Surrounded by friends and supporters, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson announced Friday that he will not seek a third term in the fall 2007 election.
"I have made this decision because I want to spend my remaining days working on grass-roots advocacy," Anderson said of his declaration to pursue human rights and environmental causes after he leaves office. "It rests upon all of us to lead, to recognize and to make a positive difference by pushing our elected officials."
Anderson did not specify what, if any, job he would seek. His term does not end until early 2008, when the next mayor will be sworn in, and Anderson gave no indication Friday that he would resign before then. Anderson's spokesman Patrick Thronson said the mayor had no comment; neither has commented to the Deseret Morning News for the past 37 days.
The mayor's announcement was met with groans and boos from a standing-room only audience, which earlier cheered portions of a presentation about global warming that Anderson gave in the City Library.
After his announcement was over, though, the crowd gave him a standing ovation of several minutes, and one audience member shouted, "Run for president!" Anderson accepted hugs and shook hands with several people.
His would-be successors are lining up already. Anderson has said previously that if he didn't seek a third term he would support Keith Christensen, a former city councilman. Christensen said Friday that he is holding a news conference Monday where he will announce whether he is running.
"Rocky and I are going to spend some time this weekend, and we'll see how persuasive he is," Christensen said. "The groups that we've been meeting with are rather extensive, and they all have some input, and we're going to finish talking with all of those people this weekend."
Five City Council members have either declared or expressed interest in running. Nancy Saxton has already announced her candidacy, and Dave Buhler, Eric Jergensen, Jill Remington Love and Carlton Christensen all are mulling it.
"I would not be surprised that he has other interests, and I wish him well in his future endeavors," Buhler said. "Politically, his decision does not have any impact on what I will do. My decision has always been independent of what he decides to do."
Goals and battles
Anderson touted his advocacy in a 20-minute speech Friday that praised by name dozens of city employees and department heads, including each member of his mayoral staff, for their work. Staff members who have left while at odds with Anderson did not garner mentions in his speech; for instance, the mayor specifically mentioned Thronson, who has been his communication director for six months, but none of his eight other communication directors, several of whom held the position longer.
Anderson started the speech by listing what he wanted to change about Salt Lake City when he first decided to run for office and then went through the work that he and other employees did to resolve those issues.
"When I first ran for mayor, I considered myself simply a resident, a citizen, a community activist with passionate concerns about what was happening in our city, our state, our nation and our world," Anderson said. "That's how I still view myself."
Among the things that he mentioned were increasing the number of minority and female appointees to city boards and commissions, establishing the YouthCity after-school program for children, implementing changes to make the city's daily operations friendlier to the environment, preserving open space throughout the city and specifically on the east side of Library Square, negotiating an abandonment by Union Pacific of train tracks that ran through a west-side neighborhood, promoting the annual jazz festival and creating his own drug-education programs.
Anderson inherited a bitter battle over the Main Street Plaza and whether to allow free speech on the block that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now owns. In the end, Anderson compromised and gave the city's free speech easement to the church to allow it to regulate speech, dress and activity on the parcel in exchange for land to build the Sorenson Unity Center.
He also gained notoriety by protesting President Bush and the war in Iraq last August. He has pledged to participate in protests when Bush visits again this August.
More recently, Anderson ordered the city to offer health benefits to domestic partners of city employees. The council passed an ordinance extending the benefits to all adult designees of city employees, a category that included long-term roommates, adult siblings and parents, as well as domestic partners. Anderson castigated the council for not specifically making the order about domestic partners and vetoed the ordinance, but council members unanimously overrode the veto and ultimately maintained that their plan gave insurance options to more people.
Reactions to Anderson's announcement from other officials within local government were largely positive.
"I've come to respect his passion and commitment to Salt Lake City and its issues," said Police Chief Chris Burbank, who had been under public scrutiny recently during the kidnapping case of 5-year-old Destiny Norton. "His support has just been fantastic."
Archie Archuleta, who worked for Anderson for four years as a minority affairs adviser, said the mayor has two personalities — one devoted to "quixotic" causes and the other firmly rooted in reality. The two blend to create a passionate leader who has an eye for implementing his initiatives, Archuleta said.
"If there were 25 hours in a day, he would work them," Archuleta said. "He has chosen to speak out when things are important that other politicians wouldn't talk about."
Anderson has made a few enemies during his six years as mayor. The Republican-controlled Legislature has shown him little love, and he has consistently fought with the City Council over his initiatives and their timing.
Anderson took several shots at the council, first regarding YouthCity, moving through budget talks with the council about the Justice Court and ending with a dig about the redevelopment agency, which the council reorganized. He also took aim at unnamed elected officials who, he said, rely on polls for political expediency, and at his community's "dangerous culture of obedience" where "hypocrisy so often prevails."
Soren Simonsen, the city councilman who represents Sugar House, said after hearing Anderson's speech that he wasn't surprised to hear of the mayor's decision.
"I was under the impression that he's very engaged with grass-roots advocacy," Simonsen said. "I noticed a shift in his priorities to international affairs, so this is not at all unexpected."
House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, a Democrat who also is considering running for mayor in 2007, said that Anderson won't easily be replaced.
"He'll leave — in some respects — a void just because of the power of his persona," Becker said. "There just aren't many politicians or people like him in that regard."
Contributing: Josh Loftin