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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in his office. He said he accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible during his eight years.

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.

"It's not patriotic to sit there like a welcoming mat for a president of the United States who's violating the Constitution, who's allowing heinous human-rights violations to take place in our name for the first time as a matter of official policy in our nation's history. Anyone who claims traditional religious or moral values ought to be standing up, or they are part of the problem."

Though he's proud of his anti-war activism, that he was able to alter some perceptions of Utah's capital city by publicly making a case for impeachment of Bush and Cheney, Anderson hopes that will only be an example of his legacy — not the only thing for which he is remembered.

"I would hope that people remember me and my administration as standing for dignity and respect for all people, for taking a stand even on difficult issues in a particularly crucial and dangerous time for our nation and our world," he said.


For all the national attention Anderson has received as the Salt Lake City mayor speaking out against Bush from ultra-red state Utah, he has gained even more acclaim for his work on environmental issues, particularly in the area of climate change.

"Salt Lake has emerged as a leader on environmental issues largely because of Mayor Anderson's focus on that," said Soren Simonsen, Salt Lake City councilman.

Anderson has been among the leaders in the fight against global warming pollution, introducing several "green" initiatives on the city level — such as requiring that all city buildings be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards — and nationally calling for Congress to take bold action on global warming and cut carbon dioxide emissions.

"In everything we look at in city operations, we think about how that affects the environment and what we can do to reduce the negative impacts of the things we do," City Councilman Eric Jergensen said. "I think that's been a tremendous, visionary thing."

In 2003, Anderson won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Protection Award for his efforts. More recently, in May, the mayor spoke at the EPA hearing on allowing states to regulate global warming pollutants under the Clean Cars Program, which calls for the implementation of stricter pollution standards and increased availability of cleaner, advanced technology vehicles.

"(Salt Lake City's) leadership in the area of climate protection has been an important element in bringing several cities into the campaign to combat climate change," Anderson said.

The mayor also counts among his greatest accomplishments the establishment of YouthCity, Salt Lake City's first after-school and summer programs, with activities held in city community centers, schools and parks.

Anderson also touts the city's efforts of inclusiveness and valuing diversity in the community, "sending an important message that everyone — regardless of faith, race, ethnic origin or sexual orientation — has a place at the community table."

"All of that bodes very well for sustained economic development in the future as we create the sort of place people outside of the state look to as being not only tolerant but enthusiastically welcoming of people with all sorts of differences," he said.


Anderson said he accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible during his eight years as mayor. Still, as he leaves office, he takes with him several ideas and goals that either failed to gain support of the City Council or were quashed before even making it that far.

One of those was his vision for the Rio Grande Depot becoming the city's transit center — the intermodal hub.

"I pushed very hard for that sort of utilization of the Rio Grande Depot, but I was opposed pretty much unanimously — including by people on my own staff," he said. "That will always be a source of some regret."

Another is the lack of segregated bicycle lanes downtown. Though plans for such lanes are being developed in the city, Anderson said he wanted to see that started before he left office. The lanes, he said, will provide cyclists with the same protection afforded to pedestrians using sidewalks.

Anderson also is disappointed that he wasn't able to see his dream of a world-class gathering place at Pioneer Park become a reality.

The mayor proposed an estimated $4 million makeover to Pioneer Park in an effort to draw more visitors and shake the label as a haven for crime and drug use. The City Council, however, didn't share that vision and would not allocate the full funding.

"It could have and should have been done," he said. "We certainly pushed vigorously for years to get the council's support."

The mayor and the City Council often found themselves at loggerheads during Anderson's administration. The relationship got off to a shaky start when, three months into his first term, Anderson issued three executive orders — prohibiting discrimination against city employees based on sexual orientation; encouraging the hiring of a diverse city work force; and forbidding all city employees to accept gifts of any value.

Council members bristled over the unilateral action and sought advice of the city attorney on the legality of the executive orders. A year later, Anderson agreed to modify the orders to make clear that they are not intended to conflict with or supersede city ordinance, state law or federal law.

The mayor and City Council later locked horns over the Great Salt Lake Mall, which Anderson calls "the sprawl mall," proposed in 2000 to be built west of the airport. Then there was Anderson's involvement in the fight to stop construction of the Legacy Highway, during which the council distanced itself from Anderson's fight, as well as the controversy surrounding the Main Street Plaza.

"It seemed almost from the beginning, when I would stand firm on certain issues, some (council members) seemed to make it a personal issue," Anderson said. "I was really taken aback by some of the rather nasty and petty personal attacks that appeared in the press from statements made by particular City Council members."

Nancy Saxton, a member of the City Council who often clashed with Anderson throughout his eight years in office, sees things a little differently.

"I think this was a very capable City Council," said Saxton, who also is leaving office after two terms. "I think that we were ready, willing and able to work collaboratively, but it was not something that was valued by the administration."

City Councilman Carlton Christensen said he believes Anderson "created more divisions than were necessary," and that hindered initiatives moving forward. One of those, he said, is the need for a new public safety building to replace the outdated and unsafe headquarters for the city's police and fire departments.

Anderson's position against a proposed $192 million bond on the November ballot that would have paid for five new public safety structures at three locations is believed to be among the reasons the measure failed to curry favor with voters.

"For the time being, that building will be his legacy," Carlton Christensen said.

Future plans

Now, as Anderson's two terms in office come to an end, the mayor and City Council are in agreement on at least one thing: It's time for a change.

"Personally, I'm ready to move on," Carlton Christensen said. "I wish him well."

As for Anderson, he's ready to begin work on his startup nonprofit organization for the education and advocacy of human rights and climate change.

Through the HumanKind Education Fund Inc., Anderson hopes to raise consciousness about the challenges and solutions of human rights and climate-change issues, and then convert the passion and concern that come from increased awareness into effective advocacy work.

Anderson also plans to continue to work with mayors across the country and people in local communities to more aggressively pursue climate protection programs.

And for the time being at least, he plans to stay in Salt Lake City.

"I love this city," Anderson said. "The only thing that would cause me to move is worsening air quality. It's hard to live in a place where you're going to do yourself harm by running out of doors during many parts of the year."

E-mail: [email protected]