Elections: ROCKY ROLLS
Posted 05 November 2003 - 04:43 PM
The Salt Lake Tribune
They gave him a scare, but Salt Lake City voters eventually delivered Rocky Anderson a second term as mayor.
While the race was more of a tossup earlier in the evening, Anderson in the end defeated challenger Frank Pignanelli 21,860 (54 percent) to 18,901 (46 percent), according to unofficial results.
He did it among an electorate deeply divided by religion, geography and party affiliation. Incomplete exit polls by Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy showed the mayor lost to Pignanelli among active LDS voters (15 percent to 85 percent), west-siders (40 percent to 60 percent) and strong Republicans (9 percent to 91 percent).
Still in campaign mode late Tuesday, Anderson said he is misunderstood and will need to do a better job communicating his accomplishments.
"Any time you find people providing real leadership there are divisions," he said. "There have been some vast misunderstandings of who I am among much of the LDS population."
Anderson will lead the next four years with the same council members whom he struggled with in the past four. Incumbents Dave Buhler, Nancy Saxton and Van Turner also won.
The mayor -- who outspent his rival by $400,000, making it the most expensive race in city history -- declared victory at 11:15 p.m., praised Pignanelli for running and heaped thanks on his campaign staff and volunteers. The crowd chanted "four more years."
"No matter what our religion, no matter our economic status, no matter what our sexual orientation, no matter what our differences, our similarities are so much greater," Anderson said to frequent interruptions of applause. "I take my responsibility as mayor very seriously in trying to make sure we all keep our eyes on our common goals."
Pignanelli, holding one of his twin sons, conceded soon after.
"What we've done is offer up to the city [that] there is a different way of doing things," Pignanelli said.
Pre-election polls predicted the race would be closer. The wet weather may have been a factor, although still turnout reached 48 percent. In 1999, turnout was 36.7 percent. It was 45.5 percent in 1995. This year's turnout may not actually be as high as it appears because Salt Lake County is calculating it differently than before.
"Our voters definitely got to the polls because they're passionate about their man," said Sheryl Ivey, Anderson's campaign coordinator.
The mayor's crowd, gathered at the Jewish Community Center and munching on brownies and warm pretzels, cheered when the exit polls showed the mayor on top. By 9 p.m., the party was running out of red wine.
Several City Hall staffers were present. Chief of staff Dave Nimkin declared victory early on. "Rocky is the hardest-working person, the most committed person. He wanted this and I'm glad. In the long-term view, this is good for the city."
Pignanelli supporters gathered at Xmission President Pete Ashdown's penthouse on South Temple that looked like a 1970s James Bond bachelor pad with its velvet wallpaper, pink marble and nude fountain. They were still lively even after the exit polls suggested their man would lose. They kept hope alive by swapping stories of past elections where the pundits called races and got them wrong. That happened to Pignanelli in his second bid for the Legislature.
"We're here to the end. We ran a great campaign," Pignanelli said.
Anderson handily won among east-siders, Democrats, independents, non-active LDS residents and those from other religions -- all of the core city constituencies, according to the BYU exit poll. Meanwhile, Pignanelli was strong among groups with smaller numbers in the city. Active LDS residents make up 40 percent of the voters. Strong Republicans comprise 17 percent. And west-siders 33 percent.
"If this had been a statewide race, Pignanelli would have won," said Quin Monson, assistant director of the BYU election center.
Anderson also won over the voters who didn't go to the polls in the October primary election. "There was a group of Anderson voters that didn't show up at the primary and came through for him today," Monson said. Anderson campaign staffers have said that after pre-election polls showed the mayor in danger of losing, new volunteers showed up wanting to help.
In the end, Molonai Hola, who finished a strong third in the primary, declined to endorse either candidate. The BYU poll showed 89 percent of his supporters went to Pignanelli.
Meanwhile, the Utah Republican Party was solidly in the officially nonpartisan race. The party used its mailing list to send out roughly 9,000 letters urging Republicans to vote for Pignanelli, a Democrat.
In such a close race, some feared the candidates would resort to negative campaigning. The Pignanelli team even drafted a "no negative campaigning" pledge. It wasn't necessary. But the police were at one point. Officers took a complaint Monday afternoon on a spat over campaign signs.
Anderson did not garner near the level of support he had in the 1999 race, when he beat Stuart Reid 60 percent to 40 percent.
Reid carried the sometimes-shady baggage of former Mayor Deedee Corradini, says Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political science professor.
In this race, Anderson had to deal with the typical "sophomore jinx," says Kelly Patterson, chairman of the BYU political science department: As the incumbent, he had a record for voters to analyze.
And the issues the city faced in the past four years -- Nordstrom, downtown development, west-side revival and the Main Street Plaza -- generated heavy attention and strong feelings.
While the candidates tried to tout their differences on issues such as Pioneer Park renovation and youth programs, it all seemed like "hairsplitting" to Burbank.
That left voters to decide based on personality.
"I don't think [Pignanelli] gave people a really strong positive reason to go out and vote for him," Burbank says. "A lot of it is, he's not Rocky Anderson. They're voting against Anderson more than anything else at this point."
But Pignanelli says he came close because he offered an alternative management style. He also credits his grass-roots campaign.
Residents gave various reasons for their support.
Melissa Frank voted for Pignanelli because "I just like him better." Another voter explained her Pignanelli vote, saying "Rocky just seems disagreeable to me."
Sue Greenland voted for Anderson because "he doesn't let anyone give him guff."
"It was really about personality," said Sam Schmidt, an east-sider who picked Anderson. "And I don't even like Rocky that much."
Tribune reporters Judy Fahys, Christy Karras, Greg Lavine and Matt Canham contributed to this story.
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