‘Happy Days’ star Anson Williams talks running for mayor of Ojai, California: ‘The community comes first’
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Anson Williams wants to bring “Happy Days” back to Ojai, California.
The actor, who famously played Potsie Weber in the hit sitcom, announced at a city council meeting on June 28 that he intended on running for mayor. On Saturday, the Ojai Valley News announced that the 72-year-old has officially been confirmed by the city as a candidate.
According to Williams, who has called Ojai home since 2011, using his public platform to give back to his community is essential now more than ever. Some of his ideas include establishing a designated “base camp” outside the downtown area where tourists and tour buses park and pay, developing more public parking areas to relieve congestion, uniting businesses with Casitas Water District to implement new conservation programs, forging a bond with the school system, and generating new sources of income, among others.
Ojai, located about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County, has a population of less than 8,000. It’s known for its boutique hotels, art galleries and local organic agriculture. The outlet noted that chain stores are prohibited by city ordinances. The “Happy Days” star would be facing current Ojai Mayor Betsy Stix, who is running for re-election.
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Williams spoke to Fox News Digital about why he’s running now, how a career in showbiz prepared him for public service, and how the rest of the “Happy Days” cast feels about his announcement.
Fox News: Why do you want to run for mayor of Ojai now?
Anson Williams: For starters, I love Ojai. It’s such a special place in this country — from its nature, to its artistry, to the community. Anyone who comes to visit this town leaves a little better. I’m running because things have changed with the current council government that’s hurting the community. We need to take action on things that aren’t happening right now because of this one-sided kind of group.
Fox News: What do you believe is currently missing?
Williams: My background in terms of leadership is motivating and collaborating. There’s this total disconnect with the school board right now. Our kids are not getting the support or education they need. They’re not coming first. Too many members on the board are selfish and only care about their agendas, which is ignorant and destructive. As a leader, you’re supposed to be a collaborator. You’re supposed to inspire and bring together people not tear them apart. For me, the community comes first. Our kids come first.
We’re not making Ojai another Laguna Beach. We want our community to sustain, to thrive. We can work together on making this possible. There’s got to be a bond with the community. … Before I even threw my hat in the ring to become mayor, certain people thought that I could be of service. They felt I’m a good communicator and a fast learner. They felt I could bring this community back together. I like to motivate people to give before they take.
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Fox News: Sustainability seems to be a major theme in your campaign. Why?
Williams: Sustainability means keeping Ojai, Ojai. This is a very special community that needs to sustain to thrive. I’m not saying, “We’re going to build 18 hotels.” It’s about keeping us who we are with practical, common sense expansion. It’s about finding detailed ways to thrive with what we have. As an entrepreneur, there’s so much potential for our tourists to bring back to our community while they’re here.
… In terms of goods, Ojai has been making all of these amazing products from wine to olive oil to ceramics. One thing that has influenced me is Robert Redford’s Sundance catalog. Early on, he recognized the potential of this community and the goods it offers. And I think the biggest moneymaker for Redford is the Sundance catalog. I’m sitting here going, “Why don’t we have our own catalog in Ojai, made in Ojai?”
The tourists are already coming to town, but we’re not truly highlighting our businesses. This is an opportunity to bring our businesses together. … This is another way to bring in income, sustain and thrive. We’re uniting the community and businesses to improve our economy. But there are all sorts of creative ways of improving our economy here. … I think our current council is doing too much complaining. The solution is to band together, exchange ideas and take action.
Fox News: What’s another creative way that Ojai can highlight its businesses and boost the economy?
Williams: I don’t know if you read the LA Times, but they’ve been impressed with our young people who have some great restaurants. Certain people here are going, “We can’t use that publicity. It’s terrible. It’s going to bring too many people.” But these restaurants embody a whole new group of entrepreneurs. Why shouldn’t we be highlighting them?
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And you know, we have a couple of publishers here that do beautiful books and quarterly magazines. I have said, “Why don’t we do a cookbook based on these hot new places where it’s a nonprofit? The money goes back to the community and people will be encouraged to support our local businesses. Tourists will also take this cookbook home and spread the word about our community.” This is only one of many ideas, but my goal is to get the community together and launch a collaboration that will boost our business and income.
Fox News: Growing up, did you ever envision yourself pursuing public service or politics?
Williams: I’ve always been in public service in different ways, even early on when I started acting and producing. In 1980, Ron Howard and I did a film called “Skyward” with Bette Davis. I was 29 and he was 25. It was the first time a paraplegic actress ever starred in a movie of the week. In the film, everyone is looking down at her. Meanwhile, she’s looking up from her wheelchair. And she’s going, “What if I can fly? What if I can look down for the first time?” It was a very ambitious project because we needed to get Bette Davis on board.
This is a wonderful, inspiring story. Suzy [Barbieri], who was cast, is a wonderful actress. … We also got to screen the film at the Kennedy Center. And that film became instrumental in getting people emotionally connected with Congress and how we can make a difference. … The Disabilities Act later became law [in 1990]. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public life. So we had a small piece of using Hollywood for the greater good.
I also directed and co-wrote a film [in 1986] called “No Greater Gift.” It’s about organ donorship. It raised the importance of organ donorship and boosted interest in our country to help others in need. Years later, I was on the board of the USO. I was in charge of entertainment booking where I convinced famous people to go on tour for the military. … I thought it was a good opportunity for major sponsors to pick up the whole tab in terms of spending money on acts, as opposed to spending government and citizen money. To this day, that still stands. For me, it has always been about using my role for good.
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Why am I doing this today? I now have the time. And for me, this isn’t about politics at all. I’m not running for mayor to get into politics. I’m not a politician. I consider myself to be a collaborative leader. This is for my community. This is for my friends and all the people that make Ojai such a special, important place in our country. I feel like I can lead us back in a positive direction for future mayors and future council members. But we need to start first. And I know I can take the lead. That’s why I’m running, and hopefully I’ll win.
Fox News: How has your career in show business prepared you for a role like mayor?
Williams: You know, I’ve directed longer than I acted. I’ve done over 300 shows. You’re working with over 100 people. You’re working with all sorts of personalities. Egos are flying around. You have to be a leader and psychologist to bring everyone together. Sometimes an actor or actress doesn’t want to come out of their trailer. You have a tight schedule. You’re being pressured to be on time. The sun’s going down and you still have to shoot your scene. But it’s an excellent training ground for a leadership role like this one.
The goal is to get the job done, but you need to get the respect of your team and bring them together to make that happen. I’ve also been in the product business for over 20 years. We were on QVC for 10 years. We were in every major retail store. That’s a whole other challenge of having an idea, completing it and ensuring it’s successful. I’ve had the opportunity to be in very challenging positions that make me incredibly qualified for this role. … I want to make this community grow and represent the best we can be for each other. And I want to inspire other communities. This is terribly important for me. I have to do it.
Fox News: Celebrities who get into public service get criticized by folks who frankly feel they should stay in their lane. What would you tell those people?
Williams: I’ve been getting that already. I’ve been told “You’re Hollywood” and all kinds of stuff. But that’s why I want to spark conversations with the community. Once people talk to me, they understand what I’m about and why I’m running. And honestly, I’m not doing this for me. It’s a new experience running for office, but it’s a good thing. The entertainment business has given me a thick skin, which you need to be successful in this role. And I want my ideas and my determination to speak for themselves.
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Fox News: Let’s just say you wake up tomorrow and you’re the mayor. What’s the first goal you want to achieve and why?
Williams: My first goal is collaboration. I want to meet with the community and get things in place for a positive beginning. … One thing that I believe is extremely important is our school system — it’s in really poor shape. We’ve lost half the student body in 10 years. It’s rated a three out of 10. There’s a desperate need for funds.
La Jolla Playhouse was built by Gregory Peck and all these other stars at the height of their film careers. They longed for the stage, so they banded together to create this wonderful community in what was then a small town. It became a space where you could see these stars in a high school theater. It was considered a very ambitious project, but they were successful. It became one of the most celebrated regional theaters in the country.
All of these Broadway shows started to develop their productions here. And the money goes back to the campus. They have programs now for high school students. College students get to mentor other students with the support of the theater. It became a thriving force to motivate and inspire, all while bringing back to the community.
Here in Ojai, we have the Ojai Playhouse. Why can’t we do this here in our community? I called a friend of mine in New York who is pretty connected in the theater world. I said, “Is this crazy?” He said, “Absolutely not.” This is an opportunity for us to create programs that will get our children excited and inspired. They become part of the process. It will wake up the community and get them involved. I want them to feel excited. Money goes back to the school. And it would be the centerpiece of the community. People will come here and it will do so much for local businesses. We’ll be able to fix the roads and reorganize the city in terms of parking, so when tourists come, they’ll respect the space.
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The future of Ojai is really our children. We need the next generation to get involved. We have some brilliant minds here with an entrepreneurial spirit. I want to get that collaboration going in the city. And I want them to be successful. I want an outside office where every week people can come and exchange their ideas. It’s a small enough community where you can do that. And I think that’s how we can get things done. You need to wrap your arms around the community and hear what they have to say. There’s so much division in this country. We can be an example of what [the nation] can be. We’re not there yet, but I can make it happen.
Fox News: Why do you believe that you can make it happen?
Williams: Because I can’t do it alone. It’s about collaboration. It’s about gaining the trust and respect of our community. It’s about getting together and hearing their feedback. You can’t be a leader without your community. That’s why this isn’t about me. I want to change the direction of the energy in our community. And I can’t do that without our people banding together. You’re nothing without your community.
Fox News: It sounds like your “Happy Days” family has been supportive following the announcement.
Williams: It’s been wonderful. It’s very rare to have such close friends for 47 years. It’s a very special group. … I remember when the announcement was made, Henry [Winkler], who’s out trout fishing in Idaho, immediately goes on Twitter and says, “You have my vote.” It wasn’t planned at all. But that’s how much of a family we are.
We support each other. Ron [Howard] and Donny [Most] immediately went, “What do you need, bro? We’re with you.” I couldn’t be more grateful. They’re my family. Immediately, they were like, “What can I do? How can I help?” They’ve always been there for me and I love them so much.
FOX News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.