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Utah begins calculating political cost of scandal

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Since the Salt Lake Olympics scandal broke last November, the focus has been on reform in hope of stemming both economic and symbolic costs. Now it's apparent that there is a political cost, as well.

In the aftermath, Salt Lake City's mayor has chosen not to run again, giving up her dream of serving during the Olympics. A councilwoman and vocal Olympics critic has also decided to leave politics. And all eyes are on the governor and whether his enormous support will shrink as the blame spreads.

But perhaps most intriguing is how this international embarrassment has affected the citizens of Utah, a Mormon-dominated state long known for its political naivet and deference to authority.

"It's made a lot of people very testy about the Olympics," says Councilwoman Deeda Seed. "Some are already questioning whether we should have hosted the Olympics in the first place, and there is some spillover to government in general."

Indeed, detractors have already gathered 3,000 signatures on petitions seeking to put Olympics indebtedness on the ballot in 2000. The petitioners want to prevent Utah from having to make up any shortfalls the city incurs, as it is required to do under a 1991 contract. Mitt Romney, the new president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), has ordered major cutbacks in the Games budget, and has told the US Olympic Committee that SLOC will not be paying for a major publicity effort in the scandal's wake.

For Utahns, one of the major questions is whether the upheaval will leave any lasting marks on the people and politics of Utah.

"Down the road, this will be the coming out of public skepticism," says Ted Wilson, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a former Salt Lake City mayor. "This didn't come from the fringe ... it came from the center of Main Street in Utah's authority and power."

Watershed event

Mr. Wilson sees the Olympics scandal as a watershed event in the history of Utah politics. "Being a mainstream state, we're a people who believe in our leaders," he says. "You never again will see anything in this state sold as easily as the Olympics."


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