It’s no secret. I’m not going to miss former Salt Lake City Mayor Ross “Rocky” Anderson. I don’t wish him ill. Rather, I’m among a legion of former Rocky admirers who, now that Ralph Becker has taken the mayoral reins, simply want to realize the completion of the great promise that ushered in the Rocky era eight years ago. I didn’t go online to see it, but I understand that Rocky recently posted something like 200 achievements that were accomplished while he was mayor. That means he has a nearly perfect ratio: For each of his 200 accomplishments, he either burned a political bridge or lost a friend doing so.
I never really knew what to make of Rocky, the world-stage spokesman. I figured it was natural evolution, for he’s a man who lusts for adoration and acceptance and who is armed with an ego as large as they come. When he first ran for office, he promised to take on developers/Gateway, the LDS Church/Main Street, the Union Pacific Railroad and its west-side spur. In short order, he was kneecapped by all of those entities, in full retreat and salvaging compromised solutions which are probably found on his 200 list. For good measure, he was equally neutered by the state Legislature. With no political power base to make his local platform happen, he reached outside of Salt Lake City into the Legacy Highway debate. Not that he was incorrect and not that it was contrived. Rather, it was that issue that really defined for Rocky that he actually did have a constituency. It just wasn’t one that could fill a pothole.
Rocky certainly made new friends and allies along the way. His core support group rallies behind his every word. I was there once, too. But, over time, my own admiration for the man I’d known for many years, as a confidante and as an attorney for this paper, began to unravel. I watched proudly as our bold and strident attorney first become mayor, then recoiled when he exchanged his boldness for bitterness and his stridency for insecurity. Maybe it was there all along. I just had never seen it.
The larger public seldom saw that side of Rocky, either, who was fairly championed as an advocate of nearly everything green, lean or liberal. He at least deserves some credit for giving voice to people who felt they had none previously and they were ever joyful when he stuck it to President Bush, Republican legislators, Davis County residents or the polluters who dared work in Salt Lake City but not live there. Outside of his unnecessarily caustic comments, I often agreed with his positions.
While I still had a semblance of a relationship with him, I’d talk to him about toning down his rhetoric, which begat the inevitable—he soon would inform me in no uncertain terms I didn’t know what I was talking about. I’d already seen what would happen next. People may point otherwise and grade the former mayor on many things, but from this corner, in the end, his style erased his substance. His style—besides being caustic—was comparably Bushian: If you weren’t with him, you were against him. If he determined you were against him, he became Rovian, making mean and ludicrous statements with teeth bared. He went after his “enemies” in a manner Cheneyian: nefariously and secretly while bunkering down with his closest supporters.
On a recent radio program, the former mayor chided journalists generally and this newspaper specifically for making him miserable and for engaging in what he termed “City Weekly-style” journalism in which the goal, apparently, is to “tear everybody down.” I thought that to be among the most ironic statements ever uttered by him, even more ironic than the times he accused us of not caring about the truth or lacking ethics. Do the names Kelly Atkinson, Heather May, Nancy Saxton or Nancy Workman ring a bell with City Weekly readers? Those are just a few of the people Rocky either delivered data upon or spoke innuendo of in hopes we would go after them, thus doing his bidding.
Atkinson was a political opponent, and the City Weekly story that revealed some disturbing personal pecadillios cost him the mayorship of West Jordan. May is a Tribune reporter whom Rocky wanted dismissed. Saxton was his foe on the Salt Lake City Council and Workman was the former Salt Lake County mayor. Rocky didn’t appreciate her perceived lack of contribution to an early running of the Salt Lake City Marathon. Rocky thinks, or has at least stated so in the press and to others, that our rift began when he held Mitt Romney’s hand and led him across picket lines a few years ago in Boston. He always called them “information lines.” Nope, and whatever. The clarity began the night he called me about Nancy Workman. You don’t even want to know.
Yet, I have to thank him for that call. Since that night, I’ve made it a point to distance myself personally from any and all political figures. In the end, it is pretty much a one-sided relationship anyway. They call you a friend even though they would never sit next to you at the movies.
There have been times in the past eight years that I have been happy for some of the elements Rocky brought to Salt Lake City and Utah’s political stage. I know he’s touched some people in ways that few people can, and those people rightfully respect him. He’s fought his share of fights for those who cannot fight. That’s all admirable. Time will determine if he actually brought relevant change to Salt Lake City. I even secretly hoped he would win the debate with Sean Hannity.