Standing on the steps of Salt Lake City Hall on Thursday, nearly a year after he announced his own bid for mayor there, businessman David Ibarra threw his support behind former opponent Erin Mendenhall.
It was an “easy” decision, Ibarra said, touting the candidate’s background in environmental advocacy and air quality work and her six years of experience serving as a councilwoman for Salt Lake City’s District 5.
“We can not make a mistake, frankly, like I believe we made on the last election, and lose a couple of years as we try to figure out” how to lead on issues like homelessness, affordable housing and the inland port, Ibarra said at a news conference announcing his decision.
[Read David Ibarra’s guest commentary endorsing Erin Mendenhall]
That appeared to be a swing at Mendenhall’s opponent, state Sen. Luz Escamilla, and part of a broader narrative some have peddled about the lackluster leadership of former state legislators in City Hall — including current Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who did not seek a second term.
Mendenhall has framed her experience with city issues as a much-needed boon for residents and echoed that sentiment Thursday, noting that she would be ready to lead on the first day of her administration, if elected next month.
“We don’t have time for a learning curve here with the issues that you addressed, from on-street camping, people needing services, affordable housing, our crumbling infrastructure, the downtown rising that’s about to begin again here in Salt Lake City,” she said, standing next to Ibarra. “We’ve got to get more out of it. We’ve got to know how to run this city.”
Escamilla has, on the other hand, positioned herself as the candidate with the best experience and relationships to work with the state Legislature to address the city’s problems and has highlighted her experience in the Legislature, private sector, and with nonprofits.
Escamilla announced last week the endorsement of former mayoral candidate David Garbett, an environmental lawyer who pointed to her experience in administration and understanding of “how to move large institutions” as making her the best fit for City Hall. She has also picked up endorsements from a number of her colleagues in the Legislature and on Thursday announced her backing from the Salt Lake County Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
The other candidates who participated in the primary have yet to offer public support for either of the general election candidates.
Ibarra, a leadership coach and business owner of seven companies, generated 8.17% of the vote in August’s primary, coming in fifth among the eight candidates in the race. He was a fundraising behemoth, out-earning all of his opponents by a huge margin and ultimately bringing in a whopping $476,523 — much of it from out-of-state sources.
During the campaign, he advocated for streamlining processes for companies looking to develop in the city, cleaning up dirty streets and improving homeless resource services.
“Salt Lake City is a better place because David Ibarra ran for mayor here,” Mendenhall said. But with his campaign over, Ibarra said he believes Mendenhall not only has the best vision for the city but also the best ability to articulate it and for those reasons “passionately” wants to see her become the next mayor.
“It sounds simple,” he said, “but nothing happens unless you have a vision and can articulate it because it’s then you can assemble a specialized talent team to do and develop the how to get it done.”
Mendenhall’s campaign also announced earlier this week the endorsement of Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers, who represents neighborhoods west of I-15 and north of I-80 on the city's west side. He joins three of his council colleagues in supporting her: Councilwoman Amy Fowler, Council Chairman Charlie Luke and Councilman Chris Wharton.
In a news release, Rogers said Mendenhall had worked with him on many west side issues, including expanding affordable housing and bus routes, negotiating better circumstances with the Legislature over the inland port and protecting the Rose Park golf course.
“Erin is a true friend to Salt Lake City’s West Side,” he wrote in a statement. “She has been a partner and ally to me on the council, expanding access to opportunities for West Side residents and building a better deal for neighborhoods whose residents have too often been an afterthought in the city’s political calculus. Erin not only sees the potential of the West Side as a part of this city, but has long felt the responsibility to fight for it.”
In 2015, a majority of City Council members endorsed Mayor Ralph Becker’s bid for re-election — a decision Biskupski has said sparked “some hard feelings” when she won the seat instead.
Salt Lake City voters will have a chance to weigh in on Election Day, Nov. 5.