Amy Choate-Nielsen: Park City's Dana Williams: Half hippie, half politician

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23 2008 12:37 a.m. MST

Park City Mayor Dana Williams performs the national anthem at a celebrity hockey tournament.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

PARK CITY — It's not unusual that a man in his early 50s with two silver hoops in his ear and the personality of a rock star would be invited to play the national anthem — Jimi Hendrix style — for the opening of a celebrity hockey tournament.

But the fact that it is Park City's own mayor, Dana Williams, doing the honors could be a little surprising — unless you know the man.

Sitting in his office on what would otherwise be a day off, surrounded by books, an unopened bottle of wine and a window that looks straight onto a ski slope, Williams is effervescent in a half-hippie, half-politician kind of way.

In one minute he cheerfully espouses his theories on international diplomacy ("I'm 100 percent convinced there would be no war if everyone drank together," Williams says), and in the next he seriously describes his passion for good government and the weighty responsibility of being an elected official.

"I love my job," Williams declares.

Even as the world turns its attention to his city during Sundance, he'd still rather talk about climate change, Park City's inner personality and the city's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint than his repeated run-ins with stardom.

As mayor, Williams has welcomed the Sundance Film Festival to his town for the past six years. This year, as in past years, Williams introduced the second showing of the Sundance premiere, "In Bruges" on its opening night, filling in for Robert Redford.

Yes, Williams played The Star Spangled Banner for David Boreanaz, Michael Rosenbaum and a host of other celebrities on Sunday, and sure, his band will play on the closing night of the festival, and of course, his boyish face is featured in the 2008 film festival guide.

But that's not important, at least to him.

What is important to Williams during festival time is that visitors ride the free bus system, which runs on biodiesel, and not rent cars. It's important to Williams that people shop and especially ski, since the resorts are largely neglected during the festival's 10 days.

"I make sure the buses are running and the toilets flush and the police answer the calls," Williams says. "I'm not an A-lister, but every now and then, something happens and I get to participate."

Though Sundance may be a flash-in-the-pan paparazzi shot for some, to Williams, the festival's presence in his city has created a lasting relationship that almost seems familial.

"Sundance, to me, is one of the greatest public/private partnerships," Williams says in one of his more serious tones. "We've bought into the culture now, since the film institute relocated to Park City, there is a Sundance presence here year-round. ... We're attached at the hip."

In fact, when Williams is asked about his most memorable Sundance moment, he has a hard time thinking of a star-studded story.

There was the time when a famous California politician, Williams wouldn't say who, was poking around City Hall on a Sunday when Williams happened to be cleaning with a feather duster. The politician assumed Williams was the janitor, and he asked to see the mayor's office.

Williams complied and didn't say anything about his identity until the politician saw his face in a picture on the wall. The politician's surprise was enough to make Williams chuckle about it still.

The mayor gets the "Don't you know who I am?" treatment from visiting celebs often enough, too, but he just laughs it off. To a hippie-hearted surfer dude whose greatest Sundance memory was meeting some of his boyhood surfing idols who were featured in a Sundance film, the names and faces of Hollywood's latest stars aren't so important.

"To me, that's kind of ancillary to the overall thing," Williams said. "A lot of the glitz and everything else, I don't care about. ... The biggest thing about the office (of mayor) that I've learned is that it's not about me. It's about the vision."


E-mail: achoate@desnews.com