The Salt Lake City Cemetery veterans section looks good again, but some veterans and the people who did most of the work don't want Mayor Rocky Anderson's name connected with the improvements.
"I don't believe that he ought to get any public credit for that, because he didn't have anything to do with it," said Craig Moyes, chief executive officer of ONYX Construction.
Planning began this month for Anderson and others to hold a news conference on Nov. 7 to rededicate an area where more than 1,000 leaning or fallen headstones of veterans needed repair. That's when some bad blood from the past boiled again because of Anderson's public opposition to the war in Iraq.
"We need to rededicate those graves in a manner that's fitting for veterans there and not just have a press conference," said Johnnie Janes, chairman of the Utah State Veterans Advisory Council. Janes said that his group
would not participate in a press conference that involves the mayor.
Anderson said that he was asked to speak at the event by the city's public services department.
"I felt I was trying to be gracious," Anderson said. The mayor said that some people are confusing his opposition to the "fiasco" in Iraq with his support of troops and veterans, some of whom agree with his stance on the war.
Moyes, however, said it would be "hypocritical" for Anderson to hold the news conference. He asked where the mayor's interest was when veterans "repeatedly came to him for assistance to restore this section of the cemetery that was in shambles?"
Anderson said that he had not heard anything about the cemetery's needs until people began soliciting volunteers to help with the project. From that point on, he said, his administration has supported the project.
"None of these people ever came to me," he said. "And I'm probably the most accessible mayor on the planet. I can't read their minds. I think these people are just picking a fight because of my position on Iraq."
ONYX Construction and other area subcontractors donated more than $250,000 in time, money, equipment and effort to fix the headstones. Moyes said he had two crews at the cemetery for three months until August. Anderson said that city cemetery workers unloaded 50 truckloads of dirt and laid 30,000 square feet of sod for the project.
Nikki Bown, spokeswoman for the city's department of public services, began trying to set up the news conference at which Anderson was scheduled to speak. ONYX responded by saying it would not attend if the mayor was coming.
"This is not about the mayor, to me," Bown said. "It's not about ONYX Construction. It's about creating a really great-looking section of the veterans cemetery."
"I'm a neutral person in this. I really wanted to focus on the positive aspects of this."
Bown said the news conference was canceled because of scheduling conflicts. Now she's planning on sending out a news release to announce that the portion of the cemetery has been reopened in time for Veterans Day.
Moyes and others want a more formal ceremony to take place at the cemetery on Memorial Day next year, after Anderson has completed his second term.
Utah Veterans Affairs executive director Terry Schow said he has heard from veterans who are still upset over the mayor's involvement last year in an anti-war protest while the national American Legion convention was being held in Salt Lake City. The sentiment Schow has received is that vets would rather not have the mayor involved in anything to do with the revamped cemetery.
"There is a fair amount of frustration in the veterans community with the mayor," said Schow, who added that he hadn't heard of Anderson having any involvement in the project.
Moyes, who was in the Air Force in the 1960s and whose father was a World War II veteran, said this is an "emotional" issue for him. He said he has strongly disagreed with Anderson's public comments and demeanor on issues related to veterans. Moyes said Anderson could have fixed the problems in the cemetery a long time ago "if he was so inclined."Anderson said he was grateful that the cemetery job is complete, and he praised ONYX Construction for doing a "really great thing."
E-mail: [email protected]