Former Downtown Community Council leader exits Salt Lake City mayor’s race, endorses former rival

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christian Harrison, launches his campaign for Salt Lake City Mayor outside Salt Lake City Hall, Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Former Downtown Community Council Chairman Christian Harrison announced Tuesday that he was exiting the race for Salt Lake City mayor and would be endorsing his former rival, David Garbett.

Harrison, 46, had announced his candidacy in March but told The Salt Lake Tribune he decided to drop out of the race ahead of Friday’s filing deadline because he felt the “window for victory had narrowed” considerably with the entrance of additional candidates to the race after he launched his campaign.

“I had two or three options,” he said. "Stick in the race and possibly be a spoiler for a candidate that had more resources but who shared my vision, or combine our efforts and succeed. So by joining David’s team, I not only avoid spoiling the race for someone who shares so much of my vision for the city, but I ensure my vision has a seat at the table going forward.”

During his campaign, Harrison focused on transportation mobility and affordable housing — major concerns he said were shared by Garbett, the former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition.

The pair had worked together often during Garbett’s time there and Harrison’s at the Downtown Community Council and found themselves aligned on their visions as mayoral contenders. They also agreed on the need to expedite Salt Lake City’s net 100% renewable energy goals from 2030 to 2023.

For those reasons, Harrison said that while he believes there are a number of good candidates in the race, he felt supporting Garbett was a “natural fit." He plans to offer Garbett not only his “full throated support" and endorsement but also help with debate prep and advice on policy going forward.

Garbett, who planned to file his official declaration of candidacy Tuesday afternoon at the Salt Lake City Recorder’s Office, praised Harrison’s vision for the city and thanked him for the endorsement.

“As we’ve been campaigning, running into each other, we talk about vision for the city and about some of the policies we’d like to implement and he definitely has some that are unique to him, but there are quite a few common policies,” Garbett told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “Christian also had a few unique policy prescriptions that really intrigued me and some of them I’ve already adopted and started talking to people about.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawyer and executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, David Garbett launches his campaign for Salt Lake City mayor on Tuesday Feb. 12, 2019.

Those include the possible creation of an on-demand city transportation system, similar to Uber or Lyft, in an effort to expand transit options and, on the planning front, a less arbitrary path for housing developments that happen in the city in order to address rapid price increases, Garbett said.

Harrison’s exit from the race leaves a field of eight announced candidates vying to replace Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who unexpectedly decided earlier this year to end her reelection campaign.

With such a large candidate field, Garbett said he believes Harrison’s exit from the race “will make a difference” for his campaign.

“I sincerely appreciate what Christian is doing,” he said. “I imagine it was very hard for him to set aside what he was doing and come endorse me. But I, like him, want to see the city succeed and I’m glad that he’s teaming up with me.”

As he moves from candidate to supporter, Harrison told The Tribune that he hopes the race will remain issue oriented.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity,” he said. “No one is an incumbent. No one has mayoral experience. And so I look forward to a race that is focused keenly on issues and the issues that Salt Lake City faces. And not simply giving lip service to the progressive talking points but getting down into the weeds and talking about the issues that will make a difference for the citizens of Salt Lake City going forward.”

The other candidates in the race are former state Sen. Jim Dabakis; state Sen. Luz Escamilla; businessman David Ibarra, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall and former City Councilman Stan Penfold; 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 filing period to run for mayor closes Friday.