Analysis: Is Dana Williams invincible?
Andy Beerman will most likely need to nip at opponent to win mayor’s office
Park City voters will have numerous questions during the political season, when the mayor’s office and two City Council seats are on the ballot.
Why is there so much development, some will ask. Others will question why the traffic is so bad.
But another question looms large over the campaign: Is Dana Williams politically invincible?
The mayoral contest of 2017 has clearly been the top of the ticket, literally and figuratively, since before any candidate could formalize a campaign. The first-term incumbent, Jack Thomas, announced he would retire from politics in May, just before the window opened when candidates could file campaign paperwork at the Marsac Building. Three top-tier politicians sought Park City’s highest office – Williams, Andy Beerman and Roger Armstrong.
Williams served three terms as the mayor ending in early 2014, Beerman is a popular second-term City Councilor and Armstrong is a prominent member of the Summit County Council. Williams was the first-place finisher in an August primary, winning nearly 44 percent of the vote. It was a trouncing as Williams bested the second-place finisher, Beerman, by more than 10 percentage points.
In winning the primary by such a large margin, Williams showed he remains broadly popular nearly four years after he left office. Williams has been a high-profile figure in Park City for more than 20 years. He began his political rise in the 1990s as the leader of a development watchdog, winning fans at a time when Park City was amid an extraordinary era of growth.
He won the mayor’s office in 2001, taking office just weeks before the start of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He was re-elected in 2005 and 2009 before opting against seeking re-election in 2013. In the 2001 campaign he dismissed Fred Jones, at the time a highly respected member of the City Council. He was unchallenged when he was re-elected in 2005. In the 2009 campaign, he beat his immediate predecessor in the mayor’s office. Brad Olch himself served three terms and remained popular throughout his 12 years in office.
Williams in his political career has turned back some of the biggest political names of Park City’s skiing era, and none of the contests could be considered close. The 2001 and 2009 campaigns were bruising affairs as Williams was denounced by opponents for his background as a watchdog, his handling of the polarizing Treasure development proposal and a general uneasiness with him by some Parkites.
In his three Election Day wins as well as the primary this year, Williams has kept a coalition intact that includes people from across the political spectrum as well as from Park City’s disparate neighborhoods. He has won blocs of votes from people with concerns with growth, the Latino community and young Parkites.
Williams walked the Miners Day parade route surrounded by followers with signs with slogans like ‘I am a Latina,’ ‘I am an Olympian’ and ‘I am the future.’ Beerman descended Main Street on foot with a group of supporters, many of them carrying campaign signs promoting people and the planet. One of the signs supporting Beerman read “More Park Less City.”
Beerman will mount a campaign that promotes a platform heavily weighted toward continuing City Hall’s successes on issues like housing and the environment in the time since Williams left office. Beerman, the top vote-getter when he was re-elected in 2015, will most likely also have to nip at his opponent’s record at the same time, something that carries political risks that have played a role in dooming others who competed against Williams. There is also the unknown involving Armstrong’s supporters. He grabbed approximately 23 percent of the votes in the primary. His support will be split between Williams and Beerman, but it is not clear whether the Armstrong voters will break in large numbers toward one or the other.
The contest between Williams and Beerman is expected to center on well-established Park City political issues like growth and the local economy. But voters will also look closely at the political personalities. Williams, in his 60s, retains an activist streak from his days as a development watchdog. Beerman, who is in his 40s, is seen as someone who has navigated a delicate line between businessman and environmental activist.
The fall campaign season started in earnest on Monday as the mayoral candidates and the four people on the City Council ballot – Tim Henney, Steve Joyce, Josh Hobson and Mark Blue — marched in the Miners Day parade, the traditional beginning of a two-month stretch of heavy politics.
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Work continues on the Mayflower Mountain Resort, though it was slowed this spring by the pandemic. Ski lifts might start turning in 2023, developers say.