Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold announced his bid for mayor Thursday in front of Publik Coffee in the city’s 9th and 9th neighborhood, with his bright yellow signs standing in stark contrast to a dark and rainy October sky.
The location was no accident, looking to serve as a reminder of Penfold’s work on the council to change 900 South to Harvey Milk Boulevard in commemoration of the gay-rights activist and community leader and his support for local entities.
“I know how to plant trees and grow community gardens,” Penfold said in his remarks. “I know how to help small businesses like this one right here that we are in front of today. I know how to partner, and I know how to help people come together and do impossible things like rename six miles of a street in Salt Lake City.”
There’s still more than a month before the midterm elections, and 2019 likely isn’t top of mind for most voters. Still, Penfold said it isn’t too early to throw his name into the race to defeat Mayor Jackie Biskupski in her re-election bid.
Penfold exited the council in January as its chairman after two terms serving District 3, which includes the Avenues and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. At the time of his departure, he was the longest-serving member.
His civic and community involvement began in the 1980s, when he helped organize opposition to a proposed highway interchange. He has served as the executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation since 1999.
During his time on the City Council, Penfold supported improved air quality, sustainability initiatives, the council’s citywide transit master plan and affordable housing plan and financing for the $120 million Eccles Theater, which opened in October 2016.
Penfold said he wants to run for mayor because he loves the people of Salt Lake City and its neighborhoods. If elected, he said he would continue to work on a number of those same issues but plans to kick off a listening campaign to hear what else residents want to see addressed. He also said he would represent a change in leadership.
“What we really need in Salt Lake City is leadership that listens and leadership that really cares,” he said. "My campaign for mayor will look different because, frankly, I am different. I know how to listen, I want to listen. I actually receive great joy from listening and sharing and creating things together, so that is why I’m kicking off this campaign by listening.”
Penfold had endorsed then-Mayor Ralph Becker over Biskupski, and when he departed in January, halfway through her first term, he said the past two years with the new administration had been “frustrating.”
As he left office, he told The Salt Lake Tribune that he sees the mayor as often confrontational and quick in equal measure to take credit or pass along blame. He also said her administration lacks transparency.
But, at his campaign event Tuesday, he looked to strike a different tone and avoided directly criticizing or naming the mayor.
“Things will fall out during the campaign, I’m sure,” he said after the event. “I really want to focus on what opportunities we have and how we can really all work together to make the best city we can possibly make. And I think we’re there. I think they really want to see us moving forward.”
In a prepared statement sent to The Tribune on Thursday, Biskupski did not address Penfold’s announcement. Instead, she mentioned what she has accomplished during her term.
“For the last two and a half years I have focused on the critical issues Salt Lake City residents care about most," she said. "Every major initiative I have put forward, including an affordable housing plan, clean energy plan, transit master plan, infrastructure plan, and fiscally responsible budgets have been adopted unanimously by the council. I will continue to work toward these goals to bring real and lasting change to the capital city.”
A UtahPolicy.com poll of 203 likely voters released in early September found that 56 percent of Salt Lake City residents don’t think Biskupski should receive a second term, and 29 percent of those said it was “definitely time for a new face.”
While that poll did not float a candidate to oppose Biskupski, one paid for by supporters of state Sen. Jim Dabakis and conducted by Lighthouse Research earlier this year did — and while it confirmed the mayor’s vulnerability, it also showed Penfold with little name recognition.
That poll showed Dabakis with 26 percent support in a five-way race with Biskupski and other possible challengers. The mayor was at 21 percent, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson (who is currently running against Mitt Romney for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s seat) was at 19 percent, state Sen. Luz Escamilla was at 7 percent. Penfold received 4 percent support in that poll.
Penfold said he believes a number of “qualified people” will jump into the mayor’s race and expressed some concern about how that will split votes. But he said he’s more worried about “ensuring that we reflect what residents really want and making sure that we resonate with people. I’m pretty committed to that.”
David Ibarra, a prominent business consultant, confirmed his plans run to The Tribune on Thursday. While he hasn’t officially announced, Ibarra said his campaign has filed papers with the city to begin fundraising. Like Penfold, he said a lack of faith with the current administration — particularly its inability to “think big” — prompted him to enter the race.
“We’ve lost our way,” he said. "We’re not proactive in the things that need to be done with the city and to a point that I’ve felt it necessary that we have a change.”
Dabakis said he’s still considering a run but is doing some “soul-searching” before he makes a decision. David Garbett, executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, also said he hasn’t decided whether to throw his name into the race but is "leaning towards it.”