Ask just anyone not studying city planning or state history and they might be hard pressed to name Colorado’s sixth largest city. To save a quick rush to Wikipedia or Google, the answer is Thornton. It sits just north of Denver in Adams County and is home to approximately 120,000 Thorntonians or Thorntans. But to avoid confusion or argument, let’s just call them residents. However, if you’re former Colorado State Rep. Val Vigil, on Nov. 2, you may simply want to call them constituents.
Vigil, a well-known Adams County politician who now sits on the Thornton City Council and served four terms in the state legislature, is hoping to be the city’s next mayor. He thinks he has the right stuff to let people know that Thornton is open for business, a fact that seems to have been lost or overlooked by people who should know better, including government.
“We got passed over for FasTracks,” Vigil said. The north line of FasTracks, the Regional Transportation District’s multi-billion dollar effort to link the metro system together with light rail and buses, “ran out of money,” Vigil said. As a result, the FasTracks link to Thornton won’t be built, at least not without a self-imposed tax hike by Thornton voters.
As a result, the north spur linking Thornton to the rest of the system got deferred, perhaps, indefinitely. To ensure that the city doesn’t become a transportation victim, Vigil said, Thornton voters will have to pass a tax increase to help cover the costs of building the link. Failure to pass the proposed tax increase could leave Thornton watching growth pass it by on its way to somewhere else. And that, says Vigil, is pretty much the way things have gone the last several years.
“We continue to work and fight that battle,” Vigil said. It is a battle that has lingered for longer than anyone in Thornton city government cares to think about. Prior to 9/11 and the lost economic decade that followed, Thornton was one of the state’s more robust communities. “We tripled in size in just eight years,” he said.
During the boom times, Thornton planned for even more growth. The city built a web of new infrastructure but as the economy cooled, Thornton seemed to ice over. Little by little, businesses just seem to move away or lose interest. Now, ten years after 9/11 it has the infrastructure in place to accommodate a population of 200,000 but can only sit and wait.
As it sits and waits for new business opportunities, other cities in the county, including Commerce City and Brighton, have experienced significant growth. Both cities have added new employers, including wind energy giant Vestas. Vestas brought more than a thousand jobs to Commerce City and many new workers have become permanent residents thanks to the more affordable housing prices.
The 64-year-old Vigil believes Thornton can play that game, too. He says he has the vision, leadership and track record to do what municipal neighbors to the east have done and his mayoral predecessors have failed to do—lure new business to Thornton.
“Who else has the connections and the contacts,” he asks. Vigil says he has personal relationships with the state’s congressional delegation. “I’ve served with most of them,” he said, referring to those elected officials who’ve gone from the state legislature to Congress.
Vigil’s two opponents in the upcoming race include Thornton mayor pro tem Mack Goodwin and businesswoman and school board member Heidi Williams.
The New Mexico native, whose father herded sheep in the mountains along the Colorado-New Mexico border, attended Adams State College and taught for two years in New Mexico before permanently settling in Colorado. His teaching years, he says, continues to give him an intimate connect to the classroom.
Vigil has two daughters who work for the Adams County school district. One is a high school dean of students, the other a secretary. Through them he remains close to a lot of district students. “I go to the schools at least once a month and speak with students,” he says.
Vigil also thinks that as mayor he might have the chance to move the city council to support a stalled piece of state legislation, a bill that would allow undocumented students the chance to pay in-state tuition at state colleges.
“It’s common sense to me,” Vigil said. “How can we go wrong educating all of our kids?”