West Valley City, Utah mayor Mike Winder was sick 'n' tired of reading newspaper stories that depicted his town as some kind of crime-infested hellhole, so he adopted the pen name Richard Burwash and started covering his local news as a freelance writer. He had access to the mayor's office like no other freelancer before him.
This week, Winder—who might run for mayor of Salt Lake City next year—came clean with his editors after learning that Deseret has a no-fake byline policy. He wasn't ready to break all of the journalism rules, but only a few. Getting stories published "was as easy as setting up a Gmail account and Facebook page" under his alias, he told the Associated Press.
At least he had reporting chops. According to the Deseret News, at least two newspaper editors who worked with him over the past two years admitted that he always got his facts correct—especially facts related to goings-on in the West Valley City mayor's office. Over two years, newspapers published 12 of his stories on topics ranging from bond measures to elections, and they were always accurate and well-sourced.
So now his political career is toast, right? Not necessarily: "There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this," Winder told Deseret, "but there will also be people who respect me for putting my neck on the line to get good (news) coverage for our city." None of those supportive parties were available for comment, but a constituent named Pat told ABC News that Winder doesn't seem to be doing anything, because "[m]aybe he's too busy being a news reporter." A spokesperson from the Democratic Party, to which Winder does not belong, mmm-hmmm, called the mayor's behavior "mind-boggling" and said it raised major trust issues.
Winder's bit of trickery wasn't a victimless act. To illustrate his Deseret contributor profile, he went on Google, found a photograph of a tennis player and motivational speaker named Peter Burwash, and used that. Burwash wants an apology because now all these "friends" are calling him up asking him "what the hell?", and he's a busy person, he doesn't have time for so many phone calls. He's considering his legal options. "It's hard to find an honest politician these days," he says about the incident.
If Winder wanted positive news about his town, he should have gone the Mike Bloomberg route and started his own media empire. Or, he could have adopted the tactics of Newark mayor Cory Booker and tweeted his fingers off responding to constituents' questions and concerns. There were options.