Unofficial returns in a Tuesday primary put former Utah state budget director Ron Bigelow and West Valley City Council member Karen Lang in a contest to become mayor of the state’s second-largest city.
The results also put Lang in a position to become West Valley’s first female mayor if she wins in the Nov. 5 general election.
Bigelow came out ahead in a group of seven candidates running for mayor and Lang came in second, just a handful of votes ahead of City Council member Don Christensen.
The primary winners will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.
Restoring trust in the West Valley City police Department was a priority of candidates running for office this year in the 133,000-population community.
Bigelow, 64, said he believes residents felt his background, which includes 16 years representing West Valley City in the Utah Legislature, would help him resolve the police situation and other issues.
Lang, 53, owner of Oakbridge Greenhouse, said she thinks voters recognize that she is invested in the community. "I hope it’s my business sense and community involvement that has gotten their confidence," she said.
The incumbents did not run for a second term. Mayor Mike Winder cited the need for a full-time job to support his family; the at-large seat was held by Christensen.
Other candidates for mayor were current council member Tom Huynh, former council member Margaret Peterson, businessman Jeffrey Mackay and Alex Segura, an electrical controls engineer and co-founder of the Utah Minutemen. Joe Garcia, a member of the West Valley City Planning Commission, was the third candidate in the council race.
Two other council seats are up for election but there was no primary for them because just two candidates filed in each race. The contenders for the District 2 seat are incumbent Steve Buhler and Jeff White; in District 4, incumbent Steve Vincent and Mary Jayne Newton-Davis will face off in the general election.
The vote on Tuesday was residents’ first chance to begin stepping out from under the shadow of controversy over some police officers’ conduct and look ahead to their city’s future.
On Thursday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that the use of deadly force by two West Valley police detectives who shot and killed an unarmed woman was not justified. Gill’s office is screening possible criminal charges against the officers, who deny any wrongdoing in the November shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.
The police department also has been criticized for alleged mishandling of evidence that led to the dismissal of 125 drug cases and its handling of the case of missing West Valley mother Susan Powell.
Longtime police chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen retired in March; West Valley officials conducted a nationwide search for his replacement and say they are close to hiring someone for the job.
In addition to restoring community trust in law enforcement, the candidates have focused on other issues, including business recruitment; the budget and taxes; the crime rate; improving neighborhoods; code enforcement and protecting property owner rights; streamlining operations; and government openness.
Bigelow said getting a new chief will help restore confidence in the police. He also said he will boost economic development and use his budgeting background to make the city stronger.
Lang wants to streamline city operations and said she will plan responsibly for growth.
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