It’s déjà vu all over again in the race to represent Salt Lake City Council District 6, which encompasses the East Bench, Wasatch Hollow and Foothill/Sunnyside neighborhoods.
Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke, who is running for a third term, will face off against former Councilman J.T. Martin, after beating him for the seat in 2011. And as in that race, Luke is again fielding criticisms from an opponent about his work as a lobbyist — this time from political newcomer Dan Dugan.
The 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.
Martin, 61, was elected to one term on the council in 2007 and said he decided to run for re-election not as “a grudge match” against Luke but because he feels he has the right track record and experience to lead the city forward — as well as some unfinished business on the body.
At the top of his to-do list? Mending broken fences with state leaders.
“We have had a horrible relationship with the state of Utah, leaders at the Legislature,” said Martin, who works in the energy industry. “It’s not helpful and it’s very damaging. When I was in office, it was pretty bad and we had a council that worked pretty well together and a lot was gained with the state.”
He also said he would work to improve failing streets and focus on sustainability initiatives and improving air quality, if elected.
Luke, 46, points to his successes prioritizing the “nuts and bolts” of city government as part of the reason he deserves another four years working for city residents.
“We’ve added more money to infrastructure, to roads and streets" and to fund additional police officers, he said. “We’re still woefully behind, but we’ve made more progress in the past eight years than I think the city has seen for decades. I’m very proud of that.”
But he, too, said he has work to finish with the council. With another term, he said he would keep pushing for an east-side police precinct amid population increases — an issue he has worked on for years that has had a few starts and stops — and improved east-to-west transit connectivity.
Dugan, who served as a Navy pilot for 20 years and currently works in the manufacturing industry, said one of the biggest policy issues that pulled him into the race was the inland port, a massive development project planned for the city’s northwest side. The city faces a loss of tax money and zoning authority in the area after the state took over the land through legislation last year.
“The port will cost us a lot of money every year, close to $60 million a year in lost revenue,” Dugan said. “And we didn’t really negotiate much back. We negotiated 10% back. Where’s the other 90%? I think it’s going to cause more air pollution, more traffic problems, a host of problems that the city is going to be burdened with, and we should have fought harder for that and I think we should continue fighting for that.”
The council hopeful said he also wants to push for solar energy and solutions to congestion on Foothill during peak traffic hours.
And as much as Dugan, 57, believes his broad professional experience would be a boon to the council, he questions Luke’s work history as a lobbyist for the Utah Association of Community Services, which provides resources for people with intellectual disabilities.
“I only have one boss, and that’s the citizens of the city," Dugan said. "And he’s got two bosses. He’s a lobbyist and he’s looking maybe to not piss off or enrage the Legislature, who he would be wanting to lobby for. That’s the big issue.”
Luke, however, calls those claims “ridiculous.”
“If I wanted to put my career ahead of Salt Lake City, I wouldn’t have touched the inland port,” he said, citing his work during negotiations to improve the project’s impacts on city residents. “I wouldn’t have touched these other legislative issues that impact the city. I’ve heard that criticism before. It’s not true.”
It was Martin who had originally raised conflict-of-interest claims against Luke in 2011 — concerns he doesn’t plan to revive in this rematch.
“Seven years is a long time,” he said, noting that after some reflection he’s realized that “what Charlie does for a living, I don’t care. Just as long as there’s no conflicts of interest and there’s an open dialogue or there’s transparency in what he does as a lobbyist. This time it’s not [about] personal issues; it’s just what’s best for the city.”
District 6 residents will vote in the August primary and the top two candidates will face off in November’s general election.