President Clinton emerged from his mountain cocoon Saturday afternoon for a casual stroll down Main Street amid a throng of shoppers and skiers eager to shake his hand or snap his photo.
"It's a wonderful place," Clinton said as he cheerfully greeted and stopped to chat with folks.The 20-minute walk was the president's first public appearance in Utah since arriving Thursday night for a weekend vacation with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea. While the Clinton women traversed Deer Valley Resort's well-groomed ski slopes the past two days, the president spent his time relaxing in a private mansion nearby.
Clinton was en route to the Utah Air National Guard base adjacent to the Salt Lake International Airport for a flight to Los Angeles when he halted the presidential motorcade about 2:40 p.m., bringing bustling downtown to a standstill. The president was to return to Utah early this morning after attending a fund-raising dinner for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California. The Clintons will leave the Beehive State today.
The president also stopped to discuss local issues with state Democratic and Republican leaders for about 25 minutes at the base before boarding Air Force One.
"He said he'll do everything he can to help us with the Olympics," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
Democratic state Rep. Dave Jones said he asked the president to consider additional funding for I-15 reconstruction. "The secretary of transportation has extra money he could put into this project," Jones said.
Although Clinton didn't take time to tour Olympic venues, he did get to know a little about the area and the people that will host the Games. Sporting a black leather jacket and brownish-red cowboy boots, the trim-looking Clinton was quick with a smile and a laugh. Nary a catcall nor a snide remark was heard among the crowd, even though Clinton isn't popular in Utah.
Todd Bay of Heber City thanked the president for the new child tax credit and talked to him at length about it. Sandy resident Vicki Mathis dialed her mother on a cell phone exclaiming, "He's so beautiful," as the president walked past. Others sidled up to him for a once-in-a lifetime photo op.
Clinton slipped into the Park City Museum of History and Territorial Jail, perhaps getting a quick lesson on the heritage of the mining-turned-resort town 30 minutes east of Salt Lake City. He then crossed the narrow street to Main Street Deli, where owner Barb Lindbloom gave him a complimentary cup of coffee and told Clinton she had voted for him.
The president's appearance so shocked deli sales clerk Tara Jamesson that her trembling hand still couldn't punch keys on the cash register minutes later. "We had to tell her the prices of things she knew," Lindbloom said of her flustered co-worker.
Massachusetts resident Jeanne Roberts shook the president's hand and said, "I'm sorry you can't enjoy this in peace." The president told her he was enjoying it.
Julie Zamora, a clerk at Wyoming Woolens, saw Clinton's unexpected stop through more pragmatic eyes.
"I think it's great," she said. "It's great for the businesses in Park City."
The Clintons' stay in Utah has been anything but business. The president pre-recorded his weekly radio address earlier in the week rather than do it Saturday from Deer Valley. He has spent nearly all of his time reading and puttering about Hollywood mogul Steve Katzenberg's multimillion-dollar house. The mansion sits in an exclusive housing development with Deer Valley ski runs passing through the site, making it easy for his wife and daughter to hit the slopes.
The first lady and Chelsea, whose 18th birthday party prompted the Clintons' unexpected junket to Utah, skied again Saturday. The pair were closely watched by a handful of Secret Service agents, some apparently clad in Deer Valley ski instructor suits. And except for a few news photographers, the two women went largely unnoticed at a resort frequented by the rich and famous.
"Actually, I hope I don't run into them," said one skier. "Can you imagine running into a bunch of Secret Service guys?"
While the Secret Service turned away some people bearing gifts for Chelsea at the security gate near Katzenberg's house Friday, it didn't stop Gov. Mike Leavitt's son, Weston, from handing the president a Utah flag at the Air Guard base.
Unlike when Clinton arrived Thursday to one Utah dignitary - Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini - a full lineup of state Democratic and Republican leaders awaited the president at the base Saturday afternoon. Clinton also worked a crowd of about 200 base workers and their families on hand for his arrival. One handed him a red plaid scarf, which he put around his neck.
Rather than hogging Clinton in a private session, Democrats said they decided to share him with the GOP in the get-together coordinated by the White House. "We had every right to keep it to ourselves, but we didn't," said state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, D-Salt Lake.
After some small talk - Leavitt said Clinton told him Chelsea liked skiing Deer Valley's moguls - the bipartisan group of elected officials discussed issues with the president.
In addition to the Olympics and transportation in general, Clinton discussed light rail in detail, surprising state lawmakers.
"He knows Utah. He knows the West," Howell said, adding he's tired of hearing people say otherwise.
Clinton also touched on the tobacco industry lawsuit. "He said, `Thank goodness for the Mormons,' " Howell said, adding the president appreciates the LDS Church's stand on tobacco use.
Unlike other presidents that have come to Utah, Clinton has not made a courtesy visit to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Past visiting presidents, however, weren't in the state on vacation. Clinton spent more time in the state for one single stretch of time than any sitting president.