As he stood on the steps of Salt Lake City Hall before a small crowd in the brisk November air Tuesday, David Ibarra couldn’t help but reflect on how unlikely it was that he should even be there.
The son of a Mexican father of indigenous Zapotec heritage and a white teenage mother, Ibarra spent most of the first 15 years of his life in poverty and foster care, living with families across Utah while facing prejudice in the state’s mostly white communities.
Seemingly against the odds, he grew up to become a successful entrepreneur and business owner. And, on Tuesday, he announced he’s looking to add a new chapter to his biography as Salt Lake City mayor.
“Salt Lake City is my home,” Ibarra told the crowd at the news conference declaring his candidacy. “And, in many ways, some can say it has been my parent. As my brother Mickey mentioned, we grew up in the Utah foster care system and some of my childhood was spent here exploring these city streets as if it was my own personal playground.”
Ibarra, 66, said he still explores the city streets at the end of every night as a way to clear his head — and cleaning up the streets, which he says have grown dirty in recent years, is one of his many campaign promises. The businessman also wants to make the process easier for companies looking to develop in the city; to lead on social, environmental and economic justice issues; and to partner with homeless services to ensure no one has to spend a night on the streets.
In the first six months, if elected in 2019, he also said he wants to go on a “talent hunt” to find and hire the best leaders who could help achieve his vision for Utah’s capital.
“The one thing I’ll never do?” he said after his remarks. “I will never stop talking and get up and leave because I’ve lost my temper. You don’t leave. You’ve got to finish the job. I’m not going to take the ball and leave the game. I will work with the council and I will work with partners to find a way.”
While he didn’t mention current Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski by name, the comments seemed to deride her handling of negotiations with state lawmakers over the inland port, a 20,000-acre distribution hub in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area. Biskupski not only declined to take part in those consequential policy debates but forbade her staff from getting involved as well.
Ibarra indicated that frustration with the current administration as a whole had prompted him to run. He characterized Biskupski as having a “my way or the highway” attitude and said that, in contrast, he would work to build successful partnerships with governmental agencies to earn the city a productive seat at the table.
At his campaign kickoff Tuesday, a number of community leaders — including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Josie Valdez, former vice chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party — came out to show their support. During their remarks, they praised his work ethic, business acumen and life experiences as valuable assets for the mayoral role.
“From the beginning, I was amazed at the capacity David has for setting major goals and then executing them to accomplish them,” Anderson said. “David Ibarra never just talks about what he would like to do — he gets it done every time.”
Gill said Ibarra, if elected, would likely be the first ethnic minority to become Salt Lake City mayor, which would serve him in meeting the needs of the city’s increasingly diverse community.
“I have a candidate here who, when he gets elected, will be the first minority mayor of this great city,” Gill said. “How exciting is that? From his life story and personal story, as you get to know him, you will get to know the person who goes through that experience and that experience shapes you.”
Ibarra said it’s important to him that everyone feels welcome in Salt Lake City and that his election would be an important demonstration of that sentiment to marginalized voices in the community.
“It gives a sign that everybody, anybody who comes here — if you work hard, play by the rules, never give up and always give back, you can achieve anything,” he said.
Ibarra is the second candidate to announce his run for mayor against Biskupski in 2019. Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold launched his bid in October. And at least two other candidates are considering entering the race: outspoken state Sen. Jim Dabakis and David Garbett, who left his role as executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition to contemplate his candidacy.