Salt Lake teenager and "Almost Famous" star Patrick Fugit and Mayor Rocky Anderson have something in common: Both received a phone call from Rolling Stone magazine, and both were almost speechless when it came.

Fugit's fictional character William Miller, a teenage journalist, got the call in the movie "Almost Famous." It started the character's career as a rock 'n' roll journalist, a role that boosted Fugit's acting career.

But Anderson got it in real life, from a journalist he already admired.

"I was especially excited that (Rolling Stone) sent Dan Baum," Anderson said. The mayor had read "Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure," Baum's book on Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, and other efforts to reduce drug abuse in America.

"Rolling Stone called me and asked me to write a profile of the mayor of Salt Lake City," said Baum, a free-lance contributor who lives in Watsonville, Calif. "Now, at the time, I think Rolling Stone thought of Salt Lake as a pretty conservative place," not someplace where the city's top politician would drop the DARE program.

"I have since learned," Baum added, "that Utah is a conservative place and Salt Lake City is its own place."

Baum flew here in early October. He interviewed the mayor, chief of staff Deeda Seed, police and school district officials, students and others who disagreed with Anderson's cancellation of DARE last July. His article, headlined "Salt Lake City Drops DARE: Maverick Mayor Rocky Anderson Calls the School Anti-Drug Program 'An Absolute Fraud,' " appeared in the Nov. 23 issue.

"I didn't get my picture on the cover of Rolling Stone," lamented Anderson. Actually, he suspected he wouldn't be able to compete with Drew Barrymore, whose tattooed tummy did front the magazine. Seed, however, said she made quite a few copies of the article about her boss and distributed them to friends and associates.

Baum's article describes the mayor as "a boyish 49" who "made his reputation as an ACLU-backed attorney suing the state prison and the Salt Lake City police for brutality. . . . He supports gay marriage, abortion rights and stronger gun control, and opposes the death penalty. That someone of Anderson's politics leads the capital of one of the most politically conservative states is not so anomalous: Salt Lake City hasn't had a Republican mayor in 29 years."

Baum goes on to assert Anderson's position against DARE: "Parents like it because, with its high profile, DARE makes it easy to believe something is being done to keep kids off drugs. It has not been shown, however, that the program actually works. A raft of peer-reviewed studies, one spanning 10 years, have demonstrated that current and former DARE students are as likely to use drugs as those who never took the course."

DARE officials declined to be interviewed for Baum's story.

Last week, White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey visited Salt Lake City and met with the mayor. McCaffrey, long a DARE advocate, urged Anderson to find a drug-prevention program to replace DARE in schools, but the mayor has yet to agree with school district officials about which programs will be most effective and most practical. The McCaffrey-Anderson conference was productive, according to the mayor, but the two men continue to disagree over the best approach to the nation's drug problems.

Baum quotes Anderson in his article: "It would be preferable to keep kids from doing drugs, but we're not going to do that in all cases. For them we ought to do what we can to reduce the harm for everyone."

Back home in California, Baum says his picture of Salt Lake City has been radically altered, due in large part to his meeting with Anderson.

"He was well-informed and committed to his positions, without being knee-jerk ideological," the author said. "He also has a refreshingly unashamed attitude about the '60s. The tragedy has been that the legacy of the '60s is either disparaged openly or shied away from. Rocky takes the attitude that those ideals of peace, harmony and tolerance aren't anything to shy away from. We should be proud of them."

And out to dinner at the New Yorker restaurant, "Rocky was working the room. He obviously loves his job."

"I came back high on Salt Lake," Baum added. He writes nonfiction articles and books, including this year's acclaimed "Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty." Now he says, "I'm thinking about writing a novel with a Mormon theme. The Mormons are pretty fascinating . . . and the political organization of the LDS Church is admirable. I told my wife, 'Maybe we ought to move there. There are all these cool people.' "


E-mail: durbani@desnews.com