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SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Winder invited the fictional Richard Burwash into the Salt Lake County mayoral Republican debate Wednesday night, and Mark Crockett made sure he stayed awhile.
While responding to a question about which GOP candidate has the better chance of winning against Democrat Ben McAdams in November, Winder listed the controversy over authoring news stories under a false name as an easy target for his opponents.
"Someone may (bring up) a certain pen name incident that happened last year," Winder said about midway through the 90-minute debate at The Leonardo. "You might have heard of it."
In November 2011, Winder admitted to Deseret News editors that he used the fake name Richard Burwash to get stories published in the Deseret News and KSL.com through Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners.
The West Valley City mayor previously used the name to get stories published in the Oquirrh Times, and the Salt Lake Tribune published a photograph credited to Burwash.
"I think people who know me know that my skeletons (all have been revealed)," Winder said. "There is no October surprise. There is nothing more in store. There is no shoe that will drop."
The debate included topics of economic development and rigorous back and forth about government spending. A mailer sent by Crockett casts the former councilman as a fiscal conservative, while challenging that his opponent, Winder, has trouble keeping spending under control.
But the bulk of the debate was spent dealing with the issues of honesty and trustworthiness brought on by Winder's deception.
Fallout from the incident included Winder resigning his position as director of public affairs for The Summit Group. He's also named in a lawsuit over a story he wrote about UTOPIA that was published on KSL.com.
Crockett, a former Salt Lake County councilman, seized the opportunity to challenge his opponent on the controversy, saying "it's also an identity theft issue and there's a lawsuit pending."
Winder took exception to the term "identity theft," explaining that he took the name from his family history — Richard Winder lived in the 1500s in Burwash, Sussex, England. The photo he used was found through a Google search, he said.
How do you reach out to the community to convince those who are still skeptical about the previous controversy?
–- Neal Cline, audience member
"When you talk about identity theft, those are legal terms that are completely incorrect for this situation," he said. "The lawsuit has nothing to do with the pen name. It has to do with a story someone disagreed with."
A question from the audience late in the debate brought the controversy back to the table.
"As a voter, I feel that I do not have the ability to trust you because of that," Neal Cline, a political science major at Utah Valley University, told Winder. "How do you reach out to the community to convince those who are still skeptical about the previous controversy?"
After the debate, Cline disclosed that he was filming the debate for the Crockett campaign. But the comment and question, he said, were his own.
"People do make mistakes," Winder said in his response, "but you'll know with me you'll have someone who comes forward, and I did. I've said, 'I goofed up here.' I've apologized profusely to the public and will continue to do so."
Winder said he believes the majority of Salt Lake County voters have forgiven him and want to move forward, much like delegates who sent him into a June 26 primary against Crockett.
"Is it a scarlet letter I'll wear for the rest of my life? Who knows? But enough people at convention said, 'Go get 'em, Mike,'" he said.
Crockett later called out Winder, claiming he was making light of a serious situation.
While talking about the media response to the Burwash incident, Winder repeated a comment his father made along the lines of: 'Why did you have to offend the media? Why couldn't you just have had a DUI like the mayor of Helper?'"
"I've heard you tell the story a number of times about the DUI. I don't think you should be brushing this off," Crockett said, adding that he doesn't believe Mothers Against Drunk Driving would find it amusing.
"As you're apologizing, I think you're also brushing over what you actually did," he said. "It's better when you just say, 'I'm sorry.'"
The debate closed with Crockett saying he hopes Wednesday's debate puts an end to the Burwash controversy.
"I propose that we entirely wash our hands of it," he said. "I accept your apology. I'm grateful for what you said, and I hope we can entirely move on because there are other good things to say on both of our records, and there are more interesting things to talk about."