The race to lead Salt Lake City’s District 4 pits the council’s newest member, Ana Valdemoros, against Michael Iverson, a longtime neighborhood council chairman, and Leo Rodgers, a 22-year-old grocery clerk.
It’s not the first time the three have faced off.
Valdemoros, a local business owner, was appointed to the council in January after beating a slate of 17 other candidates — including Iverson and Rodgers — with unanimous support from the council. She filled the seat left open by Derek Kitchen after his successful legislative bid last year and moves forward with his endorsement as she seeks the support of voters for a full term.
“I feel like a year is good to kind of catch-up on what’s going on and it’s a good way for me to see what’s working and what’s not working and try to tweak and give as much input as I can,” she said. “But I feel like you can’t do everything in 10 months, 12 months. I feel like there is a little bit more work to do that would require those four years at least.
Valdemoros, 37, is an Argentinian native who moved to Utah 10 years ago as an international student and gained her United States citizenship last August. She was previously a city planner with Salt Lake City and is now a restaurateur, working as the co-owner of Square Kitchen and the owner of Argentina’s Best Empanadas.
Iverson, 30, spent six years leading the Central City Neighborhood Council and four years as chair of the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission. He argues that experience would best serve District 4 residents and believes he and Valdemoros have several “ideological” differences that make him better suited to the post.
“My opponent as an incumbent could have made a decision to implement ranked-choice voting,” he said, referring to a new voting method the City Council didn’t champion for its 2019 election. “I haven’t seen enough leadership from the incumbent on the inland port, which is going to be an ecological disaster — particularly for communities of color on the west side.”
But Rodgers, a transplant to Salt Lake City from Colorado, argues he’s the candidate who would push for the most progressive ideas if elected.
“Denver, of course, recently legalized magic mushrooms and Boulder has taken to building safe injection sites within its city, and that’s the kind of stuff we need to look at,” he said. “Drug use, of course, it’s not uncommon in Salt Lake. Making that safer and giving people resources, harm reduction and safe injection sites and all that and legalizing stuff that we just don’t need to have illegal [would be a priority]. Full stop.”
The District 4 seat is one of three up for election this year, bringing the potential for some shake-ups on the seven-member City Council in the same year the city is guaranteed a new mayor following Jackie Biskupski’s unexpected announcement in March that she would not seek reelection.
The part-time council sets policy direction for a number of hot issues facing the more than 200,000 residents who live in the state’s capital city. And these races — in which all three incumbents are running for reelection — are particularly important amid booming population growth, an affordable housing crunch and massive changes planned for homeless services this fall.
That last matter is one that will particularly impact District 4. The downtown shelter run by The Road Home is expected to close this fall and the big shelter and one of the three much smaller centers intended to replace it are within the district.
If elected, Valdemoros said working to support the neighbors who will be affected by these changes would be one of her top priorities.
“Right now I am trying to get additional help for the homes around the HRCs [homeless resource centers] and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to pass that in this budget,” she said. “But helping the neighbors around the HRCs is something I would like to see happen either now or next year.”
Iverson, who works for Salt Lake County, said affordable housing would be his “No. 1” priority as a city councilman. He also said he would work to pass an anti-discrimination in public accommodations ordinance — something he unsuccessfully pushed for during his time with the Human Rights Commission.
Rodgers said one of his priorities in the district would be to revitalize Trolley Square mall and the Gateway mall.
While the candidates have their differences, all say they would bring perspectives to the council that have been historically underrepresented by city government.
For Valdemoros, that’s a firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing small businesses in the city and her experiences as both an immigrant and a Latina.
For Iverson, it’s an understanding of the challenges that come with growing up in poverty and living in affordable housing.
“We haven’t had that voice on the council of someone who is out front saying, ‘I live in federally-subsidized housing because I can’t afford this city because I’m working class,’” he said. “I think that’s a perspective that’s important to have.”
And for Rodgers, it would be the opportunity to bring a young voice to the City Council.
“There’s a lot of people who are moving into the city and into the state,” he said, “and they’re a younger, diverse crowd. The state is rapidly changing demographically, and I think I’m a better representation of that.”
District 4 residents will vote in the August primary, and the top two candidates will face off in November’s general election.