Salt Lake City, says Mayor Rocky Anderson, is an "island of progressivity" — but much of the rest of Utah doesn't "get" him.
That's how the mayor responded when he heard the results of a new Deseret News-KSL poll. In the survey of 403 Utahns, taken in late June by Dan Jones & Associates, Anderson enjoyed the most favor on his own turf, with 59 percent of Salt Lake respondents expressing approval of his first year and a half in office. Still, the mayor says, his initial 18 months have been fraught with misunderstandings, especially beyond city limits. In Salt Lake County his approval rating drops to 46 percent.
Anderson calls the "outlying areas" less than progressive, and some of his conservative critics "afraid of change," but "thank God for Salt Lake City."
Disapproving Utahns, according to Anderson, are laboring under misconceptions. For example, "when I've talked about changing our liquor laws, a lot of people saw that as a call for increasing opportunities for consumption." In other words, some think of Anderson as the "drink-more mayor."
"All I'm talking about is making things more convenient and less complicated for those who visit our state," he said. Still, his repeated panning of the private-club rule and the prohibition on grocery-store wine sales "are part of this perception that I'm somehow working against the values" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As for Anderson's positions on national drug policy, the poll also shows Latter-day Saints are among the most disapproving, with 62 percent opposing the mayor.
That's more misunderstanding at work, Anderson says. "Some of the media have reported — incorrectly
— that I advocated legalization of marijuana. . . . I never said that. I said all possible approaches to our drug problems should be considered in the national dialogue." Yes, he wants "a radical change" in drug policy — but that doesn't mean legalization. Instead he wants the country to turn away from mandatory prison sentences and move toward a treatment-centered approach for drug offenders.
The Salt Lake mayor has also kept a high profile in his opposition to the Legacy Highway through Davis and Salt Lake counties, even as his critics said he should stay inside his own city's limits.
"These people need to understand the traffic and sprawl-inducing effects" the highway will foist on the capital, Anderson said — plus the pollution he said it will add to the already haze-cloaked valley.
Salt Lake residents say they want Anderson to speak out against the highway, with 50 percent favoring his views. Across Utah, however, that rating slips to 42 percent, with 48 percent of respondents opposing him.
Anderson has large shares of fans among certain groups. A striking 72 percent of Salt Lakers age 18-24 label him an effective mayor. And while only 17 percent of Latter-day Saints in the capital city endorse him, 87 percent of Catholics support his stands.
Newcomers to Utah also like Anderson's style; 79 percent of people who've lived in the Beehive State for two to five years expressed approval in the poll. Among lifelong residents, only 44 percent support him.
A year ago, in one of the first of a series of maverick decisions, Anderson riled Salt Lakers by canceling the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in Salt Lake schools. He's called it a worthless, "feel-good" project and urged district officials to find a replacement.
But the poll's results suggest that city residents are still split on the mayor's education policies. While 50 percent of Salt Lakers with children in public schools gave Anderson a high approval rating, 43 percent expressed disapproval and 7 percent said they hadn't made up their minds.
As Anderson nears the halfway mark in his term, he hopes the city will gauge his performance on a wider range of issues than drugs, drinking and religion.
"I think the Olympics will be a major factor" in future approval ratings, "and I also think downtown revitalization, progress with mass transit and west-side development are all areas that I'll be judged on," he said.
In the meantime, he won't lose sleep over public-opinion polls.
"If those were important to me, I wouldn't have taken on so many important, albeit controversial issues," he said. "We've got the obligation to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. I do hope people will come to better understand my positions and why I take the stands that I do.
"If I only serve one term, at least I can look back and say I did it with integrity."
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