BEING SALT LAKE CITY's mayor is a demanding, 24-hour-a-day job, one that could easily and utterly exhaust the occupant of the office.
But according to the man who currently holds the title - Palmer DePaulis - being mayor is also energizing and exciting.And potentially fattening.
His day invariably includes luncheon appearances (sometimes more than one in a day), and people expect the mayor to eat at such occasions.
"I could easily be 400 pounds on this job!" DePaulis says, but he tries to exercise care and sample the food, emphasizing the vegetables. "People are offended if they can't feed you."
Palmer DePaulis has been mayor since July 1985, when he was appointed by the City Council to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mayor Ted Wilson. In November 1985, DePaulis was elected in his own right, then re-elected by a 73 percent majority in 1987.
Before becoming mayor, DePaulis served on the City Council, and before that he worked as an insurance district claims manager and as a high school English teacher. He is originally from California, but was educated in Detroit, receiving a bachelor's degree from Sacred Heart Seminary College and a master's degree in English from Wayne State University.
In an interview in his office, the mayor, a charismatic and personable man, candidly discussed his job, its demands, and the way it affects his life. Despite a demanding schedule of duties he'd have to attend to following our interview, he gave his full attention to me for almost an hour, and never appeared hurried or rushed. The topics were far-ranging.
On substance and ceremony
As mayor, he must achieve the proper balance between the substantive and the ceremonial, DePaulis says. He estimates that 20 to 30 percent of his time is consumed by ceremonial responsibilities, such as cutting ribbons, giving dedicatory speeches, welcoming dignitaries, shaking hands with celebrities, or just making a brief appearance to satisfy everyone's continuing desire to see or shake hands with the mayor.
He tries to limit those activities to Wednesdays and Thursdays, although that isn't always possible, and frequently he finds himself doing them on the weekends as well. He sees them as necessary parts of his political life and often a culmination of a major project.
For instance, when the Little Dell Dam site was dedicated, on a Wednesday, he needed to attend, in addition to several other prominent dignitaries. Many people had worked hard on the project for 20 to 30 years, and the effort needed solid recognition.
Then there are those events that are maybe a little less important. A few months ago the mayor was invited to appear at the ZCMI Center to help to open Walt Disney World Week.
Besides other dignitaries, such as Lowell Durham, ZCMI's president, the guests included Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy, Chip, Dale, Snow White, the University of Utah Flag Corps, the University of Utah Dance Corps, two emcees and the Osmond Boys.
Needless to say, DePaulis was easily upstaged by cartoon characters, which he endured with characteristic good humor.
"There must have been 40 million kids at ZCMI that day to see Mickey Mouse, and there I am standing there with Mickey," he laughs.
DePaulis gets 50 to 60 requests a week to participate in various events, or make speeches, and carefully sorts through all of them, realizing that he will have to turn some down. It is just not humanly possible to accept all of them - or eat all of those lunches.
On managing the city
Other facets of the job are more satisfying. The mayor usually spends Mondays and Fridays in planning sessions with his staff and department heads. It is in these meetings that he looks to the months ahead and tackles substantive issues, such as his continuing interest in the plight of the homeless.
On Tuesdays his policy action committee meets, and that meeting is open to the press. DePaulis meets with his finance director, the city attorney, his chief of staff and the human resources director, and they discuss a wide range of policy problems.
The mayor also attends local Chamber of Commerce meetings and meetings of local organizations, and they often want him to tour some local site. There are a variety of other meetings he has to attend, including a monthly cabinet meeting with all the department heads. But the mayor's management style is to try to deal with significant policy matters, as many as five or six, in a convincing way on a Tuesday morning.
Palmer DePaulis is not autocratic. He works hard to get the various opinions of the people around him, and to reach, if possible, a consensus. "I like the administrative work, and I feel that I'm a good manager." He believes that 10 years of management experience in the private sector gave him a solid background for what he is doing.
"It is very gratifying to work with people to accomplish an important goal. That is the exciting part about being mayor." On the other hand, there is also a mountain of paperwork.
"I have to sign sheaves of material every day, and I try to talk on the phone or do other things while I am signing. Otherwise it is just dead time."
As a former teacher, it is not surprising that the mayor has made a commitment to himself to get into all of the schools in the area at least once during the year. Frequently, he talks to students about the dan
gers of drugs. According to those who have seen him in such exchanges, he relates exceptionally well to young people.
On public, private lives
The mayor enjoys the politics of working successfully with people toward a goal, but he dislikes the negative aspects of politics, often resulting in criticism or gamesmanship. He does not consider the present City Council to be "mayor-friendly," something that concerns him greatly. The bickering and carping over some issues frustrate him.
Because the mayor lists his phone number in the Salt Lake directory, he gets calls at home about city problems, although he claims that most people do not abuse that accessibility.
His wife, Jeanne, is a registered nurse who works full time as well. She is head nurse of the adolescent unit for the Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry. She carries a beeper and is as busy as the mayor, so she has a unique understanding of his pressures. They have two children, Patrick, 16, and Megan, 13.
DePaulis places a high priority on his time with his family, but can only count on spending two or three nights a week at home. He is involved in meetings at least two nights a week, and they often go on for several hours.
"You really have to pace yourself," DePaulis says. "Some days, like tomorrow, for instance, are killers!" Formerly he took an aerobics class to keep fit, but the work schedule got in the way. Now he enjoys running three miles three days a week for exercise.
"Last night I didn't get to running until 10 o'clock at night. I ran through Liberty Park, and it was a little dark." Even exercise gives him an opportunity to survey the problems of the city.
On being a politician
It is difficult, DePaulis says, to understand someone else's life unless you have similar problems. "Unless you have kids, you can't understand what it's like to have kids. Only another elected official really understands what it is like to be an elected official."
DePaulis thinks that being mayor is certainly one of the most hectic and draining of political offices. Only governor would compare with it, he believes, in terms of the constant pressures and problems.
DePaulis had an opportunity to talk with New York City Mayor Ed Koch during the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held recently in Salt Lake City, and "he has the same problems" except on a larger scale. "Running New York is like running a small country."
I asked the mayor if he would consider running for governor some day. He shrugged off the suggestion, saying he avoids thinking of such things. "I consider it to be a privilege to be mayor of Salt Lake City. I live in a modest home in the central city. If I weren't mayor I would not have many of the experiences here or meet the people here that are so exciting. But I could walk away.
"A career political orientation is a trap," DePaulis says. He has great respect for "citizen-politicians" after the order of former Gov. Scott M. Matheson. "He is a model for me. I think you can step in, make a contribution, and then step out."
DePaulis is frustrated by those who occasionally suggest that he should make plans to run for governor or something else.
"I'm a complete, whole human being. I don't need a political title to have my identity. I can walk away from it."
As far as the mayor's job is concerned, DePaulis has made a six-year commitment to it, starting with 1985, when he first landed in the office. Beyond that he is not ready to speculate. He is not at all sure that he would or should last 10 years, the point at which Ted Wilson "walked away" from it. But he has great faith in Salt Lake City, and in the people working with him to solve problems. He subscribes to firm principles, enjoys what he is doing and will continue to throw himself into his work, as demanding as it is. Obviously, the mayor's appealing personality, animated style and the confidence he inspires have taken him this far.
He also has an impressive capacity for work.
Palmer DePaulis has other contributions to make, political or otherwise, in what appears to be a bright future. As we ended the interview, he shook my hand and left for what promised to be a long meeting with parks department officials to discuss their objectives for the entire year.
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.