Tough Rocky also has a soft side

In 10 years, he hopes to be rights crusader

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 24 2003 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mayor Rocky Anderson and a young resident examine a Kama Daghlian video at a fund-raiser at Cedars of Lebanon restaurant.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Despite a reputation as a tough negotiator, former attorney and current Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson does have a soft side. Heck, he even cries.

Anderson wept earlier this month when he dropped his only son, 21-year-old Luke, off at New York University. The tears came as the mayor realized he wouldn't be giving Luke those regular early-morning back rubs that formerly stirred his son from slumber.

A few months earlier, Anderson was again in New York when he called a friend to see how his dog, Winston, was doing. The reply came back: Winston was dead.

"I cried," Anderson said. "Goldens (golden retrievers) don't last very long, unfortunately."

That compassion is one reason Anderson wants to be mayor for a second term, despite four years of being on the firing line for some of the most challenging issues ever to face Salt Lake City. He faces a serious challenge from seasoned politician and fellow Democrat Frank Pignanelli and from Republican Molonai Hola in an Oct. 7 primary election. The two survivors will face off in the Nov. 4 municipal election.

Anderson, a tenacious litigator who had an unsuccessful run for Congress before winning a first term as mayor in 2000, has compassionate ambitions that transcend mayor of Utah's largest city.

Ten years from now Anderson, 52, sees himself as a worldwide crusader for human rights. If world leaders had more knowledge about such horrendous issues as the global slave and prostitution trade of young girls, these problems could be eradicated, he said. Or if the international community knew about human-rights violations earlier, genocide in such places as Bosnia and Rwanda would never have reached the dehumanizing and murderous lows they did.

"The international community is not taking effective steps to eliminate these abuses," he said. "If we were to mobilize political support, we would leave our leaders no choice but to take effective action, so I want to work to bring about that kind of effective advocacy."

That advocacy doesn't mean Anderson couldn't still be mayor in 10 years. In fact, his position as mayor may give him the clout needed to be taken seriously, he says.

"Just as we've done with environmental issues, I could leverage this position into bringing about greater advocacy on these issues," he said.

For instance, as mayor, Anderson has gained the audience of national figures that have included Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin to ensure luggage screening would be conducted on 100 percent of the checked baggage that passes through Salt Lake City International Airport.

As mayor, the Environmental Protection Agency invited Anderson to tell a United Nation's environmental summit in New Delhi how Salt Lake City is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise improve the environment.

It's not surprising, then, to hear Anderson say he would like to be president.

"Yeah, if I had that opportunity," Anderson said. The United States could prevent many human-rights abuses if "there were someone in that office with the will and knowledge to do something about it," he said.

Tempered idealism

While such thinking may seem irrelevant to being mayor of Salt Lake City, his supporters say the mayor's idealism, energy and vision have served him well in office. And his first term as mayor has taught him to temper his passion and idealism, as well.

"Oftentimes he has to weigh what he has to give up to gain a value that is equally or more important to the city," said longtime friend Peggy Tomsic.

Anderson has taken idealistic stances on many city questions — free speech over property rights or making peace over the Main Street Plaza dispute; historic zoning over free-market business decisions in the Nordstrom/Gateway question; and campaign finance reform.

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