Religion re-enters S.L. mayoral race 

Pollster Jones says it regained dominant role
Copyright 2003 Deseret Morning News

By Bob Bernick Jr.
Deseret Morning News

      Salt Lake City politics in the early 1900s had an ugly twist: 
Candidates and officeholders were judged by whether they were Mormons or 
      In time, however, the political issue of one's religion melted 
away into discussions of economic development, zoning, water, parks and 
      But the old days have returned, to an extent, says pollster Dan 
Jones, in this year's Salt Lake mayor race between incumbent Mayor Rocky 
Anderson and challenger Frank Pignanelli  although neither candidate is 
      "Religion is playing a dominant role in this (the 2003 Salt Lake 
City mayor's) race. Whether we like it or not, it has," says Jones, who 
has polled in Utah for 30 years. "My polling shows religion is more 
prominent in this race than in any other contest I've seen in Utah."
      To illustrate how much the city's political climate has changed, 
former Mayor Palmer DePaulis recalls how when he was elected in 1985 
little mention if any was made that he was the city's first Catholic 
      And religion wasn't a factor in issues at City Hall as it is now.
      "Absolutely, I feel religious tensions in the city," said 
DePaulis, who lives near Liberty Park. "It's very unfortunate. It's not 
      The resurgence of a Mormon/non-Mormon split was first recognized 
in the 1999 election, says Jones, who is also a political science 
professor at the University of Utah.
      Exit polls conducted for KSL-TV in 1999 showed that then-candidate 
Anderson, who belongs to no organized religion, got only 28 percent of 
the LDS vote. His challenger, Stuart Reid, an active Mormon, received 72 
percent of the Mormon vote.
      Two years after his election, Anderson's job performance polls 
showed he had turned half of his LDS detractors into supporters.
      But when Anderson took a stand to keep a free-speech easement on 
the LDS Church-owned Main Street Plaza, the religious split surfaced 
again. Then Anderson wondered aloud if City Council members who were 
active in the LDS Church could make an unbiased decision on the plaza.
      The religion question softened some after the council adopted the 
compromise brokered by Anderson and the Alliance for Unity, a group of 
civic, business and religious leaders the mayor co-founded.
      But two weeks ago, after the City Council voted not to let the 
Nordstrom department store move from Crossroads Mall to a westside 
development, Anderson said some of the council members likely voted 
against the move because of their religion (all are LDS); especially in 
light of the fact that the LDS Church was the new owners of Crossroads 
      "I'm just speaking the truth," Anderson said when criticized for 
putting religion into the council's vote.
      "He's walking down a dangerous road," says Pignanelli, Anderson's 
ballot opponent next Tuesday. "By putting religion into these decisions, 
what's he saying? Can Mormons even serve on the City Council? Do we need 
an affirmative action plan to get non-Mormons on the council?
      "It is very destructive to the political fabric of our community," 
said Pignanelli, a practicing Catholic. "And it makes no sense 
politically, to bring religion into the debate over Nordstrom or the 
Main Street Plaza. That is what frustrates city residents. Why put us 
through this?"
      Anderson acknowledges there has been "a backlash" to some of his 
actions and statements.
      Part of the backlash, he says, is misunderstanding. Another part 
is that his administration "has made this community more inclusive for 
everyone." And some people may not like that inclusiveness  seeing it 
as a threat to their own positions in society, he said.
      "Part of the backlash is also a result of my willingness to open a 
public dialogue about why some not of the (LDS) faith feel resentful and 
without a voice in Utah politics," said Anderson. "This is a situation 
that's existed for many years here. And in order to bridge any 
divisions, we must speak candidly about these matters."
      One reason, he said, the Alliance for Unity was created "was to 
speak openly and honestly about those things that divide us, especially 
along religious lines."
      Jones' polling results illustrate the underlying religious dynamic 
being played out in Salt Lake City politics:

       An August survey by Jones for the Deseret Morning News and 
KSL-TV shows that only 14 percent of LDS city residents planned to vote 
for Anderson in the Oct. 7 primary. A large 70 percent of LDS residents 
had an unfavorable opinion of Anderson.

       An early October poll of registered voters found only 19 percent 
planned to vote for Anderson in the primary election (which he won by 15 
percentage points over Pignanelli, who finished second). Two-thirds of 
LDS voters had an unfavorable opinion of the mayor.

      Those same surveys show that Anderson is well-liked among 
non-Mormons. Up to three-fourths of non-Mormons said they planned on 
voting for Anderson, Jones found in the August survey.
      In early October, some 80 percent of non-Mormons had a favorable 
opinion of the mayor, Jones found.
      In the same October poll, 60 percent of LDS voters had a favorable 
opinion of Pignanelli; only 8 percent of Mormons had an unfavorable 
opinion of Anderson's challenger.
      The difference is night and day between the two candidates' 
support among LDS and non-LDS Salt Lakers, says Jones.
      The religious split also shows up in tracking over time the 
question of whether the Nordstrom should move to The Gateway retail 
center, a new retail/housing development on 400 West.
      Before the church bought Crossroads Plaza this spring, Jones' 
polls showed no real religious split on the Nordstrom move.
      But after the church's purchase of Crossroads  and the church's 
public opposition to the move  an October Jones survey found more LDS 
Church members now oppose Nordstrom's move than approve the move, a 
switch from a December 2002 survey.
      Anderson at first opposed the move, then later changed his 
position and says Nordstrom should move if no way can be found to 
accommodate the store at Crossroads Plaza.
      So the LDS Church and Anderson end up on opposite sides of an 
issue, and all of a sudden a zoning issue plays out along religious 
lines, Jones' polling shows.



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