Salt Lake City's popular but polarizing Democratic mayor, who announced nearly a year ago he would not seek a third term and then quickly endorsed a Republican candidate, is now creaking the door open.
"It depends on who comes out of the primary," Rocky Anderson said Wednesday. "If it looked like it would be a disaster after the primary, who knows. But, by that point, it would have to be a write-in campaign.
"If there were two candidates like Dave Buhler, I would feel compelled," he said. "We've made so much progress changing the reputation of Salt Lake City around the country. He would obliterate that progress in no time at all."
Anderson always had maintained he wouldn't seek re-election. But a mounting buzz in business and political circles has led to chatter that he may crash the race.
The mayor is motivated by what he sees as the present candidates selling out to the LDS Church over its plans to erect a downtown sky bridge.
"That's a completely poll-driven position and it shows a lack of leadership," Anderson said. "I wouldn't run solely because of the sky bridge. But I can see running if the only two candidates would so easily cave that it would be very detrimental to the long-term interest of the community."
Last week, mayoral front-runner Jenny Wilson publicly endorsed the Main Street skywalk. Buhler, who is running second in the latest Deseret Morning News-KSL poll, also backs the bridge.
But Keith Christensen, whom Anderson endorsed last year, has not taken a position on the skywalk planned for the $1 billion-plus City Creek Center. He says he still is studying the issue.
"I would be surprised if Rocky got back in, but we all know Rocky. Rocky's his own guy," said Christensen, whom the poll listed in fifth place, behind Ralph Becker and Nancy Saxton, who bailed out of the race last week. "My decision on the sky bridge will have nothing to do with my fear of Rocky getting back into this race."
Anderson is concerned no one in the mayor's chase can advance his progressive causes, Christensen acknowledged.
"He agonizes over the thought that someone other than myself will get elected," he said. "He has made it clear that, if I don't get through the primary, he might get in as a write-in candidate."
The candidate filing period runs July 2-16. Anderson could enter then and land his name on the ballot or leap in later as a write-in, even after the Sept. 11 primary.
"I would welcome him in the race," Buhler said. "I don't think he knows my record as well as he thinks he does."
A late write-in candidacy by the mayor could benefit Buhler in the officially nonpartisan race. If Buhler, a Republican, and one of the Democratic hopefuls survive the primary and Anderson then dives in for the November general election, the latter two could split the vote, and Utah's left-leaning capital could end up with its first GOP mayor in 30 years.
Buhler would be "a terrible mayor for Salt Lake City," Anderson warned.
Any late charge by Anderson - who said Wednesday he has "no present intention of running" - would be waged with no campaign structure and no money.
On Feb. 15, the mayor emptied his campaign account, according to Sonya Kintaro of the City Recorder's Office. The mayor's remaining cash from 2003 was used for telephone and mail refunds. And he gave $7,500 to Christensen.
But Anderson insists the lack of resources - his bank of campaign signs also was tossed - would not be a deterrent.
"I'm the incumbent," he said, confidently. "After eight years, I think people know me well enough. People are not going to be persuaded one way or the other by these outrageously expensive TV and radio commercials."
Christensen has amassed more than $500,000, while the other major contenders have raised roughly half that amount. Anderson spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to win a second term in 2003.
Still, if the two-term Democrat made an 11th-hour push, Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers predicts Anderson would be the favorite.
"None of them want to get too bloody with him because he does have those high approval ratings," Jowers said. "If the mayor jumps back in, he would be the odds-on to win."
That said, Jowers says Anderson may be entertaining the notion in order to stay in the spotlight, affect candidate platforms and wield leverage over the field.
"It's a way of keeping himself relevant," he said, while it "keeps Keith in line."
But Joe Hatch, a former Salt Lake County Democratic chairman, says instead of Anderson holding Christensen hostage, it may be the other way around.
"This is a fundraising gimmick," Hatch said. "Keith goes to all these fundraisers and says, 'If I don't raise enough money, I will have to drop out and Rocky will get in.' "
Christensen calls the allegation "without merit and ridiculous."
"I've never had to talk about Rocky . . . and I don't intend to start."
Hatch, who has endorsed Wilson, says most of the mayor's support has drifted to her or Becker, the remaining major Democrats. He calls a possible run by Anderson "the ultimate act of betrayal," noting the mayor would have to yank his support for Christensen.
But Anderson, who says he won't take the re-election plunge if Christensen advances in the Sept. 11 primary, insists his decision will be driven by passion for the city, not politics. And four more years, he says, "would offer me a lot of opportunities," especially if voters give him a more cooperative City Council.
"Being mayor has allowed us to leverage what we have here into national leadership and even international leadership," Anderson said. "That's one of the factors that makes me somewhat reluctant to move out of the mayor's office."
Rocky's job hunt
Since declaring he would not seek a third term as Salt Lake City mayor, Rocky Anderson says he has received job offers from Human Rights First and the International Council for Local and Environmental Initiatives.
But the globe-trotting mayor hasn't signed on with either, noting, "I'm not looking for just any job in these areas.
"Unless an organization came along that said we will endorse and fund your vision, it's probably going to be up to me to fund a new organization and put the personnel together."
So would four more years as mayor be satisfying enough?
"It would offer me a lot of opportunities," Anderson said.
* Salt Lake City Councilman Dave Buhler
* Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson
* House Minority Leader Ralph Becker
* Former City Councilman Keith Christensen
* Centro Civico Mexicano Director John Renteria
* Physician J. Preston Hughes
* Consultant Robert Muscheck