Since he became vice president in January 2009, Joe Biden has made at least three trips to Park City. Typically, they have involved disruptive roadblocks and a phalanx of police cars and motorcycles escorting a fleet of black SUVs to a hand-picked audience at the home of a well-heeled donor.
“Vice President Biden passed through our fair city this week, pausing long enough to kneel before the local 1 percent to beg for campaign money,” Park Record columnist Tom Clyde wrote after one such visit in July 2012. “There was no reason to mingle with the rest of us. This was purely take-the-money-and-run.”
Ah, but it wasn’t always like this. Longtime Park City residents may recall a kinder-and-gentler time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Biden was a regular participant in the Senators’ Ski Cup, an annual benefit for Primary Children’s Medical Center hosted by U.S. Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah). The event involved as many as 17 senators from both parties – that’s right, both parties – along with other high-ranking government officials in a friendly competition on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort.
In the recent presidential campaign, Biden touted his ability to reach across the aisle while he was in the U.S. Senate. And the record shows that he teamed up with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to sponsor several significant pieces of legislation including the Violence Against Women Act (passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2005). You can only speculate how events such as Garn’s Ski Cup influenced this climate of cooperation.
Biden’s name first appeared in Park City newspaper archives in March 1980. During a visit to Utah he agreed to an interview with The Newspaper, an upstart weekly then competing for local readers with the Park Record.
Typically, The Newspaper’s coverage of national and world events was limited to a one-column summary under the heading “It’s Still Out There.” But it’s not every day that you get a chance to interview a 37-year-old U.S. senator who, some people said, already had his eye on the White House.
The assignment to write the story went to 24-year-old reporter Conrad Elliott. Curious, intelligent, and well-read, Conrad loved to tackle esoteric subjects. I was also on The Newspaper staff and went along to shoot photos. We met in a Main Street storefront next door to The Newspaper offices at 419 Main. There was no fanfare, no security, no entourage. Just Joe.
The interview ranged from defense spending to energy policy to a possible U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics. Biden was thoughtful, engaging, and articulate. Conrad’s story, “New Approach to Foreign Policy,” ran in The Newspaper’s March 6, 1980 issue.
Conrad went on to a successful career as a partner in Dering, Elliott and Associates, a well-respected local advertising agency. He died suddenly in March 2018 at age 62 after contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Not long ago, I bought a cassette player at a garage sale and started digging through my old tapes. I came across a battered cassette marked “Biden” and popped it into the player.
Unfortunately, the tape had degraded to the point that it was inaudible. But I kept it anyway, a souvenir of the day we got to sit down with a future president of the United States.