Anderson's Grip on Re-Election Shows Slippage

Anderson's Grip on Re-Election Shows Slippage

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mayor Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson's chances for a second term are dwindling because people are tired of his pugnacious politics, say two men challenging Anderson in the Oct. 7 mayoral primary.

Frank Pignanelli and Molonai Hola point to two polls released last weekend as proof they are gaining on Anderson.

The polls, commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News in collaboration with KSL-TV and KUTV, showed that if the primary were held now, 39 to 41 percent would vote for Anderson, 27 to 28 percent for Pignanelli and 17 to 18 percent for Hola. The polls had an error margin of plus or minus 5 to 5.3 percentage points.

In April, a Morning News-KSL survey found 49 percent of respondents favored Anderson's run for a second term, while 20 percent liked Pignanelli and 7 percent said they'd vote for Hola.

That means the primary will be a referendum on Anderson's style as much as on his record, the challengers say.

"There's a feeling of divisiveness running through the city that we're capitalizing on," said Hola, a Republican businessman. "We're looking for a different vision."

Pignanelli, a professional lobbyist and Democrat who served 10 years in the Legislature, including six years as House minority leader, also is playing off civic contention.

"When I was a legislator, I threw grenades and the other side threw them back," said Pignanelli, by many measures as liberal as Anderson. "There is a way to aggressively fight for your principles; there also is a way ... to get things done."

The office is nonpartisan; in reality, party counts. In Salt Lake City, a progressive Democratic enclave where Mormons are a minority, voters haven't elected a Republican mayor for 30 years.

That doesn't deter Hola, who believes he can win. "You know, stranger things have happened," he said.

Hola said he isn't running against Anderson's record -- in fact, he says he wouldn't mind if Anderson won another term.

"I'll tell you, I like Rocky. That guy works hard," said Hola, who is making his membership in the Mormon church part of his campaign. "He's perceived as a tough guy. I want to take a different approach, as a business leader."

Pignanelli, virtually assured of making it through the primary, said his campaign is paying little attention to Hola. "He's a nice guy," he said with a shrug.

Instead, Pignanelli is running as the overt anti-Rocky. When Anderson recently took journalists out to show off Salt Lake City's night life, Pignanelli took his family on a tour of city parks.

Pignanelli's campaign has tried to subvert Anderson's strong name recognition, first by insisting his name is Ross, not Rocky, and then by stirring up unfounded rumors that MGM in Hollywood might be considering copyright infringement actions against him for using "Rocky II" -- the title of a Sylvester Stallone movie -- as a re-election campaign slogan.

In an interview this past week, Pignanelli accused Anderson of "bigotry" for questioning City Council members' ability to treat Mormon church interests objectively when they are all Mormons.

"Rocky has either exacerbated (religious conflict), or done his best to take advantage of it," said Pignanelli, a Catholic. "He basically says, 'It's us versus them."'

Anderson is a lapsed Mormon who denies any such thing, and in fact is careful to call the church by its newly chosen name, The Church of Jesus Christ.

He said he didn't pay much attention to last weekend's polls, because his campaign's ongoing phone-bank calls to registered voters shows "good support" for him.

The newspaper-TV polls indicated two issues in particular seem to be driving voter discontent: the bitter dispute over public access on a downtown block of Main Street, and persistent problems with attracting and keeping businesses downtown and on the city's underserved west side.

Trouble is, the Main Street dispute began with a questionable $8.1 million sales contract former Mayor Deedee Corradini struck in 1999 with the Mormon church.

That sale to the church of a critical block of Main Street -- which the church turned into a pedestrian mall it considered sacred and under its control even though the city had guaranteed public access through it -- was struck down last October in a federal appeals court as unconstitutional.

Anderson's response to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision started with a vow to honor the court's ruling that the city had to guarantee First Amendment rights if it kept the public easement.

After months of resistance from the church accompanied by heated public argument, the mayor proposed that the city swap the easement for two acres of land and a community center expansion in a west side community. The church enthusiastically supported the deal that was signed in July.

But dissent continues, not just because Anderson irritated people but because the whole arrangement seemed to many to be yet another instance of church-state conflict stretching back to the Mormon pioneers' arrival.

Downtown's problems stem in large part from the decision two decades ago to build two shopping malls across the street from one another, though Mormon influence on secular morality and culture certainly has figured in.

A perennial bugbear, west side economic development has confounded mayor after mayor despite repeated declarations of support for the lower-income area.

Anderson inherited the conflicts, Hola acknowledged. But he's the mayor now, so no matter how long-standing, they are his responsibilities.

Pignanelli says that his conversations with businesspeople and voters indicate a lack of confidence in City Hall. "There is a real perception the city is not a good place to do business," he said.

Hola lamented the gridlock in downtown development. Large parcels of empty land and vacant buildings are owned by developers waiting for better economic conditions. The Mormon church, which is developing plans to replace Crossroads Plaza with housing, offices and upscale shopping, has yet to signal when it will begin the project.

"The tipping point is going to happen if the mayor (can) persuade one of those big property owners to move," Hola said. "And whoever is the mayor is going to be the hero."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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