Jackie Biskupski launches re-election campaign for 2nd term as Salt Lake City mayor

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski she launches her re-election campaign as she seeks a second term as supporters gather on the east steps of the City Building, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.

Describing herself a fighter for all Salt Lake City residents, Jackie Biskupski launched her campaign Saturday for a second term as mayor and vowed to press for more affordable housing, expanded transit and improved air quality while also helping the homeless and the city’s small businesses.

In an event outside City Hall, Biskupski told cheering supporters said that since being elected to the city’s top office in 2015, she has “made change” and “created cultural shifts” across Utah’s capital city in pursuit of a progressive, people-oriented agenda and wants four more years to consolidate those gains.

“I love this city and I love my job,” she told the enthusiastic crowd of about 150 residents, elected officials and campaign workers. “We have a promising future ahead of us. I want to continue to be your mayor to protect all we have created together and to ensure the progress we are making continues.”

Biskupski said “we are a stronger city” since she took office — although the mayor is not without her critics.

“I didn’t stand up to be your mayor four years ago because I wanted to do what was easy,” the first-term mayor said. “I stood up because I wanted to tackle the tough stuff.”

Prominent backers of her re-election this November also praised the former state legislator and law enforcement administrator as a champion for the disadvantaged and someone not afraid to take controversial stances, on local and national issues, particularly regarding pay equity and the environment.

“She uplifts our wins, mourns our losses, crushes the naysayers and amplifies our collective contributions in celebration,” said former state Sen. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a longtime friend and former colleague on Capitol Hill.

Others highlighted Salt Lake City’s advances under Biskupski’s leadership, including the addition of nearly 2,500 affordable dwellings to the city’s housing stock, a shift to renewable energy for city operations, significant reductions in crime rates, a major rebuild of Salt Lake City International Airport and passage last year of a $87 million bond to pay for city road repairs and other upgrades.

The city has also been selected as "America’s choice” to host another Winter Olympics since Biskupski became mayor.

“She has a become a force in this community,” said Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake City mayor from 1976 to 1985. “Bu it is very hard to get everything complete in four years. You have to have continuity in government.

“We need the heart that beats in this woman,” Wilson said, turning to Biskupski, whom he called “a great hugger.”

Though lauded for her successes, the mayor has also come under criticism since taking the nonpartisan office three years ago, starting with her decision early on to fire most of the staff assembled by her predecessor Ralph Becker.

Others have taken issue with her handling of a site-selection process for several new homeless shelters across Salt Lake County and over her refusal to take part in talks over the Utah Legislature’s controversial creation of an Inland Port covering much of the city’s northwest quadrant.

As Salt Lake City’s first openly gay mayor and the second woman in history to hold the office, Biskupski officially enters an already crowded 2019 race for the mayor seat, with five competitors who have already announced their candidacies and several others reportedly readying to do so.

That said, Salt Lake City has not had a one-term mayor since 1980, when the city changed to the mayor-council form of government.

In addition to Biskupski, who had signaled earlier she would run, declared candidates for the 2019 race include former state Sen. Jim Dabakis; Latino businessman David Ibarra; former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold; independent media editor Richard Goldberger; and city resident and veteran Aaron Johnson.

A poll released last week showed Dabakis, an outspoken Democrat, leading in the mayor’s race, with support of 26 percent of respondents compared to 12 percent who backed Biskupski.

That survey of city residents, conducted in Jan. 15-29 by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, also showed a majority of voters as yet undecided in the race.