Sept. 11 became backdrop to Park City anthrax scares, an unruly City Hall election and economic jitters
The attacks occurred at the start of an extraordinary 5-month stretch in the community’s history
On Miners Day in 2001, which fell on Sept. 3, Park City was readying for a City Hall election that, it appeared by then, would be an especially bruising contest.
The three-term incumbent mayor, Brad Olch, was retiring and three high-profile candidates were vying to succeed him. Fred Jones was a popular member of the Park City Council, Jim Doilney was a former city councilor and Dana Williams was the community’s best-known development watchdog. The City Council election, too, was hot, with eight people seeking one of the two seats on the ballot.
The municipal election calendar in that era called for primaries to be held in October rather than the summertime scheduling nowadays, meaning all the candidates at that moment were elbowing for a spot on the Election Day ballot in November.
Candidates marched in the Miners Day parade, and they spent the first days of September pressing issues like the preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics that were slated to open a little more than a month after the winners took office, growth and traffic.
Eight days after Miners Day, on Sept. 11, the campaign, and the community, was altered as Parkites of all stripes watched the horrors on the East Coast. An election that was expected to be full of tensions suddenly became even more nerve-racking.
The candidates were thrust into issues like the safety of the community and Olympic security. The topics received little attention prior to Sept. 11, but voters wanted to learn what they could about the sensitive issues, usually addressed in closed-door settings, in the final weeks of the campaign. The economic jolt caused by the attacks also was notable heading into an uncertain Olympic winter.
At the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, the passage of time provides perspective on what was an extraordinary five-month stretch in Park City’s history. The recession era seven years later played out over an extended period, and it is still too early to consider the continuing novel coronavirus pandemic in historic terms, but the time between Sept. 11 in 2001 and the closing ceremonies of the Olympics the following Feb. 24 stands at this point as one of Park City’s particularly seminal periods.
“We rallied together as a community,” Olch, who delivered remarks to a distraught crowd at the Olympic Welcome Plaza hours after the attacks, said in an interview as the anniversary approached, recalling that the ongoing preparations for the Games could have helped Park City through the difficult months after Sept. 11. “Maybe it was positive the Games were coming to Park City after what happened on 9/11.”
The Sept. 11 attacks immediately led to a steep decline in tourism in Park City, something only partially offset by the shoulder-season timing. There were widespread cancellations for fall stays reported by the lodging industry in the week-plus following Sept. 11, some based on an inability to fly with air traffic temporarily stopped and others as a result of economic worries.
There was also concern that Park City itself, as one of the nation’s top-tier mountain resorts, presented a high-profile target at any time, no less with the Olympics looming. By October, with further jitters following anthrax-laced mail cases elsewhere in the nation, local law enforcement agencies received reports of suspicious letters and substances. In one of the cases, the authorities were called to a Kimball Junction hotel room after white dust was discovered. The dust was determined to be drywall from work on bathroom ceilings. In a separate case, a white substance was found at the Main Street post office, forcing a brief closure of the building for what investigators later said appeared to be laundry detergent.
The unruly City Hall campaign continued against that backdrop, fueling anxiety that was even broader than what would have otherwise been expected during a political campaign just before the Olympics. There was an unsubstantiated claim of attempted bribery in the mayoral contest while a City Council candidate dealt with concern about a conflict of interest between public service and professional work in the banking industry. Those sorts of political intrigues drew attention away from core issues like security, the economy and the vision for a post-Olympic Park City.
The voters dropped Doilney in the primary, pitting Willams and Jones against each other in the final weeks of the campaign. Williams won the mayor’s office in a landslide, securing the first of three consecutive terms that kept him in office 12 years. He took the oath of office just weeks before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The two City Council seats went to Jim Hier and Kay Calvert. They were sworn into office alongside Williams.
A month later the Olympic torch relay reached Park City, igniting 17 days of winter-sports magic in the community that so many longed for after the difficult days of the fall of 2001.
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A member of the Park City Council on Thursday remained especially concerned about the continued spread of the novel coronavirus. City councilor Steve Joyce delivered some of the notable comments during a meeting between Park City’s elected officials and Phil Bondurant, who is the Summit County health director.