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Teens seize chance to grill S.L. mayor at press event

The teens waiting inside the City-County Building may have been a little wide-eyed, but when the mayor finally arrived to hold forth, they didn't hold back.

They did, however, take a while to warm up. "I think they're in shock," Northwest Middle School journalism teacher Ted Zeitler said at the beginning of Mayor Rocky Anderson's "Youth Initiatives" press conference Friday. "They don't think the mayor can do anything for them. It's the west-side mentality. They won't articulate it that way . . . but that's how they feel. They know where they live."

But after Anderson's somewhat stiff opening speech, the teenage journalists got to grilling. Some 50 students from Salt Lake middle and high schools fired questions about public safety during the Olympics, private vs. public education, the Legacy Highway vs. commuter rail, the Santana High School shooting, gun control, hate crimes legislation, open space on Library Square, DARE, sex education, insurance coverage for birth

control, class size, how the 2002 Winter Games will change Salt Lake City and whether Utah's liquor laws will be changed.

And that was inside of about 30 minutes.

The mayor seized the opportunity to repeat his often controversial views to a fresh audience. About the students shot in Santee, Calif., on Monday: "Those who don't want to get guns out of the hands of young people share a lot of the responsibility. . . . We need leaders with the political courage" to enact gun-control laws. "Unfortunately in Utah, because of a vocal minority," those laws have failed in the Legislature, he said.

On building a road through Davis and Salt Lake counties: "Think about when you're on a highway. There's road rage, people flipping each other off . . . Compare that to light rail. Even when it's standing room only, people talk to each other." Salt Lake City needs more places where there's less clashing among people of varying backgrounds, the mayor said.

Students from Valley High, an alternative school in the Jordan district, asked Anderson's opinions of Utah's sex education and drug abuse curricula.

Utah's abstinence-only curriculum "is a sham," the mayor declared. "Our kids deserve better than that . . . and some people, no matter what you do, are not going to abstain from sex or from drugs. In that case we need to give them information" about where to go when they need help.

And no discussion with this mayor would be complete without mention of what he calls Utah's "absurd and unnecessary" liquor laws, "these ridiculous hoops we have." Again, Anderson voiced his frustration with the Legislature. But "I think there will be changes. . . . We've seen an evolution."

Every time the international media come to Salt Lake City, Anderson added, they ask about two things: the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — "I've got to say that whole thing now I guess" — and the state's restrictions on the sale of alcohol. "They have this strange view. . . . I'm trying to dispel that. I'm trying to show this is a good, well-balanced community, and that there's something for everyone here, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their faith" and background, he said.

"We want input," the mayor told the teenagers. "The one thing I can say to you is: Turn off the television and get involved."