Cherie Wood goes from City Hall veteran to City Hall leader

Published December 28, 2009 5:06 pm
'Oh, my gosh, I'm going to run for mayor'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cherie Wood has an unusual skill.

Name an address in South Salt Lake, and she'll tell you the resident's name. Pick a family, she'll give you the house number.

"She's like 'Rain Man,' " says Wood's sister, Jennifer Taylor. "You could test her on it. It's hilarious."

Wood impressed more than just her campaign volunteers this election season. In November, South Salt Lake residents selected her to be their next mayor with a resounding 62 percent of the vote.

She is the first woman to be elected mayor in the industrial city's 71-year history.

"It's exciting" to win, Wood says. "You definitely feel a responsibility."

Wood, 36, will succeed retiring Mayor Bob Gray, who encouraged her to run. She is his assistant mayor and a familiar face at City Hall after spending her entire career there.

"I like reading 'longtime employee,' " next to Wood's name, says friend and co-worker Charee Peck. "Who knows the city better than someone who's worked here for 17 years?"

Wood, a third-generation South Salt Laker, started working for the city as a 19-year-old cashier, accepting residents' water payments.

Through the years, she switched jobs six times, including stints as the building-department secretary and the business-licensing official. She was appointed as Gray's assistant mayor in 2006. During that time, she also had three sons and attended night classes to earn two bachelor's degrees in business.

Wood was stunned in April when, at the end of his annual State of the City speech, Gray announced he would retire after one term.

The next day, Gray called her into his office and encouraged her to run.

"She came out and said, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm going to run for mayor,' " Peck recalls. "It was a light-bulb moment."

Wood, who is fairly apolitical, was a surprise candidate to many -- including her own family. But, Peck says, it made sense. Supporters saw her as a smart administrator with nearly two decades of City Hall experience.

In a city of 22,000 people, resident Frank Lily, a planning commissioner, was able to take a small-town approach to casting his vote. He sat down with three of the leading mayoral candidates for one-on-one interviews.

He endorsed Wood and even devoted his Saturdays to working on her campaign.

"I found that Cherie was an exceptionally good listener," he says. "She had a good grasp on the issues that were affecting the community. She seemed willing to try out some new ideas."

Wood plans to beef up code enforcement, preserve open space at the shuttered Granite High and tackle economic development. She hopes plans for Market Station and a China Town can be revived as the economy recovers.

The eldest of six kids, Wood shocked her parents and siblings when she announced her intention to run. But to them, she had always been "Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way."

"That's what we all called her," says Taylor, Wood's 26-year-old sister. "She was always a great role model."

Wood's first campaign meeting was with her sister, four brothers and parents around the family's dining-room table. They were her most dedicated volunteers.

"It was a sweat-equity campaign," says Wood's father, Everett Taylor. "I told her I was proud of her before she had even won."

On a shoestring budget -- Wood spent $8,300 on the entire campaign, according to financial reports -- the assistant mayor found a campaign manager on the cheap. She went to Amazon.com and ordered - The Campaign Manager by Catherine Shaw, a $24.75 paperback.

"I had not a clue where to start," Wood says.

But, by election night, her campaign team had ballooned from the dinner table to a conference table at Olson Electronics, where 100 or so supporters gathered to watch results stream in on Salt Lake County's Web site.

Her three sons celebrated the victory -- they worked for it, helping mom pass out campaign literature -- but it took a few days to sink in, Wood says.

"Kids at school were making comments like, 'Your mom's going to be the boss over the police chief and the fire chief.' "

They thought that was pretty cool.

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About Cherie Wood

Age » 36.

Family » Married to Scott; sons Jordan, 11, Jayden, 9, and Jaxson, 2.

Education » Granite High, 1991; bachelor's degrees in business administration and business management, University of Phoenix, 2007.

Career » Over 17 years, worked her way from cashier to assistant mayor of South Salt Lake; takes over as mayor Monday.

Fun fact » A former member of the Granite High girls' basketball team, Wood loves to shoot hoops with her kids. She helps her 2-year-old slam-dunk on a lowered rim.



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