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Businessman Mark Crockett and West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder exchanged body punches Wednesday night, but neither landed a haymaker or even really tried to in a respectful debate between the two Republicans vying to become Salt Lake County mayor. The GOP politicians, who will square off in a June 26 primary election, traded barbs about their approaches to economic development and prospects of beating Democrat Ben McAdams in November.
They accused each other of producing campaign literature containing half-truths about their own and their opponent's track records in keeping taxes and government fees low.
Even though Winder's use of the pen name Richard Burwash to write positive articles about West Valley City sparked a spirited back-and-forth exchange, the discussion ended with Crockett saying he accepted Winder's apology for the indiscretion.
"Let's move on," he said. "We have better, more interesting things to talk about what we can do at the county."
The 90-minute debate attracted about 50 people to The Leonardo museum in downtown Salt Lake City and was broadcast on radio station KCPW, which co-sponsored the event with the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Where Winder and Crockett differed most markedly Wednesday was on their perceptions of government involvement in economic development.
Crockett criticized Winder's support of using West Valley City's Redevelopment Agency to finance construction of an Embassy Suites hotel in an area known as Fairbourne Station.
Private enterprise comes to the public sector for financial assistance like that only when projects are not financially viable on their own and need government to fill in the gap, he said.
"When people come to Salt Lake County asking for money, the hair on my neck goes up," said Crockett, referring to his prior term on the County Council. "You should assume there's something wrong with the project."
Responded Winder: "Sorry I'm not the Libertarian candidate for county mayor, but the Republican," defending the city's use of RDA funding as a legitimate means of being business friendly, taking small risks that were far more likely to reap big dividends.
"Those who say government should get out of the way are naive," Winder said. " … There are multiple ways for government to be involved in unleashing economic potential."
Winder contended he had a better chance of beating McAdams in the general election, citing the strong popular support he received as a Republican in winning council and mayoral elections in blue-collar West Valley City.
"My opponent lost his [eastside] council seat to Democrat Jani Iwamoto," Winder said. "He couldn't win his own council seat. How does he expect to win the south and west" parts of Salt Lake County?
Crockett said he lost in a year when Barack Obama's run for the White House reduced Republican turnout in the county, then chastised Winder for "glossing over" the severity of using the Burwash pen name.
If Winder wins the primary, Crockett predicted McAdams would hammer the West Valley City mayor repeatedly over the incident.
In the end, Crockett said the county needs his business expertise in making big corporations more efficient if it hopes to keep critical human-services programs intact with limited resources.
Winder said his experience in "growing the tax base, not raising taxes" will make Salt Lake County the "flagship leading the state out of the economic downturn."
P The Republican candidates for Salt Lake County mayor, Mike Winder and Mark Crockett, debated Wednesday at The Leonardo. The winner of a June 26 primary election will face Democrat Ben McAdams in November.