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Mike Winder says future of Salt Lake County more important than his privacy

Published: Sunday, June 17 2012 5:40 p.m. MDT

Mike Winder talks during the debate as Utah Taxpayers Association and KCPW host a debate between Mike Winder and Mark Crockett, the candidates for the Republican nominee in the Salt Lake County Mayor's race Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Tom Smart, Deseret News

Related article: Mark Crockett says career path leads to Salt Lake County mayor's office

WEST VALLEY CITY — Mike Winder listens. Most of the time, anyway.

It says so on his campaign billboards and mailers, a promise the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor backs up by displaying his personal cellphone number on them.

"I get calls every day, all day long," Winder said during a recent interview from his campaign headquarters on the corner of 3500 South and 2700 West. "It's been heartwarming to talk to hundreds of residents across the valley and hear about their concerns and hopes for the future of Salt Lake County."

Chatting with residents, he says, "has been my favorite part of campaigning."

He didn't listen, though, when supporters suggested to him that putting his phone number on a billboard might not be a good idea. You never know who is going to call or what they might say, they warned.

"That's just how he operates," said Corey Rushton, a West Valley City councilman and friend of Winder's. "He's always been very accessible, always trying to get out and meet and talk with people."

He also didn't listen to family, friends and supporters who questioned his decision to run for county mayor so soon after his publishing deceit — the Richard Burwash revelations — came to light in November 2011. Burwash is the fictional name Winder admitted he created and used to write stories about West Valley City for local media outlets, including the Deseret News and KSL.com.

"He's always had this determined attitude," Aimee Winder Newton said of her younger brother. "He doesn't give up. I think that's one of the reasons he decided to still run after all that."

The Burwash issue and the questions it spawned have lingered in the Republican race for county mayor between Winder and former County Councilman Mark Crockett, even though both candidates have said they would rather talk other issues, such as getting government spending under control.

But debates between the candidates have pointed to the Burwash incident as an issue of honesty. Can you trust someone who deceived the public, even if that deception was well-intended?

Winder hopes so.

"I've apologized profusely for using a pen name, and many people have accepted my apology," he said, noting that Crockett is one of those who's publicly done so.

Winder doesn't shy away from questions about the Burwash controversy. And he admits that putting himself in the spotlight so soon after the incident "at times has been painful for me and my family."

So why do it?

"At the end of the day, it's because I care about the future of Salt Lake County," Winder said.

It's a quality Winder has possessed his entire life, his sister says. Newton remembers "playing city" in the unfinished basement of their parents' home when she was 10 and her brother was 8.

"Mike always wanted to be the mayor of the city," Newton said. "He would say he wanted to make the roads nice and help the people."

Winder would use masking tape to create the outlines of those nice roads on the concrete floor. The siblings would then ride their big wheels around a city of cardboard boxes decorated as houses and businesses.

Winder was always looking out for others in the real world too, Newton said.

While student body president at Taylorsville High School, Winder took a mentally disabled classmate to prom, knowing that she'd never gone to a school dance. At lunch time, he would look around the cafeteria and sit with anyone who looked like they needed a friend, she said.

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