It’s pretty clear that Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s firing of former Policy Chief Chris Burbank is going to dog him right to Election Day.
A new survey for UtahPolicy by Dan Jones & Associates finds that a fourth (24 percent) of city voters say Becker’s handling of the Burbank issue makes them more likely to vote for Becker’s challenger, Jackie Biskupski.
Only 6 percent said Burbank’s departure makes them more likely to vote for Becker.
While 64 percent said it does not influence how they will vote in the mayoral contest.
Back in July – about a month after Becker’ forced Burbank out – Jones found in a UtahPolicy survey that the ouster was harming Becker politically.
Several months later, Becker asked to go on the Doug Wright KSL Radio talk show to explain – again – his actions and the reasons for them.
Biskupski, a Democrat like Becker in this nonpartisan election, has criticized Becker of the chief’s firing, saying she would have acted earlier and more decisively.
More than a year ago Burbank but a deputy chief on paid leave after hearing about sexual harassment claims against the deputy chief by three female city police officers.
Becker says – and has documentation to back him up – that he instructed Burbank to demote the deputy chief and rework the atmosphere in the police department that allowed such discrimination against female officers.
Becker said he believed Burbank was following his orders.
But, says the mayor, it turned out Burbank didn’t demote the deputy chief but allowed him keep his rank and pay until the deputy chief reached retirement service in the department.
Becker says he also believes Burbank didn’t take strong enough actions to address sexual harassment issues in the department. More than six months ago Becker placed a letter of reprimand in Burbank’s personnel file – an action that was private, following city personnel policies.
In any case, in June Becker had had enough. After three female officers put the city on notice they were going to sue over the harassment – making headlines and the harassment public — Becker called Burbank into his office and gave him a choice: Sign a prepared letter placing all the blame on Burbank, or resign, or be fired.
Burbank resigned causing another uproar in city politics.
Biskupski criticized Becker for not acting quicker and more decisively. But she’s had to be careful not to defend Burbank, who was popular in the city.
Becker said when he started walking neighborhoods in his re-election campaign he found out citizens were upset over Burbank’s departure, didn’t fully understand what had happened.
So Becker himself asked to go on the Wright program to explain the history of Burbank’s firing.
The new survey shows the issue – with only two weeks left in the campaign – still has not gone away.
Among Republicans, 9 percent said the Burbank affair made them more likely to vote for Becker, 17 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Biskupski, and 69 percent said it didn’t matter to them
Among Democrats, 5 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Becker (after all, the mayor did ultimately fire Burbank over improper handling of a sexual harassment issue), 29 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Biskupski, and 60 percent didn’t care.
Among political independents, 6 percent said it made them more likely to vote for the mayor, 24 percent said they are more likely to vote for Biskupski and 65 percent said it didn’t matter to them.
Among all the demographics, only those who said they are “very conservative” swing toward the mayor.
22 percent of the “very conservative” in the city say Burbank’s firing makes them more likely to vote for the mayor, 9 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Biskupski, and 65 percent said it didn’t matter to them.
The more liberal on the political scale a person moved, the more likely the mayor’s actions on Burbank led them to support Biskupski.
It should be noted, however, that those more likely to vote for Biskupski over the police chief’s firing may have already been supporting Biskupski – so anything questionable thing Becker did would lead them to say such actions by the mayor make them more likely to support Biskupski – they were leaning that way in the first place.
Still, the new survey shows Becker’s actions concerning Burbank – while ultimately justified – were mishandled, something Becker now fully admits.
Jones polled 588 registered voters from Oct. 5-10, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.02 percent.