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John Hollenhorst reporting The Salt Lake Mayor's race was already viewed by some as negative. Even nasty. Now it seems to have turned dirty because of a forged letter printed in the newspaper.
Mayor Rocky Anderson says he's an innocent bystander in this dirty trick, which seems to have a deep political strategy.
The letter in Sunday morning's Tribune undoubtedly made many political insiders choke on their breakfast. A political veteran seemed to be shifting sides in the mayor's race. Only one problem. The letter was a complete forgery.
Dave Jones is one of Frank Pignanelli's oldest friends and political allies. He even chairs Pignanelli's campaign against Rocky Anderson.
Imagine his surprise when the letter turned up in the Tribune under the headline "Low Road Politics." Praising Mayor Anderson, it accuses challenger Pignanelli of using "extreme" measures in an "unseemly and inappropriate" campaign.
Signed Dave Jones.
How did the real Dave Jones react to the fake letter? "Shock and awe. I was absolutely outraged. (edit) You know it could be a prank. It could be somebody who's just trying to wreak havoc."
The letter seemed to throw Jones' weight into the ring with Rocky II, supporting a second term for Rocky Anderson. But the mayor says he thinks the forger was actually scheming AGAINST the Anderson campaign, knowing full well the letter would be denounced as a forgery.
Rocky Anderson/Salt Lake Mayor: "I think it's probably some misguided soul who thinks he's helping one of my opponents by doing this, by trying to embarass us. (edit) We should never accept this sort of thing in our political system. It is morally wrong."
Anderson supporter Randy Horiuchi calls the letter a "brilliant, insidious" dirty trick. He suspects the forger was a Pignanelli supporter.
Randy Horiuchi/Rocky Anderson Supporter: "Anytime that you can throw intrigue, you can get people excited, get people yelling at each other, that always helps the challenger because the challenger's usually behind. And any kind of pigpen sort of mess always helps the challenger."
Dave Jones/Pignanelli's campaign chairman: "This is the last thing in the world that Frank would want to have done. And I know Frank would not do that to me. This makes me look silly. This puts my reputation on the line."
Jones suspects a deeper political scheme on behalf of a mystery candidate whose very existence is a secret.
Dave Jones: "It could be the strategy of some third candidate who's waiting in the wings and wants to get in because this appears to be a negative campaign."
Randy Horiuchi: "It's just sort of bad for all of us in politics because we just shake our heads and say, 'Boy, if they're willing to do this sort of thing, what are they going to do in the future?' It signals a very sad and probably dirty race for the future."
Pignanelli chose not to be interviewed about the fake letter today.
A Tribune editor told us the Trib's policy is to verify every letter before it's printed. That wasn't done in this case because of an internal communciation error.
The newspaper apologized to Jones Sunday, and plans an apology to readers Monday.