Throughout his reign in the mayor's chair, Palmer DePaulis has been beaten up by critics for being too nice.

In the world of Utah politics, there are worse labels - such as ax murderer, for instance. And DePaulis' successful political track record might prove that the intangible niceness quotient works for city voters.But by fighting some very public battles lately, DePaulis' nice-guy image has received a makeover - even without the help of any fancy public relations campaign, such as, perhaps, proclaiming him a "pretty, great" mayor.

Way back in the good old days, like last year - remember when? - DePaulis used to get beat up for his frictionless relationship with the City Council.

Critics would say DePaulis, who was elected to the original council in 1980, was still too close to the city's legislative body to make the kind of tough administrative decisions needed of a big-city mayor. DePaulis repeatedly refers to his consensus style of management, which led some to question whether the mayor was strong enough to ruffle any feathers.

Never has DePaulis' sincerity displayed more of an iron edge than in recent weeks, when his knock-heads, stand-tough approach to handling some of the most severe tests of his three-year-old administration helped craft a new, beefed-up image.

While DePaulis acknowledges recent events have done a little image-polishing, he says he's too tired to relax and enjoy it, after battling the City Council to adopt a budget to his liking while entertaining 170 big-city mayors.

DePaulis not only threatened to but actually did veto the entire city budget after it was approved by a majority vote of the City Council. He also vetoed the council's appropriation plan of federal block grant funds. Both mayoral vetoes forced the council to regroup.

And despite pressure applied by an "informational picket" staged by the Salt Lake Police Association, DePaulis stood his ground, saying the city couldn't give employee raises this year, even though the employees deserved it, because taxpayers just couldn't afford it.

Both skirmishes appeared to have come at the worst possible time for DePaulis, as his colleagues from big cities across the nation were in town for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In actuality, the mayors commiserated with DePaulis. When a reporter asked Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode what he liked about Salt Lake City, Goode replied, "Your mayor," saying DePaulis stood up to the police and took on the City Council, and he did it all with a smile. That's quite a compliment from someone as powerful as Goode.

"This happens to them all the time," DePaulis said, referring to his troubles with the police. "There was great sympathy for me. In fact, I think it really boomeranged for the police."

Earlier, DePaulis stopped the council's grab for private office space in the restored City-County Building,

saying he considered several plans but felt it just wasn't feasible to rob space from other employees to provide privacy for the council.

The change in the mayor-council relationship started with last November's election, which brought two new faces, Wayne Horrocks and Alan Hardman, to council seats. The freshman council members have formed a loosely forged coalition with council members Florence Bittner and Willie Stoler, who have long been outspoken opponents of the mayor's policies.

Since January, council meetings have been flavored with infighting as well as out-fighting.

And the former good-natured honeymoon DePaulis enjoyed with the council in his first years in office is now layered under six months' worth of bickering between the executive and legislative branches of city government.

The fighting has been so public it led Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk, in one particularly heated and messy budget debate, to accuse her colleagues of voting for an unworkable budget in order to sabotage the mayor.

DePaulis' opposition has, in this case, done nothing but strengthen the public perception that he is looking out for the taxpayers' good.

And what more could any politico type want? Besides a little more sleep, that is.