The Other Rocky | The Nation


The Other Rocky

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Like his city, the grandiose religious and civic architecture of which points to ambitions for greatness lacking in most midsize urban centers, Anderson thinks big. He has pushed to implement the Kyoto Protocols locally, mandating that all city buildings use energy-efficient light bulbs, replacing SUVs in the city fleet with hybrid cars--his personal car is a Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas--almost doubling the city's recycling capacity in one year and starting a program to recapture and use for electricity generation the methane produced at the city's water treatment plant and landfill. "Global warming," he avers, "is clearly the most urgent issue facing our planet--we have an enormous moral obligation to change government policy and incorporate changes in our business and our government and our individual lives. Kant's categorical imperative has never been more applicable."

About the Author

Sasha Abramsky
Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s...

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Largely because of his policies around global warming and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions locally, in 2005 Anderson was honored with a World Leadership Award in the category of environmental work. In November the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives brought Anderson to a summit at the Sundance Resort, in Utah, to discuss with other mayors ways to reduce urban usage of fossil fuels.

The Salt Lake City mayor has also changed the way city officials interact with their constituents, making his administration one of the most accessible in the country. Once a month, on a Saturday morning, Anderson and his staff, dressed casually, will walk around different neighborhoods, talking with locals and holding open mikes where residents can air their concerns. On Wednesday evenings every few weeks the mayor makes himself available for "one-on-ones" with his constituents. "He has the ability, if there's a social boundary, to break through it," says community liaison staffer Gwen Springmeyer, a longtime probation officer who initially felt the mayor was too out of kilter with the mainstream but who has since become a diehard fan. During the 2002 Winter Olympics, despite the concerns of security experts, the mayor opened up the third floor of City Hall for parties, bringing together world-class athletes with some of the poorest of Salt Lake City's residents. He also rented out the Jewish Community Center for two more parties for locals. In passing, friends mention that he's been known to invite homeless people to sleep in his house.

Anderson has restructured the city's criminal justice system and, suspicious of the tenets of the war on drugs, thrown the Just Say No DARE program out of the city's schools. Instead of pushing for more and more low-end offenders to be sent to jail or prison, he has built one of the country's most innovative restorative justice programs, for which he was nominated for a second World Leadership Award--in December the judges in London announced that Stuttgart, Germany, had edged Anderson's city for the prize. Mental health courts now channel mentally ill criminals into mandatory treatment programs rather than dumping them behind bars; a misdemeanor drug court similarly replaces punishment with treatment; and the city now has one of the most active victim-offender reconciliation programs in America. People arrested for driving under the influence or soliciting prostitutes are sent through a comprehensive course of counseling rather than automatically being handed criminal records.

"I had the most unorthodox interview of my life," Sim Gill, Salt Lake City prosecutor for the past six years, recalls. When Anderson contacted him, Gill, originally from Chandragar, India, was a deputy DA for Salt Lake County and had built a reputation for thinking outside the box when it came to sensible punishments for criminal defendants. "We sat and discussed the meaning of life for the next hour, and ethics, and social responsibility. We connected on a principle of community service; he's very passionate about wanting to solve community problems. The question isn't whether we can fill up our jail beds. The question is, are we filling them up with the right kind of people? Jail should be a place we [only] put people who are a risk to our community."

On other fronts, Anderson has gone out on a limb to defend gay rights and has been an outspoken opponent of wholesale sweeps against illegal immigrants. He has turned the city into one of America's top relocation centers for refugees from war-torn spots of the world.

And last but not least, he has repeatedly taken on big developers, from "sprawl mall" advocates to those in favor of unregulated suburban growth in the large Salt Lake Valley region surrounding the 182,000-strong city itself.

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