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Defeated Democrat had City Councilors’ support

As Election Day approached, Democratic Statehouse candidate Kathy Lofft sent a handbill through the mail to voters, an apparent bid to secure her base in Park City.

She realized she must attract huge numbers of backers in Park City if she was to defeat Mel Brown, the Republican incumbent in District 53. The handbill, which urged voters to "Vote your conscience in this election" and reminded people "what happens in the booth . . . stays in the booth," listed a group of her supporters. They included big-name Utah Democrats like Congressman Jim Matheson, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Peter Corroon, who is the mayor of Salt Lake County.

Near the top of the list were the five members of the Park City Council, each of them identified with the title "Park City Councilmember." The inclusion of the five City Councilors in a partisan mailing is a rare show of party politics for Park City’s elected officials.

Their offices at City Hall are nonpartisan, and they usually avoid discussing party politics in their official roles. The five City Councilors, however, often display Democratic tendencies, with wide-ranging support of platform planks from the political left like environmental and housing issues. But the City Councilors and Mayor Dana Williams have long tried to portray themselves as leaders who do not align themselves with partisan issues, such as the Iraqi war.

They are typically especially careful in GOP-dominated state-level politics, tiptoeing between their own political thinking and the ideals cherished by Utah Republicans. Doing so, city leaders say, allows them to more ably lobby the majority party, including the Republicans who represent Park City in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"Many of our ideas are the same," City Councilman Jim Hier says of Lofft, acknowledging that the Democrat’s campaign approached him about the endorsement but saying he did not expect to be listed in his official capacity.

Hier calls Lofft a hard worker and smart, and he said he hosted a neighborhood gathering for candidates he supported, including Lofft and several people who sought seats on the Summit County Council.

"I don’t think Mel will hold it against City Hall," Hier says.

Park City officials are regulars at the Statehouse during the Legislature’s annual sessions, with City Hall closely monitoring diverse issues like property taxes, tourism funding and local-government finances. In the last decade or so, Park City has tried to strengthen relations with state leaders as the city attempted to set aside its reputation as an outpost with little in common with the rest of the state.

Lofft did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment about the handbill.

Williams, the lone elected official at City Hall whose name is not listed on the handbill, says he believes the Lofft campaign inquired about using his name. He turned down the request. He did not have prior knowledge of the City Councilors lending their names to the campaign.

"I just think it’s important there’s a separation between my job as the mayor and my personal feelings on campaigns," Williams says, declining to say who he voted for in the District 53 election.

He says City Hall has benefited from his refusal to enter partisan politics. He says he has maintained solid relations with Republicans and Democrats in the state government and in Congress.

"Whoever wins that seat is going to be very important to Park City," Williams says.

Brown has never won overwhelming acceptance in Park City, and voters in the city normally support the Democratic candidate in the District 53 campaign. During a Thursday City Council meeting, Williams indicated he hopes for better relations between City Hall and Brown.

The representative, meanwhile, says he will serve Park City regardless of the City Councilors’ support for Lofft. Brown says the Lofft handbill is typical fare during a campaign. Brown says his campaign strategy did not involve seeking endorsements from City Councilors.

"It’s not going to change any interest in representing Park City," Brown says, adding, "I think that’s the quality of a statesman."


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