Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson appeared headed to a win over Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, according to the unofficial election results released Tuesday night, while her fellow Democrats were lagging behind in their bid to take majority control of the County Council for the first time in a decade.
Wilson, facing her first general election for mayor, was ahead by 55% to 42% as of midnight. The mayor said she was “feeling good” about the tally as of Tuesday night and that voters were showing their support of her efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think I had entered into my role as county mayor with some experience behind me, and I think that prepared me to lead,” Wilson said. “I do think some of the decisions I made paid off, including the mask mandate. I was not thinking about Nov. 3 back in May when that decision was made, but I do think the public appreciated my leadership.”
In an email statement, Staggs' campaign indicated it was still watching as more votes are tallied.
“I’m incredibly proud of the race we ran and the phenomenal effort of my team, donors and supporters,” Staggs said in the statement. "As we await more ballots to be counted we are hopeful that a majority of residents will agree with our message of the need for substantial reform at the county; restraining taxes and spending, empowering communities and responsible growth.”
Early returns also showed Republican Dave Alvord, the former mayor of South Jordan, with a 8 percentage point lead over his Democratic contender Deborah Gatrell, educator and former Blackhawk pilot, for the District 2 seat left open by the retirement of Republican Michael Jensen.
In the other open seat, District 6, Republican Dea Theodore was up 4 points ahead of Democrat Terri Tapp Hrechkosy.
County Council member Shireen Ghorbani, a first-term Democrat, held a comfortable lead over Republican challenger Laurie Stringham with 53% to 47%.
Wins by any two of the Democrats would tip the council majority in their favor for the first time since 2010.
Wilson, a long-time council member, was facing her first mayoral test with voters after being appointed to the position last year by Democratic Party delegates to replace Ben McAdams, who was elected to Congress.
Democrats saw an opening this election year when Jensen decided not to seek reelection and Theodore ousted Council Chair Max Burdick in the June Republican Primary. The Democratic candidates ran strong campaigns after dominating fundraising, reporting five times the contributions of Republicans, some $256,000 to $49,000.
“I feel really comfortable with the council right now, [but] any new council is an unknown,” Wilson said of the close council race. “I’d clearly prefer to have some allies who understand we need to continue to prioritize the virus and managing the virus. We know 2021 is a year with a lot of uncertainty.”
In addition to party dynamics that hang in the balance, 2021 will see a record-setting number of women serving on the County Council. To date, the most women serving on the council at any given time was three. Now, four women will likely hold council seats, including Democrat Ann Granato, Ghorbani, Theodore or Hrechkosy, and Republican Aimee Winder Newton.
Wilson became the first woman elected to the County Council in 2004.
“It’s great to see women running and winning,” Wilson said. “The game is changing and I’m happy about that.”
While Democratic control of the council appeared uncertain Tuesday night, the party managed to flip or maintain control of other county offices.
Rashelle Hobbs appears set to secure another term as county recorder, holding 54% over 46% for Republican challenger Erin Preston according to the latest ballot count. Democrat Jennifer Fresques also held a 4 point lead over Republican Chris Stavros for county assessor. That office is currently held by Republican Kevin Jacobs, who did not seek reelection. Democrat Michael McDonald had less than a 1 point lead over Republican incumbent K. Wayne Cushing for county treasurer.