Gadflies 

This column isn’t about evils perpetrated by Jesse Jackson’s recent headline-grabbing appearances in the Terri Schiavo and Michael Jackson cases. Nor is it about other gadflies attracted by the television lights to tragedies and media circuses. Instead, this column is about Salt Lake City’s best-known gadfly, Mayor Rocky, and the price we all pay for his annoyances.


“Gadfly,” in its current meaning of “one who irritates, torments or worries another,” derived from the common name for a type of fly that bites cattle. I don’t know of a better description of Rocky.


What other U.S. mayor has his own foreign policy because, as his spokesperson said, “Rocky disagrees with the actions of President Bush”? I yield to no one in my detest of W’s foreign and domestic policies, but it seems absurd for the mayor of Salt Lake City to interject himself into solving all the world’s problems.


Rocky certainly has a right to express his opinions, and if he wants to use the miniature bully pulpit of the mayoralty of Utah’s capital to gadfly those issues that is, ultimately, the choice of voters. But those voters need to at least know what the outspoken mayor costs us by his actions. Those costs are calculated in hard cash, friendship, respect and influence.


Anyone who doubts that the recent session of the state Legislature punished Salt Lake City financially for the “Rocky factor” is living in a dream world. Assuming that the Salt Palace expansion goes forward, as it almost has to because of its economic impacts, taxpayers will pay between $14 and $20 million more than they would have if the Republicans on the Hill didn’t hate Rocky and didn’t have the ability to punish us for his sins. The Leonardo science building also lost about $2 million in funding for the same reason.


Salt Lake City is also being punished by the shopping habits of Davis County residents. I only have anecdotal evidence, but I’d bet that a scientific poll or a neutral analysis of sales-tax revenues would prove that our “friends,” as Rocky called them, from north of the beautiful Beck Street gravel pits are choosing to shop in cities that actually like them—or that at least don’t actively belittle their choice of locale.


Our fair city has lost a lot of respect under the current administration. How, it may be asked, did we elect someone as odd as Rocky? Twice? Having Rocky as our mayor has even made life more legitimate for the crazies on the other side. Right-wing lug nuts in the Legislature can point to Rocky and they seem to be less insane than they would be if contrasted to a reasonable mayor.


Finally, having Rocky as our mayor has cost us all influence on policy even when Rocky may actually be right. His gadfly style has thus become his own worst enemy. How else can you explain why the Mormon, Republican, anti-smoking Legislature refused to ban smoking in private clubs? The only reason that I can come up with, and that I have heard from Hill veterans, is that since Rocky was for it they had to vote against it. The principle of hating Rocky overwhelmed the rare chance for the Republicans to do something right.


I know it’s early in the electoral cycle, but our gadfly could do us all a favor and announce now that he is flying away in 2007.

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Bruce R. Baird

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