Rocky’s Endeavors Abroad Leaves Salt Lake Hanging

By By John Morley

By John Morley

When Salt Lake City voters elected Rocky Anderson almost two years ago, they got more than just a mayor.

They got a crusader.

Instead of just another guy to fill potholes, take care of the police pension fund and build new parks, Salt Lake City found a bona fide fighter for truth and justice.

Since his election almost two years ago, Anderson has been right there in the thick of things, mixin? it up with the fat cats and greedmongers of Utah politics.

His lofty liberal ideals have spawned scorn and adoration everywhere, from Monticello to Richfield. Every time we open up the local section of the newspaper, there he is, like some sort of eerie Utah incarnation of Bill Clinton, at the center of controversy, damning and being damned.

It?s hard to argue with Anderson?s left-leaning, do right politics. Feel good values like diversity and equality resonate like motherhood and apple pie in the United States? modern political culture. But Anderson?s obsession with high-profile politics has left the city that elected him wondering where its mayor is.

In his crusade for great and noble causes, Anderson has forgotten the tedious essentials of city administration. Dave Morgan, a recent University of Utah graduate put it bluntly: “[Anderson]?s a clown. He?s a political activist masquerading as a mayor.”

Anderson?s political career began in one of the muddiest political contests in Utah memory, when he lost the 2nd District congressional race to Merrill Cook.

Cook won by focusing less on subjects of real significance and more on morality and ideology. Anderson?s inability to appear moderate on these issues cost him the election.

Anderson came back in 1999 to beat Stuart Reid, a moderate and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City?s mayoral race. Anderson?s victory stunned many Utah Democrats, who until then subscribed to the so-called “Magleby thesis.” Authored by David Magleby, a Brigham Young University political scientist, the thesis held that Democrats had to be moderate and Mormon to win in politically and religiously conservative Utah.

Some saw Anderson?s straight-up, make-no-apologies brand of liberalism as a sign that the left wing was beginning to gain real popular acceptance.

But even Anderson?s most ardent supporters argued that he needed to stay away from highly charged issues and stick to the basics of city administration. Paul Rolly, a left-leaning commentator for The Salt Lake Tribune, wrote shortly after the election, “If [Anderson] demonstrates he can work with downtown business interests, neighborhood residents and other local government leaders to solve problems and attract and keep a solid staff, he can show the rest of Salt Lake County and the state that views on certain matters, borne from a strong belief in basic principles of equality, don’t need to be the mantra from which votes are cast.”

But since his election, Anderson has done just the opposite, spending more time on high-minded causes than on his job.

A review of Anderson-related headlines reveals a lot about the mayor?s commitment to nuts-and-bolts city administration. In the brief period since Fall Semester started, local newspaper stories have included the following:

Right as school started, Anderson found himself embroiled in conflict with the ACLU, a group to which he belongs. Bickering over high minded issues like the First Amendment and gay rights, Anderson and the group?s leadership exchanged public jabs at each other.

On Aug. 31, Anderson announced his newly formed “Green Team.” The group promised to help the mayor in his fight for eco-awareness.

On Sept. 18, Anderson stood on the steps of the capitol and expressed solidarity with the Alliance for Unity, a group of Utah power-brokers speaking out against intolerance and hatred.

The next day the mayor argued in front of the City Council for longer hours at and fewer restrictions on local dance clubs. On the Sept. 23, Anderson held a press conference after hiring his third deputy mayor in less than two years.

Finally, on Oct. 1, Anderson held a press conference at his house, where he dramatically explained how he killed his lawn, blade by blade, in an effort to save the environment.

This is quite a showing for a man who has an entire city to run.

Most of what Anderson has done during the past month and a half seems good. Tolerance, environmental awareness and economic responsibility are all praiseworthy causes. So what?s the problem?

Just ask Deeda Seed, the deputy mayor who quit in disgust Sept. 21. The product of Anderson?s liberal crusading, Seed said that the 60 to 70 hour weeks required to get the job done were simply too much.

Many speculate, though, that the issues go deeper. Some inside city hall say Seed had to carry so much of the workload because of Anderson?s obsession with pet political projects. Insiders also note that Anderson is notoriously difficult to work with, calling him “anal” and “a perfectionist.”

Numerous staffers have quit or been fired during Anderson?s short tenure. Anderson has had four communication directors, three executive secretaries, three deputy mayors and countless departmental directors and staffers, many of whom he fired his first year.

Anderson?s high-minded crusading makes great newspaper material. Liberal minded Salt Lakers love the notion that their city is getting away from the button-down conservatism that marked its past. But Anderson needs to get back to the basics of city business. His staffers are overworked, angry and alienated. The city has pressing issues that need fixing. The Olympics, transportation and crime all sit untouched by the mayor as he gallivants around the state fighting noble causes.

Come back from your crusade, Rocky. Come back to Salt Lake City. We want you to be our mayor.

John welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].