PROVO — Backed by former Utah House Speaker Jeff Alexander and influential state Sen. Curt Bramble, Provo businessman John Curtis announced in a letter Saturday that he will run for mayor.

Curtis appeared positioned to provide incumbent Mayor Lewis Billings with his stiffest political test yet if Billings chooses to seek a fourth term in 2009.

"Provo's success is not guaranteed," Curtis said in the letter. "It will take vision, hard work and good leadership." In an interview, Curtis said he respected Billings but was ready to seek political office again whether Billings ran or not.

Billings said Saturday night that he is leaning toward running again but won't announce a final decision until next year.

Curtis previously ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against Bramble. In January 2007, weeks after registering as a Republican, he won a special election to replace Alexander in the House by one vote over Chris Herrod.

Curtis didn't get the seat, however, because he didn't earn 60 percent of the vote of the delegates in House District 62. A quirk in party bylaws tossed the final decision to Enid Greene Mickelsen, then the chairwoman of the Utah Republican Party.

Mickelsen selected Herrod.

Bramble's and Herrod's names appeared as supporters on Curtis' letter, a sign, the candidate said, of how well he works with others. Alexander is listed as his campaign chairman.

Curtis also said the largely Republican list is proof party leaders are comfortable with his explanation for running against Bramble as a Democrat. He said the move provided voters with an option and that he remained true to Republican principles.

The 23 names on the letter included state Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, Utah County Commissioner Steve White, county Sheriff Jim Tracy, former Provo City Councilman Greg Hudnall, developer David Gardner, Gold's Gym owner Scott Felsted and Corporate Alliance vice president Jeff Rust.

Billings said Provo is in a strong financial position compared to other cities, and he is interested in continuing as mayor to help the city weather the recession. He declined to share the name of another potential candidate he would like to see run.

"If that person doesn't come forward, I don't know if I'd be comfortable with those running," Billings said, though he had kind words for Curtis.

"John's a very impressive individual who's worked hard to create support," the mayor said.

Curtis and his wife, Sue, hosted a number of political events in their home in the past year, including debates between state House and Senate candidates.

On Tuesday, with the backing of the Billings administration, the City Council approved a request by Curtis to issue $9 million in industrial revenue bonds for Action Target, in which Curtis owns a minority stake. The money will be used to build the company's new facility in Provo's Mountain Vista Business Park, formerly known as Ironton.

Action Target, which manufactures targets for police and military use, is the first tenant in the business park where Billings and Curtis both own land personally.

In November 2007, the council, with the mayor's backing, created an incentive package to lure Action Target to the park.

Curtis said he would consider selling his land or following Billings' example of putting his Ironton property in a blind trust if he became mayor.

"I don't think it's necessarily smart to pull out of my investments in Provo," he said. "I think people want a mayor who is invested in Provo."

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