Like the former presidential candidate for whom he once worked, Salt Lake County Commissioner David Watson - who was booked into Salt Lake County Jail early Sunday morning for investigation of drug-related offenses - had a self-destructive bent, fellow Democrats said.
Watson, who served as a fund-raising coordinator for inveterate Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, had a "death wish" like one that some observers said led to Hart's downfall, a friend and party worker said."Those who have been involved in the Democratic Party have commented that Dave had a death wish," said the source, who requested anonymity.
Watson was booked into Salt Lake County Jail at 5:47 a.m. in connection with possession of suspected cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to jail records.
He was also booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and was released shortly thereafter on his own recognizance, the records show.
The commissioner's administrative assistant confirmed Watson retained Salt Lake defense attorney Ron Yengich and said that Watson was to make a statement about the incident Monday morning.
The lone Democrat on the county's three-man commission was driving erratically on State Street near 21st South about 3:40 a.m. and was pulled over on a "routine" traffic stop by South Salt Lake police, Lt. Robert Gray said.
An officer "observed the odor of alcohol and what appeared to be impaired functions," and performed a body search, discovering a small, brown vial of a substance tested to be cocaine, Gray said.
"It's very reminiscent of Gary Hart," the party official said.
Democratic circles have been replete with stories of what the official called Watson's "wild side" and some Democrats had warned the commissioner to check his behavior.
Watson raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hart's 1984 presidential race, and at least one Watson associate sees a resemblance between Hart's escapades -- which cost him the 1988 Democratic nomination -- and Watson's actions. "Dave was a risk-taker even after being elected in 1986, the official said.
"I'm not sure if it was because he was elected or not, I think this is Dave's personality," the official said. "Dave just kind of likes to live on the wild side."
But other colleagues scoffed at the Hart analogy, saying that Watson was extremelly conscientious about his career.
"Dave was very concerned about his personal and political life and was very conscientious about that," said Leslie Armknecht, Watson's administrative assistant.
Watson told police officers he was driving from the west side of Salt Lake City to his office in the Salt Lake County Complex, 2001 S. State St., when he was arrested in the early morning darkness, Gray said.
However, Gray said he drove past the turn-off to the complex and was continuing south when stopped.
After conducting several "field sobriety tests" on Watson, an officer found the container of suspected cocaine and asked Watson from where the substance came, Gray said.
Watson told the officer the substance was not his. Watson didn't reveal its source because "he didn't want to implicate his friends, meaning who he was with or where he'd been," Gray said.
Gray would not reveal precise results of a blood-alcohol test taken by Watson but said, "I can tell you they were above .08 percent, the legal limit."
"Any time a public official is accused of wrongdoing it's tragic," said Republican Commissioner Bart Barker, who frequently had drawn battle lines with Watson.
Former Commissioner M. Tom Shimizu, who left office in 1986 to run unseccessfully against 2nd District Congressman Wayne Owens echoed Barker, saying "I hate to see this happen to anyone, and I really feel sorry for him and his family."
Barker, Shimizu and Commissioner Mike Stewart reserved judgment on how the incident will affect Watson's political future.