. I couldn’t say to a client, “Let’s put this off for a week; I have a town council meeting.’ Or, “I can’t make it to the meeting because I have to try a case in L.A.’ I couldn’t do it.”
So he quit the firm and ran for a seat on town council.
Blake garnered almost 90 percent of the votes to replace out-going councilman John Warner on the town council April 2; he will be sworn in April 23.
The transition should be a smooth one – Blake arguably spends more time at town meetings than any other citizen – but he says he has a lot to learn. His law partners, he said, say he’s an independent cuss. He prefers to think of himself as honest and forthcoming in his opinions.
“I look forward to the first big budget revision,” he said. “Our priority of finance is important. It’s what we base other decisions on.”
He praises for the current town council for the work it’s done to build amenities for locals and visitors, to toe a fiscally conservative line, maintain infrastructure in town and immediatly react to the economic fallout from Sept. 11.
“They haven’t batted a thousand,” he said. “But you can’t.”
Blake says the town is at the crisis stage as far as parking and transportation is concerned. Highway 9 improvements need to be addressed. He supports the ski area development.
“If we’re going to continue to compete, we’ve got to continue to grow,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance, and one we have to maintain.”
The key is cooperation, between the town, ski resort, other towns and the state, he said.
“In the end, we’re all just people,” he said. “We’re not a ski company, we’re not a town, we’re not a town council. We’re a group of people trying to make decisions.”
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