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Protesting President Bush's visit
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City's mayor says it's unpatriotic to be complacent, but others in his position say the real shame is disrespecting the highest office and being a bad host.

President Bush often encounters an unfavorable protest when he touches down in cities across America, but it usually isn't the local mayor holding the bullhorn.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson says it's his duty to speak at a rally outside City Hall when the president visits Utah's capital later this month, adding it would be "cowardly" and "unpatriotic" to stay silent.

"I don't respect people who see things headed in the wrong direction and because of their high sense of deference or because of their membership in the [national] culture of obedience they keep their mouths shut."

But mayors whose cities have hosted the president this year - be they Omaha, Neb., or Charlotte, N.C. - say the mayor's job is to be a gracious host even when you disagree with the guest.

"It's inappropriate and disrespectful" for mayors to protest the president when he comes to their city, says Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, who hosted Bush for a speech on the war on terrorism.

"You're the ambassador for the city. There is an unwritten rule that you show respect. That's why you're called honorable."

Bush is expected to visit Salt Lake City on Aug. 30 to speak to a convention of the American Legion, and Anderson has called for an even larger protest than the rally he pushed last year for another Bush appearance.

Anderson and Salt Lake City made headlines. This year's protest will also find a vocal mayor.

"This is such a disastrous presidency, and our cities have been so decimated in many ways under this administration that municipal leaders have a real obligation to speak up, not only in opposition but [also] about the positive vision that we have," Anderson says.

But municipal leaders from various areas and scattered points on the political spectrum disagree.

Bush's trip to Bridgeport, Conn., on April 5, drew a large crowd of demonstrators. The president was there to talk about health savings accounts, but many protesters were angry about the war in Iraq. Some carried signs and others shouted into megaphones, according to the Connecticut Post.

But even though Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi, a staunch Democrat, has misgivings with the president on many fronts, he skipped the protests and attended Bush's panel discussion.

"We actually had conversations about this," says mayoral spokeswoman Caryn Kaufman. "The more partisan people said he should take the opportunity to blast President Bush on the fact that urban cities and urban centers are not getting the kind of access to health care that they need.

"But, at the end of the day, it's an honor to have the president of the United States visit your city, and the mayor should play a gracious host."

McCrory, of Charlotte, a Republican who considers Anderson a friend, says when then-President Clinton visited his town, he showed him the "utmost respect."

"He is the president," McCrory says. "It's bad precedent for an elected official to not greet the president. . . . We're losing respect for the office by this type of inappropriate" action.

Anderson says it strikes him as "peculiar" when people say he shouldn't protest out of respect for the office.

"How much will people tolerate out of respect for an office? We're engaged in a tragic, outrageous, illegal war, the justifications for which have shifted on several occasions," Anderson says. "This so-called fiscally conservative Republican [president] and Republican Congress have turned a historic surplus at the end of the Clinton administration into a historic deficit that we'll be paying off long after I'm no longer around.

"What may in the long run be most tragic of all, this administration has not only neglected but has had utter contempt for the long-term public health and safety and sustainability of our planet."

Blue city in a red state: Another rap on Anderson is that he isn't representing - in fact, is embarrassing - his constituents by protesting Bush.

But while Utah remains one of the most unwavering Republican havens, Salt Lake City is a blue island. In the city proper, Democratic presidential candidates are favored. The city hasn't elected a Republican mayor since Jake Garn won in 1972; and its current mayor has made a name for himself pushing liberal causes, such as backing same-sex marriage and reducing global warming.

Far from embarrassing the city, Anderson argues his participation in the Bush protest enhances Salt Lake City's reputation. "The real embarrassment is that our state has the highest approval rating of this disastrous president."

On Aug. 30, the city will host thousands of veterans and Bush. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also is expected to attend the convention.

To protest the war in Iraq and other Bush policies, organizers are planning a rally at Washington Square and then a march to the Federal Building. They are casting the rally as a broad-based protest, even dropping an open-mike portion because they feel it may hurt their cause.

"The sentiment of the country has reached the point where you're not just talking about a small minority," says Greg Felice, a spokesman for the organizers. "This is a general sentiment of discontent and concern."

And organizers say the rally isn't all about the mayor.

"This is not the Rocky show," Felice says. "He's an amazing guy, but this is about Salt Lake citizens. This is about Utahns. That's something that makes it special because we're in the reddest state in the country. People think this is a uniform, monolithic Bush base."

Still, the appearance of the mayor is rare - even Anderson acknowledges that. Asked about other mayors who might have joined, Anderson could name only himself. "There was that mayor in Salt Lake City last August."

Public reaction to Anderson's push for a protest has been mixed, with some reveling in the mayor's zeal and others terming him a clown.

"What a disgrace," Los Angeles resident David V. Skocik wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune. "The mayor is supposed to represent the city and people who elected him, not his personal agenda."

Salt Lake City resident Doug Wildfoerster defended his mayor in another letter.

"Patriotism does not mean no protest. It means doing what you truly feel is best for the country. More power to Rocky," Wildfoerster wrote.

To protest or not to protest: When Bush touched down in Omaha, Neb., in early June, he was met by a smattering of protesters, some of them anti-war, some against a constitutional amendment on marriage and some against amnesty for undocumented workers.

But the city's mayor, Mike Fahey, a Democrat in a nonpartisan office, wasn't among the demonstrators.

"The mayor always welcomes the president when he chooses to visit our city no matter what the topic or if he agrees or disagrees with the topic," says mayoral spokesman Joe Gudenrath. Fahey has attended two of Bush's events held in Omaha since he took office.

Asked if he sees any harm in being involved, Anderson pauses for a moment.

"No," he replies.

"Some people have said I'm being divisive. God forbid. To some people, standing up for any principle and taking a stand where a lot of people are going to disagree with them, they use the word divisive," he says.

"If we had more people who had the integrity to stand up against what they see is wrong, this would be a much better world."

tburr@sltrib.com

hmay@sltrib.com

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