Lisa Adams had worried before the filing deadline that few were interested in succeeding her on Salt Lake’s City Council.

To her relief, District 7 residents can choose among a half-dozen active candidates — representing the full color spectrum with their yard signs, leaflets and mailers — by the Aug. 15 primary.

“I have no idea how it’s going to play out, and I have no sense who is going to emerge,” Adams said.

Competition has been more friendly than fierce. Early on, opponents met for brownies and ice cream at the house of candidate Abe Smith. But things turned from sweet to sour when a mailer from Amy Fowler, a public defender, branded herself as the choice for Democrats.

“I was expecting to flip it over and see actual issues,” said Jason Sills, a manager whose focus has been his data-driven approach. “Instead, at the top, ‘Democrat Amy Fowler.’”

“This is a nonpartisan office,” Sills continued. “I think it’s very, very important that Salt Lake City government remain nonpartisan, and I think creating these divisions as early as a primary was very, very unfortunate.”

Said opponent Ben Haynes, “I’m sad to see that we’ve gone to making this partisan, but I genuinely don’t think it hurts me. I don’t think that’s what’s important to people. I hear much more about, ‘Hey, what are we going to do about the roads?’”

Fowler, who’s paid more than $7,000 to the Grassroots Utah Strategies campaign service, said that when she meets with voters, she only mentions her party allegiance when she’s asked about it.

It was also an oversight, Fowler said, that the mailer counted current District 5 Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall among the high-profile Democrats who have endorsed her.

Mendenhall, who has a policy of not endorsing other council candidates, said she believes that was an honest mistake and that Fowler, “like many others, would do great work on the council.”

Ben Haynes is an experienced campaigner with donations of $8,500 and an army of volunteers who, as of last week, had visited 5,000 residences, by his count.

The 25-year-old was a staffer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run and previously worked as a campaign manager for Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill, who has endorsed him. Haynes said he knocks on doors until 9 p.m. each night.

Meanwhile, Smith earned Adams’ support as the candidate whose views most closely mirror her own, though she tells constituents, “This is who I’m endorsing, but check him out and look at everybody.”

Smith had raised the most of any candidate, $12,900, by Tuesday, the vast majority from Utahns, contrasted with Haynes, who had more than 100 out-of-state donors.

Sills, Benjamin Sessions and Samantha Finch trailed financially ($2,200, $3,500 and $825, respectively) but said the most important tool in a local race — face-to-face encounters — is free.

“I haven’t looked at what people are raising,” said Finch, a moderate fiscal conservative and environmental advocate. “I’m not interested in comparing myself that way. I know money’s important, but I think message is more important.”

Finch would be “slightly surprised” if she survived the primary, but still encounters many people many people in southeastern Salt Lake City who haven’t made up their minds.

Sessions is the only candidate who serves as a trustee on the Sugar House Community Council and said he’s very familiar with the issues area residents care about most: improving the roads (one woman told him a pothole snapped her axle), public safety and ensuring widespread development retains the character of the area.

“I’m just trying to stay as neutral as I can and really just focus on the local issues,” he said.

The most specific pitch may be Sills’. He wants the city to better inform and measure its decisions by hiring a chief innovation officer, a chief data officer and a chief analytics officer.

“I could get anywhere from 5 to 65 percent of the vote and be like, ‘Yep, that makes sense,’” said Sills, who worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, starting as a Utah volunteer and eventually working full-time on Obama’s Iowa get-out-the-vote initiative. “You have no idea how well anybody else is doing.”

Sills is among many candidates who’ve promised to be wholly transparent in the wake of a controversial, closed-door decision to site a homeless shelter in District 7 at 653 E. Simpson Ave. — later rescinded after pushback from nearby residents.


Samantha Finch

Age • 44

Residency • 7 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Law degree, Vermont Law School

Occupation • Attorney

Amy Fowler

Age • 38

Residency • 9 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Law degree, University of Utah

Occupation • Public defender

Ben Haynes

Age • 25

Residency • 7 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Bachelor’s degree in political science, University of Utah

Occupation • Marketing analyst

Benjamin Sessions

Age • 35

Residency • 2 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Bachelor’s degree in consumer studies, University of Utah

Occupation • Case manager for an insurance company

Jason Sills

Age • 39

Residency • 25 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Master of Public Administration, Arizona State

Occupation • Senior manager of analytics at

Abe Smith

Age • 38

Residency • 2 years in Salt Lake City

Education • Bachelor’s degree in international business, Georgetown University

Occupation • Technology strategist at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Editor’s note: Residency reflects a candidate’s most recent uninterrupted time as a Salt Lake City resident, not necessarily a lifetime total.

Smith spent the last 15 years abroad — Russia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Nepal, Tanzania — before landing a job in technology strategy for the LDS Church and moving to Sugar House two years ago looking to put down roots in the United States.

His neighbors have impressed upon him that traffic issues are “huge,” he said, as is the visibility of the local homeless population. Smith joked that his own biggest challenge is tearing himself away from people’s stories after they’ve invited him into their house.

“I’m probably not a great campaigner,” he said. “I’ll sit there for two hours.”

The experience of representing himself — as opposed to another candidate — has been eye-opening for Haynes. It’s more personal when you’re rejected, he said with a laugh.

“I think if anything, it has taught me just to listen more than I talk,” said Haynes, who agrees that roads are important and considers himself one of the staunchest proponents of clean-air measures among the candidates. “My pitch is, ‘This is what I’m running on, but it matters far more what it means to you.’ And once you give people that room to talk, they go.”

Fowler may have the most name recognition after twice running for state House, and losing by a single vote to Rep. Lynn Hemingway in a 2015 special election to replace Justin Miller. She’s endorsed by Hemingway, as well as two other legislators, Salt Lake County Council members, and county caucuses, and says that among her goals is to best use the impact fees associated with underway developments.

Fowler feels “confident,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been working really hard and we’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback. But, given my experiences the last couple of times, I try not to predict anything.”

Fowler had raised $9,300 through Tuesday. Money isn’t everything, though. In 2013, Adams had raised less money by the July deadline — $2,800 — than two opponents whom she beat in the primary, and she went on to raise $38,400 and rout Kevin Paulson in the general election.

A second mailer that caught candidates’ attention was sent by “Concerned Concervative [sic] Voters,” with results of a supposed candidate survey of time in the district, work experience and top issues.

It highlighted fields showing Haynes had lived in Sugar House for less than a year — false — and works for Clinton — no longer true. Smith didn’t answer how long he’d lived in the district, it said, while Smith said he was never asked.

“I sent that in to the city, just like, ‘Hey, this is super odd, you need to look into it,’” he said.

The Tribune will report about the city’s other open races — in Districts 1, 3 and 5 — in the coming days.