The Rocky years — Anderson ends 8 eventful, contentious years as Salt Lake's mayor

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in his office. He said he accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible during his eight years.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

His sleeves rolled up and head tilted back, Rocky Anderson leaps backward, attempting to catch a flying grape with his mouth.

The grape sails over his head and quickly is gobbled up by his opponent, a South African hornbill.

The playful grape-catching contest at Tracy Aviary was captured by a spectator with a cell phone camera and posted in 2006 on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube.

It's one of the rare clips circulating in cyberspace that shows a lighter side to Anderson, whose eventful and sometimes contentious eight-year tenure as Salt Lake City mayor has come to an end.

Anderson's successor, Ralph Becker, will be sworn in as Salt Lake City's 34th mayor on Monday.

Ruffling feathers comes naturally to Anderson, a lightning-rod attorney who stopped practicing law to run for office but never fully shed his activist skin when he took on the title of mayor.

Evidence of that, too, lives on through the Internet: There's Anderson's insult-filled interview with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, security-camera footage of his City Hall altercation with developer Dell Loy Hansen and his calls for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at several anti-war rallies.

"In the true sense of public service, Rocky is not so much a politician as he is an activist," said Keith Christensen, a former Salt Lake City councilman whose bid to become Anderson's successor stalled in the primary election.

"One thing I think we've all learned about Rocky is he does what he believes is right and he fears no consequences," said Christensen, who calls Anderson a friend. "I applaud people who act on their beliefs, and Rocky is one of those people."

That fearless, outspoken and at times combative approach to directing Salt Lake City made Anderson a polarizing political figure in Utah, a love-him-or-hate-him, praise-him-or-blame-him leader, city elected officials and community leaders say.

"He will forever be controversial," said Lane Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber. "It's just his nature. He will always be dedicated to what he believes is very important."

Anderson's dedication to Salt Lake City, its residents and its progressive vision made him a popular leader among those he served but had the opposite effect on many outside the city borders. The state Legislature, neighboring counties and others in strongly conservative, mostly LDS Utah often didn't agree with Anderson's views or his methods for promoting them.

"That's why I'm not running for U.S. Senate," Anderson, 56, joked during a recent interview with the Deseret Morning News.

"I understand that most people in the state don't agree with my views," he said. "I don't regret the way I have expressed my views. I certainly have no regret about my conduct in office."


One of Anderson's more controversial moments came on Aug. 22, 2005, when he spoke at a rally protesting Bush's visit to Salt Lake City to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

An avid opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the mayor also spoke at a protest a year later when the president was in town to speak to the American Legion.

"I'll always be proud of that," Anderson said. "There's way too much sycophancy toward the individual who holds the presidency rather than a demonstration of the true patriotism, and that is love and concern for our country and a commitment to getting our country back on the right track.

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