Front-Page Play for a Bush-Loathing Mayor

The story itself is not quite as flatteringof its subject as the headlines and front-page placement are, but Bush-hating Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson surely got better treatment from reporter Kirk Johnson in Thursday's Times than any "Clinton-hater" (in the Times' phrasing) ever has.

"A Utahan With Causes Galore Moves Bush to Top of the List" is the hard copy headline, while the unrevealing online headline repeats the mayor's slur of conservatives as automatons: "In Utah, an Opponent of the 'Culture of Obedience.'"

Johnson: "Rocky Anderson may not be the most liberal mayor in America. But here in the most conservative state, he might as well be.

"Just being himself is enough to galvanize, divide or enrage people who have followed his career as Salt Lake City's mayor, and who are now watching him become, in the twilight of his final term, a national spokesman for the excoriation and impeachment of President Bush.

"'President Bush is a war criminal,' Mr. Anderson, a Democrat, said at a rally here on Monday marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. 'Let impeachment be the first step toward national reconciliation - and toward penance for the outrages committed in our nation's name.'

"Mr. Anderson, a 55-year-old lapsed Mormon and former civil litigator with a rich baritone and a mane of patrician-silver hair, is no stranger to strong talk and political stances that leave his audiences breathless with exasperation, admiration or sometimes a mixture of both.

"He has presented his densely footnoted constitutional argument against Mr. Bush's presidency in speeches from the Washington Legislature to peace rallies in Washington, D.C., making him a favorite punching bag of conservative talk show hosts and bloggers well beyond his home state. [He went on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News on Tuesday, for example, and Mr. O'Reilly promptly called him 'a kook.']

"Mr. Anderson cheerfully conceded in an interview in his office that he had no hope whatsoever of a statewide political future in Utah because people outside Salt Lake City - who are far more likely to be conservative, Republican and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - are likely to hate him. But in what has been a trademark of his seven years in office, he can seem equally disdainful of those who disdain him.

"'There's a real resistance to change and an almost pathological devotion to leaders simply because they're leaders,' he said, in describing fellow Utahans who do not share his views and who in large numbers support the president (and gave him 72 percent of their vote in 2004). 'There's a dangerous culture of obedience throughout much of this country that's worse in Utah than anywhere.'

"Critics and supporters alike agree that Mr. Anderson - whose given name is Ross but who is known by almost everyone here as Rocky, with no last name necessary - is genuinely passionate and devoted to the causes he has brought to the mayor's office, including global warming, genocide in Darfur, gay and lesbian rights and the war in Iraq.

"But those efforts, many people say, have sometimes made him seem like more of a mayor to the world than a fix-the-potholes, sweep-the-sidewalks business-booster for this city of 180,000 people.

"And in pursuing those political interests with the same confrontational style that he has brought to the fight for impeachment in recent months, Mr. Anderson has left burned bridges behind him the way other people leave fingerprints."