Appearing on the nationally syndicated "Democracy Now" radio program Monday, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson scolded his "great friend" and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney for what he called caving to handlers and flip-flopping on stem-cell research, torture policy, abortion and the Iraq war.
The two men had backed each other during past election bids despite their partisan divide.
"His coming out against stem-cell research was just absolutely incredible to me," said Anderson, who plans to endorse Democrat Bill Richardson for president during the New Mexico governor's stopover in Utah next month.
"But the thing that I find incredibly frightening is that Mitt Romney - and this has stunned me - that he could stand up and say, No. 1, that he would support this war, that he would have gone about this much like President Bush has, that he supports torture and that he would double the size of Guantanamo," Anderson told host Amy Goodman. "This is not the Mitt Romney I knew, and it really saddens me."
Romney's camp offered a careful response.
"Governor Romney respectfully disagrees with Mayor Anderson's comments on our efforts fighting the war on terror," said Kevin Madden, Romney's national spokesman. "It's important that we work towards a successful conclusion of our mission in Iraq and, on a larger scale, that we do everything in our power to protect Americans from terrorists who have targeted American interests and the interests of other democratic nations."
Anderson, who is in New York to speak at an impeachment rally against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, made the comments during a string of radio interviews. He said he admired Romney and his wife, Ann, but was surprised somebody "so reasonable" with such "great integrity" would have "caved."
"But you can see very clearly what's happening - it's so transparent," Anderson said. "A year before the presidential race, all of a sudden he's got these new positions on these issues.
"If Mitt Romney would be himself, true to himself, true to the people of this country, I think he would be a great president. But he has fallen for these handlers and flip-flopped on these issues and, I think, is misleading us in terms of his positions."
Anderson's tone was different when he popped up in campaign materials that Romney used during his successful 2002 run for Massachusetts governor.
As payback, Romney went to bat for the Democratic mayor during Anderson's 2003 re-election bid.
"He's innovative, he's gutsy and he's a team builder," the former head of Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics said in an ad trumpeted by Anderson.
But, in March, Romney distanced himself from Anderson because of the mayor's continued impeachment crusade against Bush.
On Monday, Romney's spokesman deflected Anderson's criticisms of the candidate who has vaulted to leads among the GOP field in some primary state polls.
He "has presented voters the most idea-based platform for leading the nation forward," Madden said. "Governor Romney supports stem-cell research, provided such research is conducted within the ethical boundaries of science and respects the sanctity of life."
Madden added that Romney is "firmly pro-life and has been welcomed by pro-life advocates who respect his position and his record on the issue."
But Anderson said the Romney he knew was pro-choice.
"He told me, going into that [governor's] race, that Roe v. Wade is working," the mayor said. "And he felt that it was important that women have choice."
Anderson, who suggested the United States has become a "totalitarian country" under Bush, also said he is "ashamed" of the Democratic Party.
The mayor, a political maverick, told "Democracy Now" listeners he has shelved his "proud Democrat" coffee mug.
"There have been a few heroes, a few people that have stood up," Anderson said. "But the party as a whole, I think, has been a dismal failure these last several years in standing up to this insanity."
Rocky on Romney
When asked on "Democracy Now" if presidential candidate Mitt Romney is changing his mind on issues, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson offered the following: "Absolutely. This is not Mitt Romney. If you asked Mitt Romney, sat down and got the real Mitt Romney, first of all, he would say we never should have been in Iraq. Never would Mitt Romney and his wife - and they're a team, believe me - they would never support the concept of kidnapping and torturing human beings. They have always stood up for human rights, fundamental human rights. So this is an enormous clash of values. And I think that he's just trying to sound tough in the face of terror. And I guess that sells to the right-wing Christian Coalition, as does his newfound opposition to free choice, his opposition to stem-cell research. This is not the Mitt Romney I knew, and it really saddens me."
Battle against bottled water
Concerned about the impact of bottled water on the environment and people's confidence in public-water systems, the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Monday passed a resolution to scrutinize the issue. The "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign has been championed by Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who introduced the resolution last week along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. The mayors, along with corporate watchdogs, say the explosion in bottled-water use has led to a spike in waste-disposal costs in U.S. cities. Last year, 4 billion pounds of plastic bottles ended up in city waste streams, according to Corporate Accountability International, which points to a $22 billion funding shortage needed to upgrade water infrastructure. The conference of mayors rejected efforts by the American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola to squelch the resolution. - Derek P. Jensen