Park City congressional hopefuls compete against perception of wealth, and the other candidates

Donna McAleer, a Pinebrook resident, twice was the Democratic nominee in the 1st Congressional District, losing both of the contests. She says there is a preconceived notion in the district that the people of Park City are wealthy, something that made it more difficult for her to raise campaign funds.
Park Record file photo

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There are two Republicans from the Park City area running for Congress this year.

And there is one local Democrat who understands how difficult it might be for either of them to become the next member of the House of Representatives from the state’s 1st Congressional District.

The political season is not expected to start in earnest until March, but Howard Wallack and Chadwick Fairbanks III have announced candidacies for the Republican nomination in a congressional district stretching through a wide swath of northern Utah. It includes Park City and surrounding Summit County.

The two are expected to compete against a field that could include well-known politicians from elsewhere in the district as the Republicans vie to succeed the retiring GOP incumbent, Rob Bishop. There could be intense interest in the party’s nominating contest since the candidate who emerges from the GOP will be expected to win the seat on Election Day in November in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District.

Wallack is a retired businessman who lives in the Aerie while Fairbanks lives in the Snyderville Basin and is a self-employed entrepreneur and property manager. Neither has held elected office and both of them have unsuccessfully competed for elected office in Park City.

Summit County, with a population estimated to be approximately 42,000, represents only a small portion of the overall voters in the congressional district, making it more challenging for a local candidate to gather the political momentum to secure a party nomination.

Donna McAleer, though, accomplished the feat twice. She won the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District during consecutive election cycles, in 2012 and 2014. The Pinebrook resident brought a business, not-for-profit, athletic and military background to the two campaigns, having worked in the corporate world after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

McAleer was eventually routed in both of the contests as Bishop steamrolled through most of the district. The voting population of Summit County, which she won in both campaigns, is far too small to propel a congressional candidate to Washington. McAleer took Summit County by healthy margins but was crushed in the other counties, leading to the lopsided losses in both of the elections. In 2018, the most recent year the seat was on the ballot, Summit County accounted for a little less than 8% of the votes as Bishop dispatched the Democratic nominee that year, Lee Castillo. McAleer suffered similarly as the Republicans in the more populous counties overwhelmed Summit County’s Democratic voting bloc during her two campaigns.

Although McAleer carried the Democratic banner in a Republican-controlled district, her experiences as a candidate from the Park City area could nonetheless offer lessons for the two local GOP hopefuls as they move into an important period in the campaign. Like McAleer, Wallack and Fairbanks will need to convince the voters in places like Ogden, Logan and Brigham City they share the same values and desires for the district and the country. And, also like McAleer, they will need to attempt to shed the image of Park City as a left-leaning playground for the wealthy. A Republican voter in the more conservative parts of the district could wonder whether a GOP candidate from the Park City area, perhaps someone like Wallack who moved to Park City from the East Coast, truly embraces the conservatism of the rest of the district.

“They need to be out of Summit County,” McAleer said about a local candidate in the 1st Congressional District, regardless of party. “Because that’s where the voting population is.”

McAleer, who does not know Wallack or Fairbanks, in a recent interview spoke about the challenges of a campaign in the 1st Congressional District as a candidate from the Park City area. She spoke about a preconceived notion encountered on the campaign trail that could eventually play a role on the GOP side this year with the two Park City-area candidates in the running.

“The assumption that everybody who lives in Park City is wealthy,” McAleer said as she explained one of the difficulties of raising campaign funds as a candidate hailing from the Park City area.

Some potential contributors saw a candidate from the Park City area as having the financial means to fund a campaign on their own, making fundraising, a crucial task in a congressional-level campaign, more challenging, she said. McAleer instead had to show herself as an “everyday citizen,” a person who worked at a mountain resort while raising a school-age daughter.

“That wasn’t who I was,” she said about the perception of wealth in the Park City area. “This isn’t my second home. This is my only home.”

Still, though, she said the Park City-area address did not decide the results of the election. Some told her there were other crucial challenges she needed to overcome in the 1st Congressional District.

“People did say I have three strikes against me,” she said, describing the three as being that she is a woman, a Democrat and someone who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Not that I was Park City.”

McAleer since her political days became the executive director of a Salt Lake City-based not-for-profit organization called the Bicycle Collective, a group that promotes bicycling as an environmentally friendly transportation option and provides bicycles to people with low or moderate incomes. She said she would consider another political campaign under certain circumstances and said she has been approached about a 1st Congressional District campaign in 2020 or a Senate bid at some point. Should she mount another campaign, McAleer said, she would highlight her experience as a mother alongside the diverse background she stressed in the earlier campaigns. That sort of strategy could be relatable to the voters, she said.

“I don’t think that the location is the determinant,” McAleer said. “I think a well-run campaign that is successful in getting out the vote in the district can win.”

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