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Plaza Sell-Out 

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In the end, it was never about principle. It was about money and power. No one should be surprised. In a culture ruled by greed and influence, where the shared values taught in generations of civics classes are no longer taken for granted, talk is the cheapest commodity of all.


Being new to these parts and unused to Utah’s particular brand of political cynicism, I started out, as I always do, willing to give politicians the benefit of the doubt. It took Mayor Anderson less than a month to undermine his street cred with me. Diogenes’ search continues.


All that talk about the First Amendment, keeping your word, living up to the original terms of a deal. Balderdash. Rocky, here’s your 30 pieces of silver. Buy yourself a clue.


Lament over the sell-out of the First Amendment will be drowned out by sighs of relief. Peace at last, peace at last, thank God Almighty, there is peace at last.


It is a peace without honor.


And it wasn’t even a good deal. Without the private millions for the community center—where has that money been hiding if it was needed all along?—it is no deal at all.


I don’t fault LDS Church officials. I didn’t agree with them on the issue, but they fought (with their considerable resources) for what they believed in, and in the end got what they wanted at minimal cost while avoiding a court fight they had no guarantee of winning. (The deal, a land-for-easement swap, is only a proposal at this stage, but let’s be real. It’s done.)


The LDS Church says it will continue to provide public access, but barring another challenge from the ACLU or other party, it will be on church terms now. That means neither access nor free speech will be guaranteed (the whole point of this fight was that you can’t have the one without the other), effectively severing the property’s tie with Main Street.


A new name is in order. How about Second Term Plaza?


Some people sigh and say it was inevitable. The church always gets its way. That is the saddest outcome of this controversy: It should never have come to Us versus Them. What could have been an honest disagreement over the First Amendment was exploited by bruised egos on both sides, causing the discussion to degenerate along religious lines, again exacerbating the Mormon/non-Mormon split.


The church rejected the mayor’s compromise, which severely restricted time, place and manner of speech on the plaza, but Rocky should have known it would. Why did he give up so quickly? The biggest newspaper in town endorsed it, as did the ACLU, however tepidly. It was a reasonable plan, and once proposed, the mayor should have given it a chance to gain acceptance before abandoning it like a street urchin.


The message to anyone doing business with the mayor is: Hang tough. The guy will fold.


For a former ACLU attorney, no cause is more sacred than the exercise of First Amendment rights. He may think he has bought peace, but in the way he handled it, Rocky has succeeded in pissing off both sides.


One monkey may be off Rocky’s back, but two others have taken its place: keeping the plaza as open as possible, and explaining to the people of Salt Lake City who Rocky Anderson is and what he stands for.

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About The Author

John Yewell

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