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A battle over billboards has become a big issue in the Salt Lake City's mayoral race.
First in the primary and now in the general election, Reagan Outdoor Advertising has funded a campaign to boost challenger Jackie Biskupski because of its longstanding disputes with Mayor Ralph Becker.
The company created and funded Utahns for Independent Government, a political action committee that has paid for the pro-Biskupski ads.
It now has three signs in its digital billboard rotation along I-15, supporting the challenger on addressing homelessness, restoring the city jazz festival and backing wilderness legislation in Congress.
Nate Sechrest, treasurer of the political action committee and general counsel for Reagan, said of Biskupski: "I would be shocked if she would be nearly as antagonistic to us as the mayor has been ... It has been very difficult for us to communicate with the current administration."
Biskupski says Sechrest is right.
"I wouldn't be antagonistic at all," she said. "Ralph has been at war with billboards, since, I don't know, 20 years. And I don't think being antagonistic with anyone, for any reason, is a good way to be a public servant."
She said she isn't for or against the billboard companies, though during the years in which both Becker and Biskupski served in the state Legislature, she was more inclined to vote for legislation backed by Reagan and she accepted contributions from the company, totaling $2,700 over four campaigns.
Becker calls Reagan Outdoor Advertising a "bully," going to the state to circumvent city leaders. He has resisted moves to make more billboards digital or to expand their height and size.
"I can understand them saying I don't do all they want all the time, but I'm happy to work with anybody," the mayor said. "But it shouldn't just be a one-sided deal where they get anything they want."
Becker wants to see the number of billboards in the city decline, particularly in residential neighborhoods and gateways to the city, such as the 600 South offramp. He was thrilled to see a Reagan sign within sight of City Hall demolished this week. The sign was on 400 South near the Dunkin' Donuts.
"I'm interested in trying to protect the beauty of this city and reduce some of the impacts that billboards have in our community," he said.
He also touted his cordial relationship with Utah Signs, a much smaller billboard company that owns about 10 signs in the city.
Utah Signs owner Ben Rogers called Becker "a gentleman," though they disagree on the value of electronic signs.
Biskupski said she doesn't think the city needs more billboards, but she's not ready to call for a reduction, seeing them as a way for local businesses and governments to promote themselves.
"We've had billboards in our world for as long as I've been around," she said, defending her legislative votes as being part of broad coalitions, often involving the League of Cities and Towns.
She said she's open to more digital signs. "I am somebody who believes electronic billboards along our freeways can be very helpful to law enforcement. If someone goes missing, they can put an Amber Alert up."
Biskupski questions why, if Becker is such a committed anti-billboard politician, he hasn't been more successful in removing billboards from neighborhoods. And she questioned new digital signs on buildings downtown, such as the Broadway Media building at 300 South and 50 West.
That sign, and others like it, are regulated under a different law, since they don't accept any outside advertising.
For Becker's team, the main question is what does Reagan want out of a Biskupski administration.
Sechrest said the goal isn't more lenient laws, but a better relationship to negotiate issues with individual billboards.
But Becker's team and Rogers are skeptical that it would end there, with such an aggressive company involved.
Rogers says making deals with special-interests will end up leaving a politician beholden.