The Salt Lake Tribune Endorses Rocky Anderson

Anderson for S.L. mayor

If an out-of-state visitor wanted to get a glimpse of Salt Lake City's evolving diversity, she could simply look at the mayor's race.

The incumbent, Rocky Anderson, is a Democrat, a white, male, inactive Mormon and card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. One of his challengers, Frank Pignanelli, also a Democrat, is a Catholic and former state legislator whose Italian immigrant grandfather ran booze during Prohibition. The other serious challenger is Molonai Hola, a Republican and an active Latter-day Saint who immigrated to Utah as a child from Tonga.

So much for religious and ethnic stereotypes about Utah.

Salt Lake City's gradual evolution away from those stereotypes is what helps to set the capital city apart. The city's proud pioneering heritage as the home of Temple Square and the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains its defining characteristic and the key to its identity. But the city also has many faces besides the dominant one. How to manage and balance that diversity, to get all elements of this community to work together, is the subtext that underlies much of the political campaign rhetoric.

The first round of that campaign culminates in the Primary Election Tuesday.

Rocky Anderson wins our endorsement for a second term, but not by a knockout. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board's decision was difficult because all three candidates are strong. For that reason, we believe we should not only explain our endorsement of Anderson, but point out what we see as each major candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

This approach dovetails with the goals The Tribune announced last year when it resumed endorsing candidates on its editorial page after a 30-year hiatus. We would not presume to tell Utahns how to vote. Instead, we share our editorial board's collective thinking about various races in the hope that Tribune readers will find it useful and informative to compare their own observations and conclusions with ours, just as they would with any other editorial.

We give Anderson our endorsement because he is an independent thinker. He has become an embodiment and symbol of the sort of nonsectarian leader the city must have to bring its many communities together -- Mormon and non-Mormon, white and non-white, straight and gay.

In his search for a solution to the bitterly divisive Main Street Plaza controversy, he managed, at various times, to alienate the leadership of both the LDS Church and the ACLU. The deal he brokered angered many in the mayor's own natural constituency, but it is a practical solution that resulted from his principled, and often tortuous, exploration of all the legal and political options.

Anderson also scored points with the editorial board for his environmental policies, which are a natural extension of his vision for the future of the city. Issues such as air quality, and their relationship to urban planning, sprawl and mass transit, are central to the quality of life in this valley, especially as the population continues to mushroom. The mayor understands that, and has led efforts to promote transit and challenge the shoddy environmental planning of Legacy Highway. When he drove a stake through the heart of the Great Salt Lake Mall, he struck a blow for sensible urban planning.

The mayor's efforts to revive commercial activity on Main Street, and balance the competing interests at The Gateway, have been less sure-footed. Here he could take a few pages from the campaign pledges of his opponents.

Frank Pignanelli's plan for Main Street makes good sense to us. He would create an aggressive economic development department at City Hall, offer small businesses help dealing with permits and the bureaucracy, and set up a revolving loan program for them. He would do more to help existing enterprises. We agree with him that spending millions of tax dollars to entice large retailers downtown would be wrongheaded. The city should referee a level playing field for business and let the private market work.

Pignanelli has rightly criticized Anderson's Achilles heel, his my-way-or-the-highway management style, and the challenger claims that he would be a much better consensus builder than the pugnacious Anderson. We would hope that in a second term, Anderson will work harder to build more bridges than he burns.

Pignanelli argues that in his years as minority leader of the Utah House of Representatives, he often crossed swords with the opposition, but he retained the respect and friendship of the other side.

That may be true. But we worry that in some ways Pignanelli is too well-connected. His years as a professional lobbyist, a political hired gun, would naturally lead Salt Lakers to worry about conflicts of interest if his former clients had business before the city and he were sitting in the mayor's chair.

Molonai Hola offers an attractive alternative to the other candidates, particularly because of his experience as a business executive. Unlike Anderson and Pignanelli, who are both lawyers, Hola is a self-made businessman whose various enterprises have to meet a payroll. In addition, he holds a graduate degree in business.

He says he would take a hard look at the city budget, but he is not a predictable fiscal conservative. Interestingly, he is the only candidate who, in response to a Tribune questionnaire, said he would consider a tax increase if it were necessary to balance the city's books.

Anderson and Pignanelli both have good credentials in minority relations, but Hola has not just talked the talk. He walks the walk every day.

Like Pignanelli, he points to the lack of retail stores as the No. 1 concern of West Side residents. Those Salt Lakers want a Wal-Mart, he says, and he suggests he would help them get it.

Hola is a dynamic personality who should have a bright future in Utah politics. But his platform is vague. In addition, he has never held public office, and we believe the mayor's job in the state's capital city is not the place to serve an apprenticeship. The city has just gone through that with Anderson.

The incumbent mayor has had four years to learn the ropes, and having some major bouts under his belt is another good reason to keep Rocky in the ring.