Mia Love: Race not a factor for Utah's first black female mayor-elect
Saratoga Springs » During her mayoral campaign, Ludmya "Mia" Love was in a local park with a reporter who asked a city resident about Love's racial background.
"[The reporter] asked, 'What do you think of Mia's race?' " recalled Love, who is also a city councilwoman. "She looked confused. She didn't understand the question."
Love said the woman thought the question dealt with Love having run a half-marathon, not that she was about to become the first black female mayor in Utah's history.
That response was typical in the northern Utah County city where Love defeated challenger Jeff Francom by a vote of 861 to 594.
While taxes, growth and quality of life were issues in the campaign, Love's race was not a factor, she said. Nor is it with her.
"It is a physical feature," Love said, sitting in the dining room of her home in the Sunrise Meadows neighborhood. "I am proud to be a member of this community."
Love will become the 12-year-old city's third mayor, after having served six years on the City Council.
Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said Love's election in Saratoga Springs is remarkable.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census report, blacks make up just 0.6 percent of Saratoga Springs' population.
"I do think it is unusual, and it speaks to the way Utah is changing," Monson said.
Monson also wouldn't have expected race to become an issue in the campaign. He said in today's political climate, playing the race card is more likely to backfire than to help. He said Love's experience on the council likely gave her a record to run on in an issues-oriented campaign.
That Love's race was a non-issue didn't surprise the city's current leader, Mayor Timothy L. Parker, who is stepping down after 10 years at the city's helm. In his experience -- which includes being the adoptive father of two mixed-race children -- the city is about as color-blind as one could hope.
Parker attributed the tolerance to the city's relative newness. Saratoga Springs was incorporated in 1997, and most of its residents are relative newcomers who share a common experience of living in a fast-growing community during challenging economic times.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Love's win was "remarkable" and a testament to the work others have done for a century in breaking down prejudice.
"[Love] had prepared herself to take advantage of the doors that had been opened," Williams said.
The 33-year-old mayor-elect said she's never experienced racism while living in Utah, first in Salt Lake County, then in American Fork before moving to Saratoga Springs in 2001.
"I don't have that victim attitude," said Love, a Connecticut native. "If someone doesn't like me, I think it is because of something I did."
Love said she would hope that her election would help dispel stereotypes that Utah is racially intolerant.
Parker said Love's success comes from her caring passionately about people. If someone brings a concern to her, she presents it before the council.
Love said she has a simple guiding principle for governing: What is in the best interests of the city? While she is willing to give an ear to a resident's concerns, she balances it against the city's best interests.
Plus, Love believes in ensuring government does not overstep its constitutionally mandated bounds.
She said she received this advice a while ago: "When I sit down at that podium, I should ask myself, 'What is the proper role of government?' " Love recalled. "It is a question I ask myself every time."
She says government's proper role is providing public safety and defending the country. Anything else should involve preserving basic rights.
Love traces her community involvement to her youth and the advice that her father, a Haitian immigrant, gave her during a school orientation
"He said: 'I came here with nothing and worked for everything I have received. I have not taken any handouts. You will not be a burden on society,' " Love said. "You have to give back."
And she has.
She volunteers in her children's school and serves as legislative vice president in the PTA, as well as serving on the City Council for six years.
Her political involvement began seven years ago, when she heard talk about taking the phrase "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. At that time, Love taught her then 2-year-old daughter to recite the pledge with the reference to deity in it, so she would know it the way her mother had learned it in school.
Love said her family -- husband Jason and their three children --are supportive of her political career.
"I could not do this job without others behind me," Love said.
Kelly Hall, Love's neighbor, was pleased to see her win the election.
"I never thought I would have a friend who was the mayor," said Hall, who helped put up campaign signs for Love.
As for Love's race, Hall said it is no big deal; he joked that Love had become "a trivia question." Hall sees worse examples of racism in his travels outside Utah than in Saratoga Springs.
Meanwhile, Love knows she has some challenges to overcome during the next four years. One is broadening the city's tax base so it can better weather economic storms. Another is dealing with growth that will come from the National Security Agency's data center at Camp Williams and the proposed Utah Lake bridge, which would link Saratoga Springs to Orem.
Love said the city has no say in whether or not the bridge becomes a reality, but it can plan for the growth so that it does not destroy the lakeside vistas but does open spaces that make Saratoga Springs a desirable locale.
She said the city should be forward-thinking and use its general plan to ensure there are still agricultural areas and horse property for people.
If the bridge is built, Love said the city should make plans to turn Saratoga Springs into a resort destination, utilizing the lake to make the city a place people will come for a game of golf at Talon Cove, dinner or some leisure on the lake.
Love said her experience on the council will be helpful, as she has less of a learning curve to go through.
Parker said the city will be in good hands with Love.
"It is interesting in all the years that I have worked with [Love], people haven't mentioned the fact that she is black," Parker said.
"I never thought of [Parker] as a Caucasian man," Love joked.