With 12 days until the Salt Lake City mayoral primary, outgoing Mayor Rocky Anderson is criticizing the candidate he says would be a "disaster" as his replacement — Salt Lake City Councilman Dave Buhler.

In the process, Anderson — as he did in his last two successful mayoral campaigns — raised the specter that City Council members who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as Buhler does, do not make independent decisions but oppose changes to city ordinances that may find disfavor among church leaders.

Recent polls show that Buhler, a Republican who has been on the council for eight years, is neck-and-neck with Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson for the lead in the mayor's race.

The nine-person mayoral field, with four viable contenders, will be winnowed to two in the Sept. 11 primary. The final pair face off in the November general election.

Anderson has had his disagreements with Buhler. But the relationship turned nasty when Anderson sent a letter to the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce suggesting Buhler misstates some of Anderson's actions.

Anderson told the Deseret Morning News that Buhler is "lying" about several city issues, most specifically Anderson's failed attempt to prevent the Newspaper Agency Corp., the joint printing and advertising arm of the Deseret Morning News and the Salt Lake Tribune, from building its new printing plant in West Valley City and moving from the city. The NAC is now known as MediaOne.

Buhler said Anderson "dropped the ball" in acting to keep NAC in town. The firm's move to West Valley City "should not have happened," Buhler said.

Anderson says he worked hard and long to keep the facility in Salt Lake City. But in the end, West Valley City officials offered the newspapers too many economic breaks that the city couldn't match.

Anderson, a Democrat, backs former city councilman Keith Christensen. Christensen, a registered Republican until he changed to an independent a month ago, trails in the mayor's race, polls show.

Since Buhler and Christensen seek the same GOP/independent support, Anderson's criticism of Buhler could help Christensen.

But Anderson denies any partisan or political reasons for criticizing Buhler. "He just isn't telling the truth," the mayor said. "Characteristically, (Buhler) doesn't have his facts straight, then he points the finger of blame at others."

"This is just a political attack by Rocky against people who disagree with him," Buhler said. "He's attacked former staff members. He's attacked members of the council. People are tired of his verbal bullying. They want to see more civility and humanity from the person who holds this office."

Buhler said he can refute Anderson's claims of "lying" point by point. About the NAC move, Buhler said: "We need a mayor to be on top of these things, not come in at the last minute. The fact is, the city lost hundreds of good-paying jobs."

In an e-mail exchange between the two men earlier this week, Anderson said it was "galling to hear you (Buhler) make such reckless, false statements." Buhler replied he had "good sources outside of the city" that confirmed his statements that Anderson's action on the NAC was "too little and mostly far too late." Anderson said the use of unnamed sources "is reprehensible — but not surprising."

"Political differences are one thing," Anderson wrote to the chamber, which sponsored a debate in which the mayor claims Buhler failed to tell the truth about several issues. "Misrepresentations to the public are something else."

Anderson closes his letter saying: "Please demand that candidates tell you the truth — and when they don't, let them know they won't have your vote."

Anderson said he couldn't understand how Buhler could say he didn't do everything possible about the NAC move, when Buhler, as a member of the City Council, voted to change a city ordinance, in a hurried-up-fashion, in an attempt to keep the newspapers' production facilities in the city.

Exactly, said Buhler, the hasty ordinance was necessary because Anderson was behind the curve.

"These statements are false and misleading," said Anderson, citing conversations he had with Dean Singleton, president of MediaNews, the Tribune's publisher. Anderson also quotes a former NAC boss as saying Anderson did all that was asked of him.

Additionally, Anderson said, it is also false that he didn't do all he could to change city ordinances allowing more than two bars on a city block. For years Anderson has promoted it as a way to attract more tourists and visitors to downtown on weekends and in evening hours.

In one debate, Buhler said in eight years Anderson has never sent the City Council any proposed zoning changes for bar placement. Anderson "has talked a lot about it," Buhler is quoted in one debate. "I said six years ago, if he did (send something to the council), I'd be willing to take a look at it. I'm still waiting." Buhler reiterated that stand Wednesday. "He won't send us a proposal."

Anderson said it is the City Council's responsibility to set city policy, the mayor's job to implement it. Anderson said he has repeatedly made it clear the city's bar ordinance needs to be changed, yet the council does nothing.

Anderson — as he did in his last re-election campaign four years ago — accused the City Council, and Buhler specifically, of not pursuing the bar zoning change because LDS Church leaders opposed the change. The accusation is that Buhler, who is LDS, didn't pursue programs that church leaders might oppose and wouldn't do so as mayor.

"A previous council (which included Mr. Buhler) voted down" a bar rezoning proposal, Anderson said.

Buhler said he did call church leaders after he had heard a rumor that they did not oppose the bar zoning change. "I don't apologize for that. I try to call all sides of an issue. I want to listen to all; I ask their opinion, not their permission."

Buhler said if he's able to survive the Sept. 11 primary, "I suppose you will hear a lot more from Rocky in the final campaign. This attacking is his style — tired as it is."


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com