In a packed ceremony last week, lifelong Tooele resident Debbie Winn took the oath of office to become the city’s first female mayor — a historic victory earned alongside at least five other women in cities across the state.
“It is a great thing to be the first woman,” Winn said in an interview Tuesday with The Salt Lake Tribune. “But I want to even be more recognized for my caring for people. This world is about people, and I think that we would be much better off if we remember people and remember to take care of each other.”
Previously, Winn served as the executive director of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce for seven years and as a city councilwoman since 2013. She ran her campaign for mayor on the promise that she was not a politician but a public servant, and said it’s the prospect of helping others that drew her into city government.
“The main reason that I wanted to run and I want to do for people is to make sure that the residents are served — that we listen to their concerns, that we involve them in our community,” she said.
In the coming years, Winn said she hopes to see Tooele’s “bedroom community,” where there are many residential areas and fewer commercial ones, evolve to include more retail options that would increase revenue for the city and business opportunities for residents.
She also wants to ensure the city takes care of its sometimes “forgotten residents.” Though she recently left her position at the Tooele Senior Center, she wants to see to it that elderly residents are taken care of.
“They have also become very important to me because I see the issues that they face every day,” she said. “We need to remember what they have done for our community, what they give to our community and what they can still give back to our community.”
Along the Wasatch Front, at least four others were recently inaugurated as the first female mayors in their cities: Michelle Kaufusi in Provo, Dawn Ramsey in South Jordan, Julie Fullmer in Vineyard and Michelle Tait in Harrisville.
Further south, Donia Jessop prevailed as both Hildale City’s first woman mayor and the first person elected to that position with no allegiance to the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Erin Jemison, the staff lead for the YWCA on Real Women Run programming — a Utah-based nonpartisan initiative that looks to increase the number of women involved in politics at all levels — said the increasing numbers of women serving in and leading Utah’s city halls may be a sign of more change to come.
“There tends to be a snowball effect,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune in December. “Especially at these local municipal levels of elected office, if women are seeing women that they know — which they’re much more likely to know those women in those municipal offices — if they see them winning elections and then, we hope, being successful in office and finding it to be a rewarding experience, then I think we could see it build on itself.”