‘I know how to lead our city’: Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall announces her bid to run for mayor

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall listens to House Speaker Greg Hughes as he addresses the council on plans for northwest quadrant development during a meeting at the City and County building in Salt Lake City Tuesday February 6, 2018.

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall announced Sunday that she plans to run for mayor, becoming the ninth candidate in an increasingly crowded field.

Mendenhall enters the race with six years of council experience serving the city’s Ballpark, Central City, Central 9th, East Liberty Park, Liberty Wells and Wasatch Hollow communities. She has a background in the nonprofit sector, working previously with the clean-air advocacy group Breathe Utah as its policy director and interim executive director.

“I know how to lead our city to cleaner air and smarter growth and stronger neighborhoods and a really resilient and thriving economy,” Mendenhall told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I think I have hands-on experience to offer that the other candidates don’t all have, and I have a passion for this city that I hope is contagious.”

If elected, Mendenhall said her major focuses would be on expanding affordable housing and transportation options, improving air quality and building a strong economy.

During her time on the council, she has advocated for voter passage of an $87 million road bond to fix failing streets, urged passage of so-called mother-in-law apartments in the hopes of addressing the affordable housing crisis and pushed for the passage of a yearly annual cost-of-living increase for council members.

“I think one of the things I’m most proud of was that I put together the $21 million that the [redevelopment agency] put toward affordable housing two years ago,” Mendenhall said. “That was my initiative, and I’m proud of my peers for supporting such a bold move to address the housing crisis that we are in. That $21 million has helped to build more than a thousand affordable units in the city in the past couple of years.”

Mendenhall currently serves as the chairwoman of the state Air Quality Board and said that as mayor, she would work to expedite the city’s plan to become 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2030 instead of the original goal of 2032 and to increase transportation options across the city to get people out of their cars.

A consequential policy consideration left on the table for Salt Lake City’s new mayor is the development of the state-created inland port, a massive distribution hub planned for the city’s northwest side.

While Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski declined to participate in conversations with the state over the bill — which she viewed as an unconstitutional land grab and usurpation of the city’s taxing authority — the council negotiated several changes in a special session last summer.

“What the state was able to do with the inland port legislation from the 2018 session was an abomination to not only our city but every city in the state,” said Mendenhall, who served as City Council chairwoman during those deliberations. “And the council and I worked hard to change the degree of assault on our city and I think we did right by our residents and our businesses in the city.”

Among the changes the council obtained was a carve out of 10 percent of the tax increment from the port to be set aside for affordable housing and a clarification of the port authority’s land use appeal process as a last resort.

Biskupski filed suit against the state’s creation of the inland port earlier this month. And though the council had tried to block her from doing so without its permission, Mendenhall said she thinks the litigation will provide an avenue for the courts to sort out the constitutional issues at stake with the development.

“It isn’t right for the state to take our land-use authority and our taxing authority,” Mendenhall said.

While there’s a long list of candidates vying for the mayoral seat, Mendenhall is one of two with City Council experience. Her former colleague Stan Penfold served two full terms on the council before leaving office in early 2018.

Other contenders include former state Sen. Jim Dabakis; state Sen. Luz Escamilla; David Garbett, the former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition; former Downtown Community Council Chairman Christian Harrison; and Latino businessman David Ibarra. Richard Goldberger, a freelance journalist, and Aaron Johnson, a military veteran and novice politician, have formed personal campaign committees to run in the race.

The field changed drastically last week, after Biskupski announced unexpectedly that she would be withdrawing from the 2019 race due to a “serious and complex” family matter.

Mendenhall plans a formal campaign launch in the next few weeks. She still has two years left in her second term representing the city’s District 5 and would retain her seat if she lost the mayoral race.