Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson says he plans to challenge current Mayor Erin Mendenhall in 2023 because she “has totally failed” during her brief tenure.
“I just think she’s in the wrong job. She has failed this community horribly‚” Anderson said during a phone interview on Thursday.
Anderson, 70, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2008, told a small group of community leaders and activists about his plans to run again during a Wednesday evening meeting. He says he is launching another bid because he feels he has no other choice.
“I never thought in a million years I would be running again,” Anderson said. “I was approached by so many people and organizations to do this. At first, I said absolutely not.”
Anderson is not officially a candidate yet. But he didn’t hold back when asked why he would attempt a return to the office he left 14 years ago. In short, he is appalled by the city’s response, or lack thereof, to homelessness, which is ruining the quality of life in the city.
“There’s been an utter lack of the willingness to do the work it takes to make this a safe, clean and decent place to live that we’re all proud of. There are human feces and urine all over the city. You go in the Ballpark District, and it smells like a human sewer,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the homeless resource shelters that replaced the Road Home shelter downtown were supposed to help alleviate the problem. Instead, he says they have had the opposite effect, causing crime to spike in those areas. A recent survey included Salt Lake City among the most dangerous cities in the U.S. for 2022, with a 26% year-over-year increase in violent crime.
During his last go-round in office, Anderson retooled the city’s policing to focus on restorative justice, implementing reforms to push offenders with mental illness into treatment programs instead of jail. He says he will take a similar approach toward homelessness if elected.
“We need to identify the reasons for a person being homeless, then give them a choice. You go to where there’s shelter or you go to jail. If there’s a mental health issue, you go in for an evaluation and possibly treatment,” Anderson said. “You’re not going to be lying in front of a building to where people have to step over you to get inside.”
Ian Koski, Mendenhall’s political adviser, scoffed at Anderson’s criticism.
“It’s easy to snipe and second-guess on Twitter, but Mayor Mendenhall is doing the hard work every day in service to the people of Salt Lake City. That’s where her focus is. She has delivered real results for the city through an unprecedented string of crises and challenges,” Koski said.
He added that the overall crime rate in Salt Lake City had dropped 9.1% since last year.
Anderson has not set a timeline for a formal announcement of his candidacy since the election is still more than a year away.
Anderson ran for president in 2012 as the nominee of the newly-formed Justice Party.