Salt Lake City Hall is abuzz following most City Council meetings with accounts of the antics of the so-called "Gang of Four" - the council's conservative majority voting bloc.
Recently, the four - led by council members Willie Stoler and Florence Bittner and including members Alan Hardman and Wayne Horrocks - have led a series of charges to defeat initiatives backed by Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
DePaulis said the widening rift between him and the "Gang" has chilled their relations. He pointed the finger at Stoler, pegging him as the group's ringleader. DePaulis said Stoler wants to embarrass him at the expense of public service.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck, who not so long ago enjoyed the majority vote with her liberal colleagues, said Stoler is jockeying for DePaulis' mayor's seat. Stoler denies he has higher political aspirations.
Stoler said his actions are motivated only by concern for his constituency and that his differences of opinion with DePaulis don't boil down to political shenanigans.
In August, the gang killed three appointments DePaulis made to the Salt Palace Advisory Board on a 4-3 vote that left council members Fonnesbeck, Tom Godfrey and Roselyn Kirk, once the majority powers, in the minority.
Earlier this week, Stoler, with support from his council allies stalled approval of the city's Human Resource Development Department - an arm of the mayor's executive branch created in 1987.
Stoler said a "good-old-boy syndrome" led the mayor to appoint an investment firm headed by former city Treasurer Cheryl Cook, as the city's new financial adviser for the next two years.
"All these recent actions, mostly inspired by Willie Stoler, who I think is politically motivated, have kind of chilled our whole relationship," DePaulis said. "Surely, the public must
e viewing this as a negative thing, to continue this kind of action," he said.
DePaulis identified Stoler as the one responsible for the negative politicking, charging Stoler with being mean spirited. "It's not the ebb and flow of the checks and balances of the two branches of government, it's vindictiveness," he said. "I just have to assume it's a personal thing. The guy (Stoler) doesn't like me."
Stoler, however, insists he has nothing personal against the mayor. "Palmer's a good guy; I like him . . . We just have differences of opinion."
And those differences of opinion are what lead Stoler to frequently disagree with DePaulis over matters, such as the mayor's three appointments to the Salt Palace board.
Stoler said the nominees were rejected because they didn't represent a good geographic balance. All were from Fonnesbeck's District 3.
"I feel it's my responsibility to represent my constituents first and foremost . . . When people elected me, they knew one thing was for sure, that they weren't getting a rubber stamp," Stoler said.
DePaulis likes to joke that the gang is repeatedly shooting a toe off with each issue he believes they wrongly pursue. But if they continue, "It looks like they'll have to move right up and chop their feet off," he said.
But the council may have the last laugh, considering the gang has demonstrated solid cohesiveness, forcing the mayor to initially veto their budget last spring, an act DePaulis admitted has some negative implications.
DePaulis recognized the gang is a force to contend with - at least until council elections, which won't occur for four members until 1989. And the mayor said he must work cooperatively with them.
"I'm going to do everything possible to work closely with the council," he said, stressing the public's business will come first.
Fonnesbeck, however, said that Gang of Four is motivated by a grander scheme to get Stoler elected as mayor.
"In my opinion, Mr. Stoler is running for mayor and I think his campaign has already started,' Fonnesbeck said.
The mayoral initiatives the gang opposes, such as DePaulis' appointments to the Salt Palace board, are not opposed on sound policy decisions, she said "It seems to me that what's going on is deliberately anti-Palmer."
Stoler vehemently denies he is eying the mayor's office.
"Only if it improves my golf game," he jokes, acknowledging he has been asked several times to run for the office. But turning the opportunities down attests to his reluctance to seek office, he said.