Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson is running for his former office on a mission to confront the city’s housing crisis.

By Sasha Abramsky, The Nation

Seventeen years ago, I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to write a profile of Rocky Anderson, one of America’s most radical mayors. At the time, Anderson had made a name for himself by opposing the Iraq war and pushing a range of progressive policy priorities—on housing, criminal justice reform, drug policy, and many other issues.

rocky anderson

Nearly a generation later, Anderson is, once again, running for mayor. This time around, his signature issue is housing the homeless and finding viable policy solutions to tackle the growth of encampments in Salt Lake City. His campaign might be something of a long shot—Mayor Erin Mendenhall has a far larger campaign operation and is raking in more than twice as much cash in donations. But the onetime mayor still holds a residue of goodwill from the early 2000s, when he had approval ratings of nearly 60 percent.

Anderson, now nearly 72 years old, has also built up tremendous political capital among progressives during the 15 years that he has been out of office. He ran for president on the Justice Party ticket in 2012, in a symbolic act of protest against what he saw as President Obama’s mishandling of the post-2008 financial crisis, and against foreign policy-as-normal priorities. He founded the High Road for Human Rights, an organization intended to push the US to prioritize human rights in its foreign policy dealings and in its domestic policies around issues such as the War on Terror. Closer to home, he set up shop as a civil rights attorney, working on a number of high profile cases around police violence, draconian drug sentences, and so on, for which he was awarded the Leonard Weinglass Civil Rights Award. He has also won a drug policy award from the reform-minded Drug Policy Alliance. Throughout, he has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of homeless people: At times, he has even gone to sites where police were raiding homeless encampments in order to videotape the arrests.

For all of these reasons, Anderson can articulate tough truths, without being lambasted by progressives for doing so, in a way that few other politicians can. Think of it as his own version of the Nixon-goes-to-China strategy.

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