Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said Tuesday he won't stand by and watch his city become cannon fodder in a war between Gov. Norm Bangerter and Ted Wilson, his Democratic rival, in their quest for the statehouse.
"I am not going to let Salt Lake City suffer from someone saying Ted wasn't a good mayor, so the city's a mess," DePaulis said in a Deseret News interview."I think it's far more complicated than that," DePaulis stressed. "I don't want to be in the middle of some political attacks to either discredit Ted, or enhance Ted, and make Salt Lake City and its citizens be the butt of that issue."
But Bangerter's quarrel isn't with the city residents or their current mayor.
Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager, said DePaulis "inherited a very difficult situation on many fronts" - everything from whether to renovate the City-County Building, the deterioration of Block 57 and the rent agreement with the Utah Jazz.
DePaulis can't be blamed for those things, Buhler said. "But the fact is that Ted Wilson has a rec-ord and that is fair game. I don't think there is anything being said by the governor or his campaign or the Republican Party that is out of line at all - particularly if you put it in the context of what Wilson said about people leaving the state."
He said the fact is the state population has continued to increase, compared with Salt Lake City, where there was a net decrease of 10,000 during Wilson's administration.
Buhler added the Bangerter campaign is growing weary of Wilson hiding behind "slick advertising and surrogates" and not talking about his record. They want a debate.
State Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi, who says he's sick of the so-called "Salt Lake City bashing," is ready to give them one.
The capital, he said, has been the brunt not only of Bangerter and Independent Party gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, but also of new Republican Party ads that refer to the capital as a "ghost town."
"These remind me of the bashing we have taken from the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times," Horiuchi said. "That kind of bashing is so counterproductive to Salt Lake City and the state, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are spending promoting Utah as `A pretty, great state.'
"It's incredible to me that these individuals would bash Salt Lake City for the sake of politics when our image really needs to be stronger," he stressed. "How can we have a strong Utah if we don't have a strong Salt Lake City?
"I know in my heart the reason why they are doing this is because the bad showing in the polls is making them desperate, so they are using this bashing device at the expense of Utah."
The city's mayor isn't going to sit back silently and take it, however.
"I'm chagrined in that Salt Lake City ought not to come up on the short end of a political situation. I don't think Salt Lake City is falling apart at the seams," DePaulis said. "I'm going to be very vocal about defending Salt Lake City against anyone's actions during the campaign process."
Difficulties faced by Salt Lake City - like the deterioration of downtown, a poor housing climate and a general drop in revenues - are also faced by other Utah cities, DePaulis said.
"I believe our economy has been very slow and stagnant in the past several years and that the economy has affected the capital city very strongly. But it has probably affected other cities more," he said. "We have kind of held our own."
The mayor, who openly supports Wilson, stopped short of being overly critical of Bangerter, saying "I'm not out to cast stones at the current administration."
He said a lot of factors, such as the national economy and declining oil prices, are out of Bangerter's con-trol.
"But I also don't want the current administration attacking Salt Lake City, saying the city is a mess and it's all because of Ted Wilson or me," he said. "The state could help us greatly if the sales taxes were up, jobs were out there, economic development was strong and we were getting more business.
"It's the issue of leadership. If there's good, strong leadership in place that works our way out of these tough issues, then we are the better for it," he said. "Currently we seem to be languishing, and there doesn't seem to be a strong feeling of direction of leadership to take us out of the tough issues."
Does this mean that the mayor is stumping for Wilson?
According to DePaulis, he's sitting on the sidelines reiterating the same sentiment Wilson expressed when DePaulis ran for mayor: "Why whip a good race horse?"
"He's 20 points ahead in the polls. In my view people have made up their minds in a way," DePaulis said. "My endorsement isn't going to make him win. My view is that unless Ted makes a terrible mistake, he's going to do quite well."