Amid controversy, West Valley City mayoral race heats up
By cathy mckitrick
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published May 13 2013 11:01PM
West Valley City • Surrounded by family and friends at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, Margaret Peterson officially kicked off her campaign Monday for mayor of this sprawling and diverse west-side city.
Peterson, 66, served as an at-large City Council member for 17 years, choosing not to seek a sixth term in 2007. However, recent controversies drew her back into the fray.
"My roots run deep here," Peterson said of the city she’s called home for 45 years. Drawing her grandchildren around her, Peterson said that she wanted them to learn "that when things are broken, when times are tough, when others make excuses, it’s time to step forward and be a leader."
In recent months, West Valley’s reputation has been sullied by news of alleged incompetence and improprieties within the city’s police department.
Allegations of mishandled evidence in narcotics cases, along with the shooting death of Danielle Willard during a drug bust, led to the dismissal of 98 state and federal drug cases, disbanding of the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, and placement of nine officers on administrative leave.
An FBI investigation is underway, and the Department of Justice is meeting with community advocates and the city’s Police Department to discuss the high number of Latinos who were targeted in the dismissed cases.
Current Mayor Mike Winder, 37, hopes to secure a second term this November. In 2005, the rising young Republican defeated incumbent Barbara Thomas for her City Council seat.
Thomas helped introduce Peterson on Monday, noting her battle with multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis Peterson received in 1976.
"[Peterson] moved from a wheelchair to crutches to a cane to walking unaided," Thomas said. "This persistence has been evident in every aspect of her life and career."
How much of a shadow the current cop conundrum will cast on Winder is still unknown. However, he wrestled with his own scandal after using the pen name of Richard Burwash to publish articles in the Deseret News and on KSL.com.
The police department’s culture needs to change, Peterson said.
"That doesn’t mean kicking everyone out," she said. "They need to have procedures in place, follow those procedures, and not deviate from them."
Public outcry over the Burwash debacle led to Winder issuing a public apology and resigning his public relations job with the Salt Lake City-based Summit Group.
Winder’s 2012 run for Salt Lake County mayor ended at the GOP primary, a defeat some believe stemmed from his use of the pseudonym.
While Peterson did not mention Winder or Burwash during Monday’s speech, she later said he needs to be replaced.
"I’ve never seen problems like this," Peterson said, labeling Winder’s recent five-point plan to root out police impropriety "a band-aid approach."
In an interview following her speech, Peterson called the Burwash episode tragic.
"I think it’s a mistake that will haunt [Winder] for the rest of his life," Peterson said.