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Two-term councilman may take on Becker, if he runs again

Published July 21, 2014 10:34 pm

Politics • Garrott establishes fundraising committee; Biskupski weighs run as well.
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If Mayor Ralph Becker seeks a third term next year, he may face stiff competition from within Salt Lake City Hall.

Two-term Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott has filed papers that would be the first step in a run for mayor.

"This is an exploratory phase," the 46-year- old University of Utah political science professor said Monday.

Becker, who encountered only token opposition three years ago from a 79-year-old political novice, has yet to state his political plans. His spokesman said the mayor will make his intentions known in mid-November.

If Becker does run, he has a hefty head start in the cash chase, with nearly $211,000 in his campaign fund, according to the city recorder's office.

Former state legislator Jackie Biskupski said Monday she, too, considering a pursuit of Becker's job.

"I have not decided. I'm in a vetting process right now," she said. "I'm trying to figure out if this is the right time and I'm the right person."

Garrott's filing with the city recorder's office to open a campaign committee allows him to begin fundraising. Formal declarations of candidacy must be made in June 2015.

Garrott said he won't accept any corporate contributions and emphasized that his campaign would be a grass-roots effort.

"Part of it is energizing people who have given up on politics," he said. "The city is the place where democracy can be revived."

Garrott, who has a doctorate in political science and is finishing up a master's degree in public administration at the U., said city government could be better.

"What we have in Salt Lake City is an old form of politics that is top down," he said referring to the power held by the nonpartisan mayor and the seven-member council. "I have a deep feeling that something is missing in the way we make decisions."

That something, he said, is the voice of residents.

"I'm a strong believer in participatory democracy," he said, noting that the public should have a bigger voice in taxes and spending. The programs the city undertakes, Garrott argued, should be those favored by residents, rather than "glamor" projects for "elites."

"Would people spend a $100 million on a theater?" he asked rhetorically, referring to the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater (projected to cost $116 million) now under construction on Main Street.

It's no secret Becker has been the Broadway-style theater's biggest champion. The project, slated for completion in spring 2016, has been cheered as a regional draw and jeered as an pricey playhouse that will compete with other arts venues.

Among the proposals Garrott would like residents to entertain is whether the city should create its own transit agency to ensure efficient neighborhood bus service — instead of counting on the regionally focused Utah Transit Authority.

"Relying on UTA for that service is a fool's errand," he said.

Garrott also would like to reconsider affordable housing, including co-ops that give residents an affordable financial stake in multiple-dwelling buildings, "turning renters into owners."

The city is the "correct place" to solve difficult problems, he said, pointing to unemployment, homelessness and air pollution.

Policymaking from the bottom up can build community, he said, that would be "the soul of the campaign."

csmart@sltrib.com