Facebook Twitter

Tough Rocky also has a soft side

In 10 years, he hopes to be rights crusader

SHARE Tough Rocky also has a soft side

Despite a reputation as a tough negotiator, former attorney and current Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson does have a soft side. Heck, he even cries.

Anderson wept earlier this month when he dropped his only son, 21-year-old Luke, off at New York University. The tears came as the mayor realized he wouldn't be giving Luke those regular early-morning back rubs that formerly stirred his son from slumber.

A few months earlier, Anderson was again in New York when he called a friend to see how his dog, Winston, was doing. The reply came back: Winston was dead.

"I cried," Anderson said. "Goldens (golden retrievers) don't last very long, unfortunately."

That compassion is one reason Anderson wants to be mayor for a second term, despite four years of being on the firing line for some of the most challenging issues ever to face Salt Lake City. He faces a serious challenge from seasoned politician and fellow Democrat Frank Pignanelli and from Republican Molonai Hola in an Oct. 7 primary election. The two survivors will face off in the Nov. 4 municipal election.

Anderson, a tenacious litigator who had an unsuccessful run for Congress before winning a first term as mayor in 2000, has compassionate ambitions that transcend mayor of Utah's largest city.

Ten years from now Anderson, 52, sees himself as a worldwide crusader for human rights. If world leaders had more knowledge about such horrendous issues as the global slave and prostitution trade of young girls, these problems could be eradicated, he said. Or if the international community knew about human-rights violations earlier, genocide in such places as Bosnia and Rwanda would never have reached the dehumanizing and murderous lows they did.

"The international community is not taking effective steps to eliminate these abuses," he said. "If we were to mobilize political support, we would leave our leaders no choice but to take effective action, so I want to work to bring about that kind of effective advocacy."

That advocacy doesn't mean Anderson couldn't still be mayor in 10 years. In fact, his position as mayor may give him the clout needed to be taken seriously, he says.

"Just as we've done with environmental issues, I could leverage this position into bringing about greater advocacy on these issues," he said.

For instance, as mayor, Anderson has gained the audience of national figures that have included Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin to ensure luggage screening would be conducted on 100 percent of the checked baggage that passes through Salt Lake City International Airport.

As mayor, the Environmental Protection Agency invited Anderson to tell a United Nation's environmental summit in New Delhi how Salt Lake City is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise improve the environment.

It's not surprising, then, to hear Anderson say he would like to be president.

"Yeah, if I had that opportunity," Anderson said. The United States could prevent many human-rights abuses if "there were someone in that office with the will and knowledge to do something about it," he said.

Tempered idealism

While such thinking may seem irrelevant to being mayor of Salt Lake City, his supporters say the mayor's idealism, energy and vision have served him well in office. And his first term as mayor has taught him to temper his passion and idealism, as well.

"Oftentimes he has to weigh what he has to give up to gain a value that is equally or more important to the city," said longtime friend Peggy Tomsic.

Anderson has taken idealistic stances on many city questions — free speech over property rights or making peace over the Main Street Plaza dispute; historic zoning over free-market business decisions in the Nordstrom/Gateway question; and campaign finance reform.

In the end, Anderson eventually reversed his original ideological stand on all three of those issues to make a decision he felt was best for the city. In fact, the former campaign finance reform champion is now planning the most expensive mayoral run in city history and has already raised about $500,000, double Pignanelli's bank account and about seven times the amount raised by Hola.

His critics have seized on those reversals and labeled Anderson as a flip-flopping politician.

While Anderson disagrees, Tomsic said the mayor would probably take more time in his second term to weigh all aspects of an issue before pronouncing his final decision. "He'll be a little more introspective before he reaches a conclusion," she said.

Unusual issues

Anderson says he has always measured himself by the positive change he can make for the betterment of society — globally and locally. That measuring stick is what drives him to be mayor, where he figures he can effect much change.

His senior adviser, D.J. Baxter, agrees. While many elected officials become bogged down by financial obstacles and city bureaucracy, Anderson remains enthusiastic, Baxter said.

"Rocky has never been daunted by the many roadblocks that present themselves in the municipal setting," Baxter said. "His passion for this work has actually increased."

Anderson explained that the city has dealt with several "very unusual" issues in the span of his four-year mayoral term: the 2002 Winter Games, security issues surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Elizabeth Smart's disappearance and recovery, the Main Street Plaza fray, The Gateway construction and fallout, the bid to build the Grand Mall on the city's west side and 900 South rail reactivation.

These are major engagements that don't normally happen in one term and have sidetracked Anderson from some of his goals. With many of those issues now behind, Anderson wants a second term to focus on his vision for the city, including redesigning Pioneer Park into a community gathering place and working to define downtown districts for development.

"We had some enormous challenges that took huge amounts of time and energy that now can be devoted to building on to many of our successes," Anderson said.

Those successes include developing the city's after-school YouthCity program, lowering the city's greenhouse gas emissions, passing an administrative order on affirmative action in hiring and Anderson's fruitful lobbying for the University TRAX light-rail line along 400 South.

Anti-Anderson angst

While staffers say privately that Anderson's drive, intensity and demanding style of management is a reason for the early high turnover at City Hall, the mayor now has a loyal, devoted and equally passionate following.

"I developed a really intense appreciation for Rocky right after he was elected when he got involved with the Fourth South light-rail line," notes Alison Weyher, the city's community and economic development director.

The City Council had just voted the University line down, but before taking office, Mayor-elect Anderson held meetings in his home and rallied support for the line, which was eventually finished in time for the 2002 Winter Games.

"That was pretty impressive to watch," Weyher said.

But Anderson's aggressive and sometimes contrary style has rubbed many Utahns the wrong way. And rarely ever has a mayor drawn opposition from all corners of the state.

His opposition to the Legacy Highway in Davis County angered much of northern Utah. When he opposed a Grand Mall, or "sprawl mall," Anderson embittered many on the city's retail-impoverished west side. Moreover, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which make up 70 percent of Utah's population, were angered at Anderson's initial stand against relinquishing city control of the Main Street Plaza to the LDS Church, following a federal court ruling last year.

That anti-Anderson angst led to the formation of a political action committee called Fed Up Utah — largely supported from donations gained in neighboring Davis and Utah counties — that has a stated goal of ousting Anderson from City Hall.

Family life

With all that, these are sometimes tiring times for Anderson, what with fighting for his political life and running a city. In the middle of last month he introduced singer Patty Griffin as "Nancy Griffin" and a week later he introduced a date by the wrong first name.

"I realized at that point I really needed to get some sleep," Anderson said.

Anderson is single, twice divorced. Luke was born during his first marriage, which lasted eight years. His second lasted 10 months.

There is a "wonderful new woman in my life," Anderson said last week. And while there might not be wedding bells in his future, the mayor confessed he doesn't relish the bachelor life.

"I'd love to be married," Anderson said. Then more slowly added: "I always wanted to be married and have a close family. One of the biggest disappointments of my life was starting a marriage that ended in divorce."

Anderson biography

Ross "Rocky" Anderson

Age: 52

Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy from University of Utah, law degree from George Washington University.

Professional experience: Attorney, Salt Lake City mayor.

Quote: "My intensity, in work as well as in my personal life, is driven by a passion and a sense of personal responsibility to do what I can in this life to make our world a better place."

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com