Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson took the oath of office Tuesday during a packed ceremony at the Salt Lake County Government Center.
Wilson, who was appointed to the seat at a special election on Saturday, will serve through 2020 as the first Democratic woman elected to that seat and says her past experience working on the County Council will help her hit the ground running.
“The 10 years serving at large will be an incredible benefit to me,” she said after the ceremony. “I met yesterday with my senior team and I felt very comfortable making quick decisions as I was already aware of the council’s perspective on the various issues they presented me.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, vacated the county mayor seat Jan. 2 to serve in Congress, prompting a series of moves under state law that triggered a 30-day timeline for the Salt Lake County Democratic Party to choose a replacement.
Wilson, who ran for U.S. Senate last year but lost the bid to Republican Mitt Romney, in 2004 became the first woman elected to the County Council. She served for six years before successfully running again as an at-large member in 2014.
“I expect that Mayor Wilson’s former role as a County Council member will help facilitate some great collaboration between the council and the mayor,” said Republican Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton. “I think we’ll all be working hand in glove towards making the county the best that it can be, and I think she’ll be a great mayor.”
During her speech, Wilson took the opportunity to thank her family, campaign workers and friends for their support during her near-constant campaigning over the past few years, as well as to recognize county workers and past administrations for their work.
“I’m humbled to now move forward toward implementing my own vision for this county,” Wilson said during her remarks. “And this vision is formed not only through spreadsheets and data but through the conversations I’ve had with countless people on their doorsteps.”
For the rest of her first week as mayor, Wilson said she plans to be on Capitol Hill advocating for implementation of Medicaid expansion on Wednesday and in planning meetings on Thursday.
“Friday, [re]paint the orange wall in the new office,” she joked, referencing McAdams’ signature campaign color.
Wilson also said she plans to work on addressing the opioid crisis, air quality, domestic violence and affordable housing.
Richard Snelgrove, the council’s new chairman, said that while there are bound to be some disagreements between Wilson and the council’s Republican majority, the issues the new mayor intends to tackle are bipartisan.
“Quality-of-life issues at the local level” don’t have a party label, he said.
A number of local and county leaders attended the ceremony in the council chambers Tuesday, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Sheriff Rosie Rivera, Recorder Rashelle Hobbs and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
“This is a historic moment where two female leaders are running the largest governmental entities in the state besides the governor,” Biskupski told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “And that’s a unique opportunity for us to show how female leadership can evolve in a community.”
While women made gains in the 2018 election — earning a historic high in the number of seats they hold in the state Legislature — female representation is still lower in Utah than the national average on state and municipal levels. As of 2017, female mayors served just 12 of 65 cities across the Wasatch Front, and women held a total 27 percent of all council or mayoral seats in the region.
Filling the mayoral vacancy has left another hole for the Salt Lake County Democratic Party to fill. The party’s central committee will now go through the same process it did to appoint Wilson to fill her vacated at-large county seat. After the council sends formal notification of the vacancy Tuesday, the party will have 30 days to make a nomination.
Already, candidates are forming a line to fill that seat.
First to announce is former Salt Lake County Council District 5 candidate Pamela Berry, who confirmed to The Tribune on Tuesday that she will be seeking appointment to the at-large position. Berry, who was a single mother for 10 years and said she knows what it’s like to struggle putting food on the table, credited her experience hearing people’s stories during the campaign with prompting her to run for the open seat.
“I live where a lot of the decisions of our county are being made in terms of the structure and growth,” she said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday announcing her decision. “And these residents, and I feel them and I understand them that they feel like they’re not being listened to. That their concerns are not being addressed. And I want to be that voice. I want to help with the long term and the big picture of things that are coming out here in the west side.”
Wilson said Tuesday she would like to see someone with “diversity and vision” fill the seat.
“I love women stepping up and continuing to serve,” she added. “As the first woman elected on the Salt Lake County Council, it means a lot to me.”