Romney and the Olympics: What the Salt Lake Games say about a Mitt Romney presidency (+video)
Nerd, bully or Bond?
Not everyone associated with the Salt Lake Games is a Romney fan.
“Everyone had this love affair with Mitt,” said Ken Bullock, head of the Utah League of Cities and Towns and a member of the SLOC board who believes he’s been unfairly castigated for raising questions over the years about Romney’s leadership.
Bullock described a meeting where Romney attempted unsuccessfully to talk state and local leaders into letting Olympic organizers skip the promised repayment of $59 million in tax dollars used to build venues.
“We went outside the door and he got quite animated, I guess would be the word,” Bullock said. When they went to a quieter place to talk about the issue, Romney asked why there was continued friction between them.
“He said he and Teddy Kennedy get along just fine, why can’t we,” Bullock said, a reference to Romney’s opponent in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race.
“I said, ‘We can,’" Bullock recalled. “That's when he said, ‘You don’t want me as an enemy.'”
Bullock said that was just one of several similar encounters with Romney, although he declined to detail any others. “I took it for what it was,” he said. “Did I lose sleep over it? No. When you’re in a pressure situation, sometimes you say things you don’t mean. … I don’t know if he meant it or not.”
Bullock and others who suggest Romney exploited his time in Utah for political gain say the Olympics were never in real jeopardy despite the scandal and the criminal investigations it sparked.
Three Democrats who had held public office in Utah held a press conference during last February's 10-year anniversary celebration of the 2002 Winter Games to claim Romney took too much credit for its success.
Former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck said then that Romney treated Utahns arrogantly, suggesting "we couldn't possibly do it ourselves. He had to come in to save us and ride in on his white horse."
Even Romney's supporters in Utah acknowledge that he could seem somewhat aloof at times, a different image than what the Olympic leader publicly portrayed with the help of a New York-based public relations firm.
"He sometimes forgets personal connectivity with people around him," said Utah automobile dealer Bob Garff, the former SLOC chairman. "When he has time and when he wants to, he relates very well to people one-on-one. As a general rule, he doesn't have time."
Garff said Romney "didn't reach out and didn't understand some of the local players who had given a lot to the Olympics," but declined to be specific about perceived slights other than to say he felt "personally sad" for the original team behind the bid, Tom Welch and Dave Johnson.
Romney had little to do with either Welch or Johnson; he was careful to keep his distance while the pair was the focus of a federal criminal investigation into the bid scandal. They were acquitted when the case finally went to trial in 2003.
Garff said his own relationship with Romney was favorable. Still, Garff made it clear the candidate has moved on. "If he were to come into town, I doubt he'd call me but we do have a good relationship."
Eynon, whose SLOC office was separated from Romney's by a glass wall, said the Olympic leader could engage in team-building activities like reading a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" and telling jokes. But he was naturally shy.
"I always saw him as a good-looking nerd," Eynon said. "My sense was, this was a shy guy who was polished when he needed to be."
There were few instances that Eynon ever recalled Romney losing his temper, including his well-publicized exchange with a volunteer over a traffic snarl in a venue parking lot that may or may not have included some objectionable language.
For the most part, Eynon said, Romney had the "Kennedyesque" looks of a leader, but his reality was more like the classmate who sat "in the front row with pens in his pocket."
Romney, he said, confided that he "envisions himself as James Bond," often asking himself in situations what the fictional British spy would do. "I think that's about being cool under pressure," Eynon said, "being suave and debonair."
New details about the preparations for Salt Lake's Olympics are expected to surface sometime in August, when the University of Utah's Marriott Library makes available some 1,100 cartons of files from SLOC.
But manuscript archivist Elizabeth Rogers said anyone looking for dirt on Romney will be disappointed. Rogers said the files, set aside for years for higher priority projects until the 2012 election heated up, focus on the nuts and bolts of putting on an Olympics.
"You want to learn the mechanics of running an Olympics, this collection will be a gold mine. If someone wants to find juicy details of what went on behind closed doors, we don't have it," she said. "There's just nothing negative."
Editor's note: First in a two-part series looking at GOP presidential campaign Mitt Romney's Olympic legacy in Utah.
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