Taylorsville • Third time’s the charm.
Fresh off her failed bid for Salt Lake County mayor — and her race just before that for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District — Shireen Ghorbani won the approval Saturday from the Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s Central Committee to fill the open at-large seat on the County Council.
“To all of you who supported me from the very beginning, when I came out of nowhere because I was mad as hell and completely unwilling to back down from the future that I want for each one of us, I’m so grateful,” an emotional Ghorbani told committee members as she held her 4-year-old son after the vote. “I’m so grateful, and I am so ready to get to work for you.”
Ghorbani, a communication professional at the University of Utah, faced a crowded field, with nine other candidates vying to fill the vacancy left last month by newly inaugurated Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
She brought in 55 percent of the vote during the first round of balloting on Saturday at Eisenhower Junior High School and ultimately won 72 percent in the second round against Josie Valdez, a longtime activist and former vice chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party. Ghorbani will take the oath of office Tuesday and serve through the end of Wilson’s term, which is up for election in 2020.
“My first order of business is reading the agenda for Tuesday,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune after the vote, laughing. “Really getting my feet on the ground and understanding some of the concerns we have immediately on the horizon and meeting with more of the [county] employees.”
Ghorbani, the half-Iranian daughter of an immigrant, ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress to unseat Rep. Chris Stewart last year and was wildly popular in the Salt Lake County portions of the district, winning 67 percent of the vote. She lost to Wilson by 77 votes in the special election last month for county mayor.
“It’s great to have our Democratic council at Salt Lake County back to a full team," Wilson said in a written statement. "We have a lot of work to do and I look forward to advancing our mutual interests.”
Ghorbani, a Salt Lake City Democrat, and her volunteers knocked on more than 30,000 doors in Salt Lake County alone during Ghorbani’s congressional campaign. She said the stories she heard on their porches and in their living rooms prompted her to run for county mayor and again for County Council.
“It is the unrelenting belief that we can do better, and we can do that work right here in Salt Lake County,” she said in an energized speech to central committee members before balloting Saturday. “We cannot wait for the state or the federal government to clean up our air, to invest in the safety of our communities, to reinforce our infrastructure or to help us manage the growth on our doorsteps or shelter our homeless.”
Throughout the special election, Ghorbani portrayed herself as a “fighter” who wouldn’t back down from the challenges facing the county. The day after the special mayoral election, for example, she noted that she rallied in the Utah Capitol Rotunda, demanding the Legislature approve a full Medicaid expansion — as voters had approved.
“She is a powerhouse, and she’s going to really make some positive changes for our state and our county, and I’m so excited,” said Jessica Foard, a central committee member who voted for Ghorbani in both rounds of balloting. “She’s in it for the long haul. She’s been fighting this entire time just to serve, and most people give up. So it just shows how great she is.”
To address Utah’s affordable housing crunch, Ghorbani has advocated using tax increment policies and high-density solutions that she says municipalities across the country must share. She has also expressed support for a countywide anti-idling ordinance and said she wants to see the county eventually run on 100 percent renewable energy.
“I want a county with better mass transit options, with air that we can breathe, with homes that we can afford and shelters for our most vulnerable,” she said Saturday. “I’m asking for your vote so we can build a future where a kid born on the west side has the same opportunities and quality of life as a kid born on the east bench. And we are a long way from that right now.”
Ghorbani has said she wants to create a team at the county that could look at energy management to better quantify and manage the government’s energy use. The county has one employee doing that now.
And while some might assume she would be weary after campaigning nearly nonstop for months, Ghorbani said she’s just getting started.
“I’m incredibly energized by the experience of being out and talking to voters,” she said. “In these last two cases, it’s been the central committee members from diverse backgrounds, from all over the county. And hearing the different kind of concerns and perspectives that they have just makes me really eager to get to work.”