As multicolored Christmas lights sparkled on the trees behind her in the atrium of the Salt Lake County Government Center’s North Building on Friday, County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson announced her decision to run for the seat being vacated by Rep.-elect Ben McAdams.
Fresh off a loss on the campaign trail for U.S. Senate, it’s an odd time of year to campaign, she conceded. If that race was a marathon, this bid is a sprint. And while she spent the Senate race trying to convince millions of residents across the state to cast their vote for her, this campaign is about roughly 1,100 central committee members in the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.
This race is also about 2020.
“I’m not just running to win an election in late January or early February and to get the support of the central committee” to finish out McAdams' unexpired term, she told reporters Friday. “I’m committing to win this race in 2020. This seat will remain in Democratic hands.”
After McAdams resigns as county mayor, state law directs the County Council to notify Democratic Party leadership about the vacancy, triggering a 30-day timeline for the party’s central committee to vote on a replacement mayor. McAdams has said he intends to remain in the seat until the beginning of January.
“I look forward to calling Mayor McAdams Congressman McAdams soon and working with him, if I’m lucky enough to win this seat, in finding federal solutions for some of our local problems," Wilson said Friday. "And having been out on the campaign trail recently in a different capacity, I can tell you [that] going around this state listening to the needs of people will actually make me a better county mayor.”
While Wilson is the first to declare her candidacy for county mayor, others are rumored to be considering a run for the seat, including County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw.
“I’ve received a lot of encouragement from fellow elected officials and county residents,” Bradshaw told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “I’ll have an announcement next week to share my plans. I serve on the Council with Jenny Wilson, and consider her a good friend, but our democratic process is strengthened by providing multiple strong options.”
In a prepared statement sent to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday, McAdams didn’t indicate whether he’ll support any particular candidate and instead praised the county’s direction under his leadership.
“Already, several great candidates are expressing interest in running,” he wrote. "Whoever is chosen to lead Salt Lake County will step into a government that is well managed with positive momentum and can bring new ideas and a new perspective in service to our residents.”
What Wilson would do in the ‘driver’s seat’
During the half-hour news conference announcing her bid on Friday, Wilson looked back on her successes during her time on the County Council and promised to continue the work McAdams has started.
Wilson in 2004 became the first woman elected to the County Council. She left the council in 2011 after an initial six-year term and successfully ran again as an at-large member in 2014.
During her recent bid for Senate, which Wilson lost to Republican Mitt Romney, she focused on immigration policy and public lands, emphasizing her work on the county’s Jordan River Parkway.
On Friday, Wilson presented a long list of items she would work on, if elected. Those include addressing the opioid epidemic, preventing sexual and domestic violence, seeking solutions to rapid growth, establishing affordable housing and working with Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera to implement criminal justice reform.
And as county mayor, she would be in the “driver’s seat” on the rollout of a number of new programs, including medical marijuana, new homeless shelters and Medicaid expansion, she said.
Wilson also mentioned concerns over the inland port, a planned 20,000-acre distribution hub located in Salt Lake City’s westernmost reaches. As environmental advocates continue to question the impact the port could have on air quality and the Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem, Wilson promised she would work to ensure the project “has accountability and transparency and does not worsen our air.”
“We have to give as much attention to any negative affects of an inland port as we do to the economic development," she said.
As the central committee members begin to weigh a decision, Wilson said her history with the county and past engagement with these issues make her the right fit to carry out the last two years of McAdams’ term.
But she won’t be calling undecided members Friday evening, she joked. Instead, she planned to take one night off from near-constant campaigning to watch the University of Utah football team play the Washington Huskies.