New Salt Lake District 4 Councilwoman, a self-described ‘30-something Hispanic,’ aims to represent the city’s increasingly diverse population

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Analia Valdemoros goes before the Salt Lake City Council as it interviews candidates at its work session meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, to fill a vacancy for District 4 left by former Councilman Derek Kitchen, who is now serving as a state senator. A total of 22 had applied, two dropped out and two weren't present to speak in council chambers where each candidate was given 5 minutes to speak and promote why they would be the best choice for the position.

After interviewing 18 candidates for the position in a public meeting, the Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint Analia Valdemoros — a self-described “30-something Hispanic immigrant” with experience in the public and private sector — to serve District 4.

Valdemoros, an Argentinian native, moved to the United States 10 years ago as an international student and gained her United States citizenship last August. She is the co-owner of Square Kitchen and the owner of Argentina’s Best Empanadas, which she said both received support from the public sector, and she served previously as a city planner with Salt Lake City.

“Because of this great city, I have been given so many opportunities to succeed — despite my accent, despite my skin color or my gender,” Valdemoros, 37, said during her interview with the council. “If [I am] appointed, the council will gain a better understanding and perspective of the city’s ethnically diverse population, and I know how important this is to the City Council.”

The council has lacked representation for Latinos and immigrants in the past, Valdemoros argued in her application, though these groups make up a sizable and growing percentage of the city’s population.

After hearing from each candidate for five minutes on topics of his or her choice, such as their pertinent professional experiences and the solutions they see to the challenges the city faces, council members voted for their top four candidates. Valdemoros was the only one to receive support from all six council members.

“I can’t believe this,” she said after repeating the oath of office and taking her seat at the dais. “Thank you.”

Valdemoros fills the seat left open by state Sen. Derek Kitchen and will serve the rest of his term, which ends in 2020, though she indicated interest in running for the next term.

This was the first time in at least two decades that the council has had to make an appointment to fill a vacancy, Council Chairman Charlie Luke said during the meeting. Afterward, he told The Salt Lake Tribune that he’s confident that the council’s choice will be able to hit the ground running.

“I think her experience with the city and her experience not only working on the nonprofit side of things but also running a small business, she understands what a lot of residents in the city are going through,” he said. “[Valdemoros] understands that … we do need to be collaborative with our residents who live here. And I believe that she’ll be able to really move quickly and learn.”

During their interviews, many of the candidates focused on affordable housing, clean air, public transit and homelessness as the top issues affecting the district, which is one of the most urban in the state.

Valdemoros listed those items as well, but cited also in her application slow economic and real estate development and stalled city-funded projects that she suggested should be audited.

“I was surprised because there was a lot of good people,” she said of her appointment. “I’ve met with all of them, the candidates, and we all pretty much want the same. We all feel like we can make a change, a difference in Salt Lake City. We want the same things.”

But what set her apart, she said, was likely her experience and extensive knowledge of the city.

“As a city planner, you never know that’s what you’re going to end up doing at the City Council when you would present so many ordinances and so many policy changes to the council,” she said. “I learned the process, so now I’m on this side.”