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Candidates too close for comfort?

WEST VALLEY CITY — Local politics often pit neighbor against neighbor. But in this year's mayoral race, the competition is a little closer than usual.

Incumbent Mayor Dennis J. Nordfelt is being challenged by political newcomer Adam Calvin Leffler — the second counselor in the bishopric of Nordfelt's LDS ward.

Unlike many municipal candidates statewide, the two will not face the rigors of October's primary election as they are the only candidates running. But the neighbors have already begun gearing up for the Nov. 8 general election.

Just glancing at a candidate list makes the two's proximity apparent: Their house numbers are identical except for one number. Leffler lives less than two blocks west of Nordfelt. Same with their home phone numbers: Only one number is different.

The nearness of the candidates left Nordfelt, who is first counselor in the presidency of LDS Church's Salt Lake City mission, concerned about possible divisions in the ward as the two spend the coming weeks readying to face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

"There was potential for tension," Nordfelt said. "As soon as he put out a sign on his property and vehicles and came to church, I had a number of people in the neighborhood who asked me for signs. I could see there was a potential there for a result that would not be desirable for me."

So Nordfelt called Leffler, and together they asked their neighbors to refrain from putting up campaign signs.

"We feel that the purpose of the election is to bring positive change to the city, and it's not a good way to start off by dividing the neighborhood where people live," Leffler said. He said there have been some people who put up signs anyway, and together the candidates asked them to take them down.

Leffler said he decided to run for mayor and run the risk of causing a rift in the typically amicable environment of an LDS ward because he believes there are things that need to be done differently in the city.

"I have a great deal of respect for the mayor as a person, yet I have a number of reasons why I felt I needed to run," he said. "People that we both know are moving some of their businesses out of West Valley, and I feel like that's the most important vote of all."

Nordfelt said he knew Leffler was eyeing city office and doesn't take his opponent's challenge personally.

"I was not surprised," Nordfelt said. "He had told me a year or so ago that he had political ambition and that he thought maybe a good way to get his name to be known was to run for local office."

And Leffler said he and Nordfelt remain friends.

"Obviously I think he's a great person and I believe we're doing really well to maintain a good working relationship in our church and community," he said. But neither Nordfelt nor Leffler is letting friendliness stand in the way of each man's conviction that he is the best man for the job.

"I've lived here a lot longer (than Leffler) and have had a lot more experience," Nordfelt said. "I think my effectiveness and my record speaks for itself."

The first-term mayor, who served as West Valley's police chief before being elected mayor, said he has overseen a city government that has made great progress in economic development and in working regionally on big growth-driven issues like transportation.

"We've had significant economic development in the three years that I've been there," Nordfelt said.

But Leffler said the city can't be satisfied with the progress it has seen because much more needs to be done.

"While there has been some progress in different areas of the city and the city officials deserve credit for that, it doesn't go near as far as it needs to to push forward the results we need to go from good to great," he said. "Bottom line is I feel like the people who had the horse and buggy were probably happy when they had that, too, but when they got the car they were a lot more enamored with that."

Another goal is improved law enforcement for a city often plagued by the perception of being a center for violent crime. "My No. 1 effort is (that) I believe we should increase the police force by at least a third over the next few years," to promote the image we should have, Leffler said.

But Nordfelt said the city is on the right track, and he believes staying at the helm will keep it that way. "I know it sounds altruistic but I have believed all my life the most noble thing you can do in this life is serve your fellow man," he said. After leaving the police force, he decided his experience made him most qualified to serve in local government.So far, that experience has paid off. Nordfelt's history with the Utah Highway Patrol has earned him chairmanship of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, where he has been involved in planning the region's transportation.It all ties in with what he sees as the biggest issue facing West Valley and the rest of the county's west side: growth.

Both candidates plan to continue campaigning through the fall until November's elections. But when the votes have been counted and all is said and done, they plan to remain first and foremost neighbors — in a neighborhood that, they hope, won't be torn by political differences.