Sen. Luz Escamilla to run for Salt Lake City mayor

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senator Luz Escamilla says a few words about homelessness at the Poplar community Alliance meeting at St Patrick Parish Social Hall, Friday, August 25, 2017.

After Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s surprising announcement earlier this week that she would not run for re-election, Sen. Luz Escamilla announced Wednesday that she has decided to enter the 2019 race for city mayor.

As Salt Lake City grows and becomes more diverse, Escamilla says she would represent a number of overlooked communities, including the Latino population and the city’s west side. If elected, she would likely be the first ethnic minority mayor of Salt Lake City and would be only the third woman to hold the position.

“Since learning a few days ago of Mayor Biskupski’s decision to withdraw from the 2019 mayor’s race, I have fielded many questions about my future and whether I would consider a run for Mayor of Salt Lake City,” she wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon announcing her decision. “After an abbreviated process and enthusiastic expressions of support, I have decided today that I will be a candidate for Mayor in 2019. We will be announcing our campaign kickoff shortly. I look forward to an exciting race and I ask for your support going forward.”

Escamilla told The Salt Lake Tribune that she plans to lay out policy positions in more detail at an official campaign launch next week. But she highlighted her more than 11 sessions working in the state Legislature and her work as a community advocate for anti-poverty efforts, health care and diverse communities as setting her apart from the other candidates in the race.

Escamilla has long been a champion for women running for public office and said she thinks it’s important for her daughters to see representation at all levels of government, including the mayor’s office. Her campaign is also an opportunity to represent the interests of Salt Lake City’s west side, where residents often feel overlooked.

“I believe the idea of having that perspective from the west side matters,” she said, noting that the area deals with serious air quality issues and is facing substantial growth.

Escamilla, a Democrat, entered legislative service in 2009 and served in the 2019 session as the Senate Minority Whip. In the most recent legislative session, she sponsored a bill that will establish baseline environmental conditions in the inland port area in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area and monitor any changes as a result of the development project.

After Biskupski’s announcement Monday, Escamilla wrote on Facebook that she was taking “a serious look” at entering the race but would need more time and thought to come to a decision.

“We’ve had many conversations with the mayor and other candidates,” she said Wednesday of her decision. "And [Biskupski withdrawing] really does change everything. An incumbent, they obviously have some advantage and now this is an open seat and it really opens the opportunity, I think. To have new leadership coming into the mayor’s office is exciting.”

Her announcement Wednesday comes the same day as former Downtown Community Council Chairman Christian Harrison’s campaign launch. The only woman currently in the race, Escamilla will also face former state Sen. Jim Dabakis; Latino businessman David Ibarra; David Garbett, the former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition; and former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold. Richard Goldberger, a freelance journalist, and Aaron Johnson, a veteran and novice politician, have formed personal campaign committees.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted in mid-January found Escamilla carried the support of 6 percent of the respondents surveyed. Dabakis led the pack of presumed or actual campaign candidates with 26 percent.

Escamilla is in the middle of her four-year Senate term so she can retain her seat while running for mayor and would be able to remain in state office if she lost the city race. She previously challenged Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in a race for the 2nd Congressional District in 2014, winning the Democratic nomination but losing in the general election.