Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is officially entering the ring again.
Anderson, who served as mayor of Utah’s capital from 2000 through 2008, formally announced his campaign for the 2023 mayoral election during an event Wednesday afternoon, citing an increase in crime and issues he has with the policies of current Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and her predecessor Jackie Biskupski, and the Salt Lake City Council.
During a campaign speech that clocked in at a tick under 54 minutes, Anderson blasted the current mayoral administration for “cherry-picked” data that shows a decrease in violent crime, policies that he said are “cruel” toward the homeless community and having “no fiscal restraint.”
“I love this city and I love the people in this city, and this city has been so severely transformed and degraded. I have tried without success, as a concerned citizen engaging initially in polite correspondence to get people’s attention and trying to get the implementation of solutions ... to the mayor and certain members of the City Council,” he said.
“Because of their do-nothing attitude, because of the mayor’s lack of candor and accessibility, and because of the deterioration of our city resulting from an absence of effective, compassionate leadership, I have determined that, with the support of many conscientious, committed people in the community, I am running to once again serve this city as its mayor,” he added, as a group of a few dozen residents standing behind him cheered at the Cake Hair Salon in the city’s Ballpark neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Mendenhall downplayed Anderson’s announcement when asked about it during a press briefing about homelessness solutions earlier Wednesday. She joined local and state leaders to discuss what was learned in a recent research trip to Florida, where a program there helped reduce homelessness by 90% in the Miami area through a coordinated effort between the police, the courts and the mental health providers.
“I’m focused on managing this city and governing, and not campaigning,” the mayor said. “We’re focused on helping people be safe and not scaring them — doing the work to get this city well-managed is what I’m focused on.”
Anderson's announcement isn't much of a surprise, as the 71-year-old confirmed to KSL NewsRadio in August that he planned to run for his old job again during the 2023 election cycle. He led Utah's capital city when it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, but was known as being outspoken on a variety of issues during his tenure in office.
He touted his environmental advocacy, early support for the LGBTQ community and public transit advocacy during his speech. He also boasted about the success of the now-defunct Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival, which he pledged to bring back if he’s elected.
A large part of his message Wednesday centered on crime and homelessness, mirroring his argument made in August. He said he would remove the current interlocal agreement between the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and the city, where the district attorney’s office manages the Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office, and reestablish a 6-minute goal for an average police response time to the most serious calls.
The average response to top-priority calls has dropped from nearly 13 minutes to a little over 10 minutes in the past year, according to the Salt Lake City Police Department, but Anderson called the current goal to respond to crimes “abysmal.”
“A 10-minute response time goal may be good enough for the mayor and her chief of police, but it is not good enough for me, nor, I am sure, for our community,” he said, adding that their own reports also show a 20% increase in violent crime over the past two years because of a rise in aggravated assault cases.
Salt Lake City police data show that violent crimes are down 3% from this point last year but up 11% from the five-year average. Domestic aggravated assault is up 26% while nondomestic aggravated assault is up 15% when compared to the five-year average.
Perhaps no area of the city has been hit harder than the Ballpark neighborhood, which has been a focus of police intervention this year. Still, several residents and business owners say they feel ignored.
One of those people is Randy Topham, who owns the salon Wednesday’s event was held in. Topham, in support of Anderson, called the city “out of control,” describing the criminal activity outside of his business.
“We can’t even tell all the challenges we’ve run into as a result of this city’s lack of leadership, this city’s lack of taking control of the situation and their hands-off approach in the way they’re handling homelessness, and some of those challenges,” he said. “What we need is a very compassionate response.”
Anderson added Wednesday that he would stop “cruel” police raids and evictions of homeless people from camps “until there are alternative options for them,” instead calling for “secure sanctioned camps” much like Haven for Hope in San Antonio among other reforms.
“We were proud to host the world and to show off our amazing city during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. Now, Salt Lake City is listed among the most dangerous cities in the country,” he said. “Our city — my home for almost my entire adult life and a place I’ve always loved — is degraded, filthy in so many places, unaffordable for most people and experiencing the failures of homelessness policies that have wholly ignored best practices. ... Visitors to our city often leave shaking their heads ... asking, ‘What has happened to your city?’”
National lists offer differing opinions of the city on a U.S. scale. For instance, NeighborhoodScout did rank Salt Lake City as the 80th-most dangerous city in the country with a violent crime rate of 9.4 per 1,000 in its annual list of the 100 most dangerous cities released at the start of the year. The demographics website noted that a 26% year-over-year increase in violent crime put the city back on its list for the first time since 2018.
But U.S. News & World Report rated Salt Lake City as the 23rd best city to live in its Top 150 list for 2022-2023, citing high quality of life, job market and desirability scores. Insider also rated Salt Lake City at No. 23 on its list of the Top 50 places to live based on cost of living and quality of life this year.
There are still several months before Salt Lake City’s 2023 mayoral candidacy field is finalized leading up to the November 2023 election. Residents will also vote on three city council seats.
Contributing: Ashley Fredde