Sen. Jim Dabakis, an outspoken state lawmaker who made it a custom to host live Facebook broadcasts during lunchtime at the Capitol and earlier this year livestreamed himself sampling a medical marijuana edible, made the announcement about his next political move in a similar fashion on Tuesday.
“I’m in,” he said. “I will be running for mayor. I’m not running against anybody. I happen to know all the people who are in and I hope a bunch of other people will get in. This ought to be democracy at its best.”
Dabakis was very briefly a candidate for mayor in 2015, but got out of the race and endorsed Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who said she intends to run for re-election. He will also face Latino businessman David Ibarra and former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, who have already launched their bids for mayor.
David Garbett, who left his role as executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition to contemplate his candidacy, has opened a personal campaign committee to raise money for a possible bid but said he isn’t 100 percent in.
As Dabakis walked the grounds of Rose Park Elementary School in a cloudy inversion in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, he recounted for hundreds of followers his time on the Senate Education Committee and how those priorities would affect his vision for the future of Salt Lake City.
“I have done nothing but talk education, education, education in my time at the Legislature because I believe we are letting our children down and I believe we are not doing what we should be doing — particularly [for] at-risk kids,” he said. “The city doesn’t directly deal with schools, but the atmosphere that’s sent and the priorities. Mayors ought to be doing things for the next generation as well as this week and this month.”
Dabakis said a mayor needs to be a “great ambassador” for the city and coordinate “constantly” with the Legislature on issues like air quality, transportation and affordable housing. As mayor, he also said he would work to find “the best professionals humanly possible” to help run the city effectively as a business.
“Issues are really important,” he concluded, “but it’s the heart and soul of the candidate that you need to know. If you know where somebody is on a checklist of issues, that’s good. But if you know where somebody’s heart is, if you know where their integrity is, then whatever the decisions will be — and you might not always agree with them — you can depend that they’re going to do the right thing.”
His video had already been watched 9,300 times as of Tuesday afternoon.
Dabakis, the son of a drug-addicted mother and a working-class father, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 11 to play basketball and moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University before serving a Mormon mission.
After he was kicked out of BYU, he was broke when he moved to Salt Lake City. That’s where he launched a career as a talking head, volunteering on the state’s only talk-radio station, and plunged himself into advocacy, helping to co-found the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah.
During his six years in the Legislature, Dabakis, the former Utah Democratic Party chairman, was the only openly gay member of the state Legislature and became known for his bombastic style and flair for the dramatic.
He once downed two mimosas before a legislative hearing to illustrate that Utah’s drunken driving limit was too low.
And when the Legislature considered a controversial proposal to name a southern Utah highway after President Donald Trump, Dabakis vowed, mockingly, to amend HB481 to name the frontage road “Stormy Daniels rampway” in reference to the adult film star who allegedly had an affair with Trump.
As he looks to the future, a new survey conducted by Lighthouse Research and prepared for Dabakis found he was viewed most favorably among other candidates the poll floated, including Biskupski, Penfold, Ibarra and Ross Romero, a former state senator.
The largest share of respondents also said they would vote for Dabakis among those candidates if the election were held today, with 42 percent of voters undecided, 27 percent for Dabakis and 21 percent for Biskupski.