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Becker, Buhler go toe-to-toe at Hinckley Institute debate

Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler traded political jabs Tuesday — at least as much as a couple of nice guys are willing to swing.

The Salt Lake City mayoral candidates cushioned their blows with smiles and laughter during a debate at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, each delivering shots akin to the playful punches from one fraternity brother to another.

It's the closest thing to animosity voters are likely to see in the race between to likable candidates who probably would have little bad to say about the other if they weren't battling for the same job.

Subtle jabs by one candidate were acknowledged with little more than a shake of the head, smile or chuckle from the other until Buhler took aim at Becker's performance in the Legislature.

As he did during a press conference last week, Buhler pointed to the sparse amount of legislation sponsored by Becker that has been enacted into law over the past 11 years as a sign that his opponent has not been effective in that arena.

Buhler, a Salt Lake City councilman for the past eight years, spent four years in the state Senate in 1995-99. During that time, the Republican had 36 of his bills passed. Becker, a Democrat, has seen only 15 of his sponsored bills pass in 11 years.

"I think there's a measure of effectiveness there," Buhler said.

When given his chance to respond, Becker paused and looked quizzically at Buhler before saying, "Dave is a different person than he was in the primary. He was this nice, reasonable guy."

Becker defended his legislative record, saying most of his 11 years there have been spent in leadership roles, including his current position as Democratic leader in the House.

Getting things done in a Republican-dominated Legislature, Becker said, often means knowing when to fade into the background and let Republican colleagues carry important legislation forward.

"I will compare my record with Dave Buhler anytime," he said.

Becker returned fire by citing Buhler's failure to be re-elected after one term in the Senate, comparing that with the six times he has been elected or re-elected to the House.

A question about a proposed skybridge over Main Street as part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' City Creek Center development also sparked some back-and-forth banter from the candidates.

During a discussion about the revitalization of downtown, Buhler asked Becker to clarify his stance on the skybridge.

Becker called the skybridge a "bad idea," saying skybridges "take people off the street." He also warned against the dangers of bowing to the demands of large developers, such as the LDS Church, instead of looking out for the community as a whole.

That said, Becker also called the Salt Lake City Council's action of amending the city's master plan to accommodate the skybridge "a good decision."

"Ralph is against it but he thinks we made a good decision?" Buhler asked rhetorically.

Becker clarified that he agreed with the council's decision to allow skybridges to be considered only if if they meet certain conditions.

A recent Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates indicates that Becker has an 18-percentage-point lead lead over Buhler.

The poll showed that Becker is favored by 51 percent of Salt Lake City registered voters; Buhler has 33 percent support. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.