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Rocky revels in ‘selling’ the city

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Stepping onto the airport tarmac in Salt Lake City, foreign journalists have images of Utah fully formed in their minds. Some have already predicted the 2002 Winter Games will be the driest ever ? in every sense of the word.

Then they meet Mayor Rocky Anderson.

"I see you have a beer stein," a reporter from the Netherlands says. The stein is empty, just a decoration. Anderson peels out for a verbal spin around the Salt Lake City he wants visitors to see.

"We have a very vibrant, diverse, rich culture," he tells the latest group of visitors. "We have a large Hispanic population and the fourth-largest per-capita Pacific Islander population in the country."

Anderson's guests are presented with a glossy portfolio with information about the capital's 18 city festivals, plus a page titled "Liquor Laws" that notes that the Wasatch Front has 1,038 places to buy a drink.

Daily, Anderson finds camera lenses inches from his face. Journalists question him about security and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ? and don't receive the expected answers.

An Austrian television reporter asked what kind of projects he and the LDS Church were working on together, and when would he be meeting with church leaders regarding the Olympics?

Anderson paused. Then, "I work with citizens in the community. This idea a lot of people have that they (the LDS Church) run things . . . is absolutely untrue."

Some see the mayor, with his support for loosened liquor laws, as an adversary of the LDS Church. But talking with the foreign journalists, he steered away from the alcohol debate and praised church programs. "The welfare work The Church of Jesus Christ does in this community is extraordinary," he said.

Mentioning the day he "went out and made applesauce at their cannery," Anderson added that "they have a real commitment. And they don't seem to tout it a lot." He called the church "very generous" for lending the land for the Medals Plaza.

Lest reporters expect Anderson ? reared in the LDS Church but no longer practicing ? to start quoting the Book of Mormon, the mayor instead cites the census. His portfolio's fact sheet says nearly half of Salt Lake schoolchildren are minorities, and people of color constitute 36 percent of the city.

"Anybody coming to Salt Lake City and not experiencing The Church of Jesus Christ would be missing out. It would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Vatican. But that, as I've said, is not all there is."

The mayor's Games security forecast has turned almost beatific. As one of the security measures, he said, all aircraft must follow a prescribed plan, "and if they deviate from that flight plan, God bless them, because there will be F-16s patrolling the area."

A Swiss reporter asked about the Olympics' economic impact. After a brief, optimistic response, Anderson changed the subject. "These Games will be remembered for the athletes' endeavors . . . and for people getting together and having a great time in a welcoming community," he said.

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com