Say goodbye to Popular Pete. Say hello to a full slate of potential candidates seeking to take his place.
With the pledged departure of two-term Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, political hopefuls already are lining up for what could be one of Utah's most-watched races in 2012.
Think names such as Nichole Dunn, Corroon's second in command. Or Mike Winder, the mayor of Utah's second-most populous city. Or Ross Romero, minority leader in the Utah Senate.
They all are thinking about running for the county's top spot. So are other local politicians Richard Snelgrove, Gary Ott, Mark Crockett and Sam Granato who told The Salt Lake Tribune that they are exploring possible mayoral bids.
Granted, it's early. The filing deadline is nearly 10 months away. But Corroon has made it clear he won't seek re-election in a county so politically diverse that it has alternated between Republican and Democratic control of the mayor's chair and the nine-member County Council.
"It is an open seat in arguably the most competitive county in the state," says Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. "Politicians who are strategic and savvy wait for those open seats. They know it is hard to beat an incumbent."
Although Monson characterizes the early jockeying as somewhat "unusual," he says the broad interest in that seat doesn't surprise him.
"If you want to do something," Monson says, "this is the chance."
So here is a look at the four Republicans and three Democrats who have expressed interest in taking that chance:
Mark Crockett (R) • He's a former county councilman who represented Millcreek-centered District 4 until losing his re-election bid in 2008. Crockett, management consultant by profession, sees the mayor's seat as an opportunity to pursue some of the priorities such as criminal-justice reform that he was forced to leave behind. He sees his background as valuable in helping the county "do more with less."
Nichole Dunn (D) • She couldn't get any closer to the mayor's seat without being elected. After helping recruit Corroon as a 2004 mayoral candidate she was serving as chairwoman of the county's Democratic Party at the time she now works as his deputy mayor. Dunn brands herself as the candidate with executive know-how, saying she understands firsthand the complexities of county government and the people it represents.
Sam Granato (D) • He's a small-business man who ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 as the Democratic nominee. Although the restaurateur lost to Republican Mike Lee, Granato continues to make his mark as chairman of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Granato defines himself by what he is not a career politician and says he would seek to bring his business sense to the public sector.
Gary Ott (R) • If you have recorded a deed in Salt Lake County in the past 10 years, Ott had a hand in it. Ott has served as recorder since the county changed its form of government more than a decade ago. Now he is eyeing a higher-profile post. Although he muses that the mayor's job wouldn't pay any more both salaries are $131,000 a year Ott says it would give him the chance to put a "good fingerprint" on the county. Among his goals: Increase efficiency.
Ross Romero (D) • Professionally, he's a banker. Politically, he's the highest-ranking Democrat in the Utah Senate. Romero, who serves as minority leader, is eager to bring "new ideas" and a "new voice" to county government. He considers his Democratic label a plus. There should be some degree of "political dissonance," he says, between the now-Democrat-led executive branch and Republican-controlled council.
Richard Snelgrove (R) • Not quite six months into his first term, the county councilman confirms that his sights are on higher office. He says government should "tighten its belt and live within its means," a philosophy he would bring to the Mayor's Office. Snelgrove is the former chairman of the state and county GOP and a one-time congressional candidate. His election to a countywide council seat swung the legislative majority from Democratic to Republican.
Mike Winder (R) • He was elected in November 2009 as the youngest mayor in West Valley City history. He was 33 at the time. Before that, he was the city's youngest-ever councilman. Describing county government as at a "crossroads," Winder plans to push for regional cooperation and economic development. Outside of politics, he is the director of public affairs for The Summit Group.
It's a fairly large group already. But Tim Chambless, a political scientist at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, wouldn't be surprised if it gets larger.
"When you have no incumbent, that makes it very attractive for people to consider running," Chambless said. "I would expect more names as we move toward 2012."
For those prospective candidates, be aware that the filing deadline is March 15 of next year.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Stettler_Trib Outgoing mayor for hire
Wanted: A new job.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon has made it clear for years that he wouldn't seek a third term in 2012. But even so, he hasn't decided what life-after-mayor will hold.
"That is the ambiguous part of my life right now," Corroon mused. "I'll have to be looking for a job. I have a background in government, real estate, construction and law."
When asked whether he would accept a post in Washington or pursue higher political office perhaps a congressional seat Corroon offered a noncommittal maybe.
"I would love to stay in public service," he said. "But politics is all about timing. Right now, there doesn't seem to be anything opening up."
Corroon has shown that he will jump at political opportunity. He ran unsuccessfully last year against Republican Gary Herbert, who was facing his first gubernatorial election after replacing Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
The Democratic mayor chuckled when pressed for more details about his future and remarked that his wife had been doing the same thing. During the interview, a note from his wife was slipped to him. It contained this message meant to come from Corroon's lips for the press:
"I am open to all new opportunities."