Rocky III: Anderson comes out swinging against Mendenhall as he launches SLC mayor bid

The former mayor is asking voters to rehire him to a third term more than a decade after leaving office.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said Utah’s capital has descended into a ruinous state since he left office in 2008, but he can fix it if voters give him another chance in City Hall next year.

In a transcript of prepared remarks delivered at a State Street salon Wednesday afternoon, Anderson officially announced his bid for a third term more than a decade after leaving office.

Anderson said he has tried — and failed — to get Mayor Erin Mendenhall and certain City Council members to solve the city’s problems.

“Because of their do-nothing attitude, because of the mayor’s lack of candor and accessibility, and because of the deterioration of our city resulting from an absence of effective leadership,” Anderson said during his roughly 50-minute speech, “I have determined that, with the support of many conscientious people in the community, I am running to once again serve this city as its mayor.”

[Read Rocky Anderson’s full speech here.]

Running on his record

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson shakes hands with former police Chief Chris Burbank after announcing his candidacy for mayor on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

Anderson said he initially ran in 1999 because he was passionate about the changes he could make in the environment, policing, housing, long-term planning, diversity, youth programs, restorative justice and combating sprawl, pollution and corruption.

During his tenure, he accomplished much of what he set out to do, he said, but added the city has taken a turn for the worse since he stepped away.

“Now, our city is degraded, crime-ridden, dangerous, filthy in many areas, and cruel toward the members of the homeless community,” he said, “without even a coherent plan from our mayor.”

Asked Wednesday about Anderson’s announcement, Mendenhall said she was concentrating on governing, not campaigning. Although she has not announced her reelection bid, she is expected to seek a second term.

“We’re focused on helping people be safe,” she said, “and not scaring them.”

Anderson’s campaign kickoff drew about three dozen supporters, including former police Chief Chris Burbank and Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy J. Hawkins.

Many held red and blue campaign signs with messages such as “support for the arts,” “clean public restrooms,” “affordable housing” and “a clean and vibrant city.”

The former mayor’s nearly 4,100-word speech highlighted his record of success leading the city’s executive branch, pointing to his work substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing restorative justice programs, diversifying the city’s workforce, providing housing and services for chronically homeless Utahns, investing in infrastructure and advocating for the expansion of public transit.

And unlike Mendenhall, he said, he pulled it all off without raising property taxes.

What Anderson wants to do

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson announces his candidacy for mayor on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

If voters rehire him, Anderson said, he would improve transparency by holding monthly meetings with the public, revive the International Jazz Festival, repair and reopen the Seven Canyons Fountain at Liberty Park, and restore the once-popular curbside cleanup service that was terminated years ago.

He also vowed to do a better job dealing with the city’s weightiest problems.

Anderson lambasted the Salt Lake City Police Department for lackluster response times and rising violent crime under Mendenhall’s leadership.

“When I am mayor again, with better leadership at the Salt Lake City Police Department, we will once again set a goal of an average of 6 minutes or less for the police to respond to a Priority 1 call — and we will attain it, as we did before.”

Anderson said the progress in policing he made as mayor has been reversed since he left office, citing two controversial encounters — one from January, when a 40-year-old woman died after being restrained by officers, and another from 2020, when police shot a 13-year-old boy with autism (the nonfatal shooting resulted in a $3 million settlement).

Anderson accused Mendenhall and police Chief Mike Brown of misleading reporters and the public about violent crime statistics during a news conference in October, saying the data they used was cherry-picked to paint a picture that was rosier than reality.

“Skyrocketing violent crime, combined with outrageously long police response times,” he said, “means an increasingly dangerous, frightening city for everyone.”

Anderson, who ran for the White House in 2012 as the Justice Party’s presidential nominee, pledged to restore the city prosecutor’s office and implement restorative justice initiatives if he is elected.

Responding to homelessness

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson announces his candidacy for mayor on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

He noted the frustration of one business owner who was fed up with the city’s lack of responsiveness to issues arising from homelessness. Anderson said he opposes jailing or imprisoning people who can benefit from programs but doesn’t want the city to turn a blind eye to “destructive, dangerous, illegal conduct and allow it to continue.”

The former mayor called for an end to the “cruel, inhumane, repetitive police raids and evictions of homeless people from their camps” until there are other options for them.

After his speech, Anderson told reporters it was the treatment of unhoused Utahns, combined with the allowance of illegal conduct, that most motivated him to run.

He told supporters he wants to offer care to those facing serious struggles with mental health and said he would ensure there is a bed for everyone in Utah’s capital.

Late Tuesday morning — just more than an hour before Anderson’s announcement — Mendenhall and others from the city, county and state gathered to tell reporters about the region’s collaborative efforts to help unsheltered Utahns.

If voters send him back to City Hall, Anderson said, he would set up one or more legal homeless camps to stop makeshift camps from cropping up across the city.

A legal homeless camp has been touted by two sitting west-side council members and was one of the highlights of a homelessness response plan released in October by the Pioneer Park Coalition. Anderson attended that plan’s unveiling but did not speak during the news conference.

— Tribune reporter Jacob Scholl contributed to this story.