Campaigning for laughs
The recent passing of ex-Park City mayor Leon Uriarte has thrown me back in time to the uproarious mayoral election campaign of 1975, a truly off-the-wall crusade with hilarious sidebars at every turn.
With Leon – the incumbent and favorite candidate among the old-timers – already on the ballot, it would take the late addition of two of the more colorful souls in town as write-in-candidates to turn the election season completely on its head.
Mary Lehmer, longtime local attorney and ever-present thorn in the side of Park City politicians and newspaper editors alike, was the first to enter the fray. A favorite among alternative factions within the community, including many of the newcomer contingent, Lehmer’s sudden intrusion injected instant life into what portended to be just another boring election.
One of the first to join the group of supporters coalescing around Lehmer was a relative newcomer and Main Street saloon legend who went by the moniker "O. D. McGee." Events would play out among the local nocturnal cognoscenti, however, which would also draw McGee into the race as a write-in candidate. The plot was thickening.
A glance at the cultural context within which Park City’s political and social circus played out back in the early 1970s would probably be of some use at this point to those who weren’t yet, at that time, participants or witnesses to the ongoing discord between, to greatly oversimplify the social divisions, the "miners" and the "hippies."
Both contingents, of course, could be broken down into various substrata. One, a blue-collared intelligentsia among the longhaired interlopers could often be found at the Alamo Saloon expounding on the nuances of the existentialist-expatriate. Existence-versus-essence debates were often known to send eavesdroppers scurrying for vacant barstools somewhere out of hearing range.
The 1963 opening of Treasure Mountains Resort, now Park City Mountain Resort, had obviously been the instigating factor that drew so many from the counter-culture enclaves` of the day to Park City during those years.
It was natural that tensions between the existing culture and the more flamboyant new bunch would simmer for a spell before finally coming to a boil in the "Culture Riot" that followed the 1971 Fourth of July Parade. In the aftermath of the turbulence, however, many personal feuds dissolved and the community more or less came together.
Not much had changed on the political front, however. Many, especially the newly arrived, had issues with the even distribution of justice in Park City, or actually, as they saw it, the lack thereof. Maybe with a new mayor in City Hall, all that would change. So a "throw the bums out" mentality emerged among the challengers.
I’m not sure anyone remembers the gist of Leon’s campaign. More of the same, probably. Let’s just say he was the softest-spoken of the three. To longtime locals mulling their options, he was more trustworthy. Who knows what we’re going to get from either the loudmouth or the barfly? Best to stay with what we got!
Even those of us in the Lehmer and McGee camps knew success on our part was an odds-on long shot – even more so with O.D. than with Mary. Lehmer had a legitimacy in jurisprudence that stretched not only statewide but nationally as well. And anyway, we all knew McGee’s campaign was a humor-driven lark. It’s just that we were having too much fun to let go!
McGee had come to Park City from L.A. during the late ’60s after having spent the winter of ’66-67 in Aspen. Best known around town for a lightning-quick outlandish sense of humor and a seeming inability to say "when" to a barkeep, even Lehmer jumped on his bandwagon, as he did hers.
It was McGee, to be sure, who made the 1975 Park City mayoral campaign so memorable. His policy positions, from his promise to solve the dogs-on-Main Street issue by "busing in underprivileged and impoverished dogs from neighboring communities" to his "shaking babies and kissing hands" approach to campaigning, kept our segment of the electorate in stitches.
We never lost perspective, nor took his impending defeat too hard. How could we? We’d already won our most satisfying political battle ever when Richard Milhous Nixon resigned in disgrace over a year earlier on August 9, 1974.
Leon won, of course, or at least he maintained his mayor’s seat. But McGee didn’t do too badly for himself, either. In fact, after offering congratulations to Leon at the Uriarte victory party, rumor has it that he slipped out a side door with a sheepish grin and one of the mayor’s younger female staffers.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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