The Fonz was fishing in Idaho when he heard the news. Potsie Weber was thinking about running for mayor of Ojai. You’ve got my vote, Henry Winkler told him. Good luck.
Richie Cunningham heard the news on social media and let his pal from “Happy Days” know he was in his corner. Whatever you need, Ron Howard said. Just let him know. Donny Most, Ralph on the show, chimed in, too. Go for it, he said.
It’s been almost 40 years since they were the stars of one of the most popular shows on TV, and when it ended in 1984 after a 10-year run, they made a pact to stay close and be there for one another.
And now, Williams, 72, — lovably naive Potsie Weber, Richie’s best friend on the show — was doing just that. He crossed out the last name on the list of the people he loved and trusted for advice, and walked over to City Hall to throw his hat in the ring. He signed the papers two weeks ago. It was official, he was running for mayor of Ojai.
Williams has been living in this quaint town of 7,637 residents (2020 US Census) in Ventura County for almost four years now — escaping the big city and all the personal and professional upheaval he was going through after being diagnosed with colon cancer, which he says he’s beating.
“I was in a bad, broken place, and this little community wrapped it arms around me,” Williams said when we talked this week. Now, he wants to wrap his arms around Ojai. Pay it back.
Picture Mayberry, he says, only with 900,000 tourists a year stopping by the sheriff’s office to see Andy and Opie. It can get a little crowded in Ojai, and overwhelming, he says. Unsustainable tourism, he calls it.
That’s a key phrase in his campaign. How much is enough? When does tourism overwhelm a community depending on tourism dollars to pay the water bills and protect it from fire during the hot, summer months? How do you do that and also protect the quality of life for the people who live there?
He thinks he has the answers, but so does the current mayor, teacher Betsy Stix. That’s the first rule of running for political office. Vote for me, I have the answers. The second rule is a little trickier. You have to convince the voters of that.
Williams is not quite sure yet if that little bit of fame he carries around with him is a help or hindrance.
“You get people you’ve never met and don’t know you, but have already defined you,” he says. “They think you’re Hollywood, and you have to convince them you’re not. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I tell them I’m 5’10, weigh 168 pounds, I’m a Democrat, and I’ve never lived in Hollywood,” he laughs. His resume since “Happy Days” includes acting, directing, business ventures and being an outspoken proponent of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
To most people, though, he’ll always be Potsie from 1957.
“’Happy Days’ is a show that keeps getting generations of new fans, so I do get recognized,” he says. “The show never gets old because it’s always been old. We went on the air in 1974, but were set in the 1950s.”
He credits Garry Marshall, the creator and executive director of “Happy Days” and a string of many successful TV shows, for taking a cast of young actors still wet behind the ears, and giving them sound advice.
“He always told us to give before you get, and to use our platform for the greater good,” Williams says. “And, I think we have, especially Ron (Howard), who inspires me everyday.”
Williams isn’t doing too bad with his platform, either. He used it to introduce the world to his uncle’s life-saving Heimlich maneuver, and wrote and directed movies about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and organ donation.
His next role is to convince the registered voters of Ojai that he isn’t Hollywood. That he’s just a guy who was in a bad, broken place when he moved here full time almost four years ago, and the town put its arms around him.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.