Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Winder scandal could impact future campaigns

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Mike Winder, mayor of West Valley City, poses outside his office in West Valley Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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It's Thanksgiving week, and a cornucopia of political intrigue demands analysis before we settle into holiday cheer. Salt Lake County politics, including the mayoral race, is becoming rather exciting. Here are some morsels to chew on:

West Valley Mayor Mike Winder has all but announced his candidacy for the county mayor GOP nomination. However, Winder revealed last week that he had submitted a number of news stories to this paper and other publications under a fake name and even provided a fake photo. This indiscretion received widespread coverage in Utah, across the country, and even in Europe. Will this be a problem or a benefit to Winder in his quest for countywide office?

Pignanelli: "Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who will trick will always find another who will suffer to be tricked." — Niccolo Machiavelli

After the appropriate mea culpas, West Valley residents and most County Republican delegates are likely to forgive Winder's actions as silly but well-intentioned. His troubles lie elsewhere.

Journalists are a strange lot. You can scream obscenities and even spit at them, but they refuse to be offended because that is your First Amendment right. But when a politician uses a disguise to plant stories that benefit his constituents and thereby enhance his standing, seething hostility is the result.

Winder should be prepared for the journalistic equivalent of an invasive medical procedure into a body cavity. Reporters are examining his various business and political pursuits to uncover other missteps. Any statements he delivers as a candidate or mayor will be subject to severe scrutiny. The media will remind voters, on a regular basis, about this controversy. This will be his burden during the campaign.

Webb: This escapade hurts a lot. To his credit, Winder confessed his duplicity to Deseret News/KSL, apparently suffering a guilty conscience. That's good. We're a forgiving people. But Winder, who has been a good friend of mine for some time, took this fakery way too far. Beyond merely writing under a "pen name," it became brazen dishonesty.

On a personal level, I was concerned about a story a few months ago that appeared on KSL.com about a friend of mine, Chris Hogan, written by Richard Burwash. I thought the story was slanted and unfair, so I sent an e-mail message to KSL complaining about it. Imagine my surprise when I learned along with everyone else that "Burwash" was actually Mayor Mike Winder.

One thing though, this Burwash guy is (was?) a clever writer. Very creative. He might want to try some fiction.

Earlier this summer, Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for county mayor. Romero has been working Democratic delegates since then. Last week, Romero's colleague, Democratic Sen. Ben McAdams, also became a contender for county mayor. How does this interparty squabble impact the race?

Webb: It's great that the Democrats will have a tough intraparty battle, fighting each other and spending money on convention and likely primary fights, instead of saving all their ammo for Republicans. Romero and McAdams are both solid candidates and the Republicans will have to nominate a highly competent, mainstream candidate to beat either of them. This will be a fascinating mayoral race.

Pignanelli: Romero and McAdams are popular Democrats and enjoy strong support from various constituencies. Barring any missteps, this contest will not be resolved until the late June primary — delaying monetary support for the general election. County Republicans can afford such a fight; the Democrats cannot.

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