Utah's Maverick Mayor

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Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson meets with protestors at an anti-President Bush rally Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006, in Salt Lake City.

No matter how unpopular he may be, the President of the United States can usually count on a respectful, if not a warm, welcome from local officials wherever he visits in the nation. And when he travels to what is arguably the reddest state in the nation, Utah, he would normally expect a particularly hearty greeting. So it was more than a little surprising for the rest of the country when on Wednesday Rocky Anderson, the city's Democratic mayor, "welcomed" President Bush to Salt Lake City not with a slap on the back and a chat, but with an estimated 4,000-strong anti-Bush, anti-war protest.

Only a few blocks away from where Bush would be speaking Thursday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Anderson led a rally that wasn't subtle at all in its critiques. Nor was it filled with a bunch of young radicals; some of those in attendance were actually veterans themselves. "Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism," Anderson told the crowd. "A patriot does not tell people to refrain from speaking out in the name of politeness or for the sake of being a good host; or to show slavish, blind obedience and deference to a dishonest, war-mongering human-rights-violating president."

Observers far from Salt Lake City may have been taken aback by Anderson's boldness — or rudeness, depending on their view — but no one in the city was particularly surprised by this maverick politician's latest move.

Anderson is notorious for rocking the boat in this conservative, primarily Mormon state, which happens to have the highest Bush approval rating in the U.S., and where three-fourths of their state legislators are Republicans. And though his latest antics are making many Utah residents seasick, the mayor has garnered a loyal following that includes a diverse and liberal group of people that reside primarily in Salt Lake City.

"He can definitely bruise feelings sometimes because he speaks without ambiguity and knows where he stands," says Ed Firmage, a long-time friend and constitutional scholar, who knew Anderson when was doing prison reform work and taking pro bono cases as a lawyer 20 years ago. "He is a humane, compassionate man and that is why he speaks with such force," adds Firmage.

Since taking office in 1999, Anderson has fought for gay rights, the environment and immigrant rights. When he accepted an invitation early on to be the Grand Marshal for the annual Gay Pride parade, it was ice down the back for anyone who was expecting the run-of-the-mill Utah politician. Anderson's activism and agenda nourished an urban populace hungry for something other than meat-and-potatoes conservative fare. "He has made it clear that if you live in Salt Lake City you respect diversity," says Chris Johnson, a gay parent. "He has been proactive in helping protect families like mine."

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