Mayor George Stewart intends to file a lawsuit aimed at fleshing out the identity of an anonymous group that he believes maligned him and his successor during the mayoral campaign.

"When you get accused of criminal activity, that's slanderous," Stewart said.An organization calling itself Ethics 4 Provo ran a series of newspaper advertisements the week before Tuesday's election attacking Lewis Billings and questioning his relationship with Stewart. An Oct. 26 ad headlined "What Stinks in Provo?" suggests Stewart's selection of Billings as Provo's chief administrative officer two years ago was a political payoff. Billings supported Stewart's mayoral bid four years ago.

The ad also says Stewart "stepped over the line of ethical conduct" with the appointment.

"Candidates for public office should not have to put up with that kind of campaign from anonymous people," the mayor said, adding negative tactics are scaring good people from seeking office. "People are appalled. I'm worried that people just won't run."

Billings soundly defeated City Councilman Karl Thalman Tues-day. He said he didn't think the ads served Thalman's supporters well at all. Thalman himself said the ads didn't help his campaign.

Kent Barrus, who's listed as Ethics 4 Provo chairman on the ads, said he'd welcome a slander suit.

"All of the things we mentioned are completely verifiable," he said. "There's virtually no possibility that a slander suit is winnable."

Stewart realizes that as a public official he has little chance of winning. But that's not really what's he after. He wants names and thinks they'll come out during the discovery process attorneys go through when preparing a case.

"It's the discovery I'm more concerned about than the actual lawsuit," he said.

Barrus, who said he's acting as a front man for Ethics 4 Provo, has steadfastly refused to name the four individuals who he says created and financed the six ads, which cost about $1,000 each. He has no plans to do so now that the election is over. He said some group members are in positions that would leave them vulnerable and they fear reprisal.

Speaking of the ads' targets, "we don't think they're beneath exacting some sort of revenge if possible," Barrus said.

Billings last week offered a $500 reward for information that revealed those involved with Ethics 4 Provo. The Billings campaign, including Billings' attorney, has chased down several leads since the week before the election.

Taylor Oldroyd, Billings' campaign manager, said they have a good idea of who is responsible for the ads. They've asked Stewart to hold off on the lawsuit for a week while they pursue their latest information. "We're going to let that play out," Oldroyd said.

If the Billings campaign comes up with the names, Oldroyd said, it will hold a news conference to reveal them. If it doesn't, Billings will consider legal action himself.

Some observers of Tuesday's election said they think the outcome shows that negative campaigning is dead in Provo. Others say that if people are allowed to anonymously attack candidates, it will continue.

"If these people aren't exposed now, we can expect more of this in the future," Oldroyd said.

Barrus said Ethics 4 Provo probably won't be quick to disappear. "I'm certain they have not heard the last of us," he said.