The incoming Salt Lake City Council is historic — in multiple ways.
For the first time, most of the members — four of the seven — are racial and ethnic minorities.
And for the first time, a majority — again four — are openly LGBTQ.
“It is different to have a government that makes decisions to value diversity and to have a government that is diverse itself,” said council member Darin Mano. “I’m excited that we are now both.”
Mano, who won a full term in this week’s election, is Japanese American and an openly gay man.
“I’m excited,” he said, “that we have a majority from both of these groups that I represent.”
Also claiming victory Tuesday were Alejandro Puy, who is Latino and gay, and Victoria Petro-Eschler, who is Latina. And winning reelection were Amy Fowler and Chris Wharton, who are both LGTBQ.
Council member Ana Valdemoros was the first minority to win a City Council race in Utah’s capital, a feat she accomplished two years ago. Other Latinos or Hispanics, including Lee Martinez and Dennis Faris, have served on the council in appointed roles.
“When I won, I thought now I have the opportunity to encourage other minorities to stay engaged and to jump in a race,” said Valdemoros, an immigrant from Argentina who represents the downtown area.
She credited other Hispanic politicians who have prevailed in Utah elections. “They did it,” she said. “They opened my door and now, hopefully, I opened another door.”
Valdemoros called the election of three other people of color “a wish come true.”
The only member of the incoming council who is not either a minority or LGBTQ is Dan Dugan, a retired engineer and Navy officer, who represents east-side neighborhoods.
“It is historic and exciting,” said Fowler, the council chair. “I believe this new council is really a more accurate representation of Salt Lake City.”
Fowler, who won a second term in the district that includes Sugar House, said, “Representation matters. People need to see people who look like them and have similar values representing them. And I think this is really something that can be such a good thing for the west side in particular.”
West-side Districts 1 and 2 are the city’s most diverse areas, and they elected Latinos for the first time: Petro-Eschler in District 1, centered around Rose Park, and Puy in District 2, which includes Glendale and Poplar Grove.
Puy is an immigrant from Argentina who moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University. He later left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and came out as gay.
“It took years for me to accept my sexuality,” he said. “It inspired me to help other people who went through what I did. It made me empathize.”
Puy, who is a Democratic political consultant, said the only time his background became an issue in his race, which included four other candidates, is when challengers pointed out that he wasn’t born in the district and didn’t attend schools there like they did.
In a district that is majority Latino, he thought his first name, Alejandro, helped him get votes.
“Our community is very diverse, and our communities are struggling,” he said. “They need to have a bigger voice at the table.”
Petro-Eschler has ancestors from Panama, Cuba and Italy. She identifies as Latina, though she adds that it doesn’t mean she loves her Italian grandparents any less.
“I loathe when diversity is used as a quota,” she said, but she sees the new diversity on the incoming council as a positive for the city.
“What it means to me is we have voices and perspectives that haven’t had places of prominence that are going to be able to express themselves,” she said. “Nobody knows better where the pitfalls in the system are than people who have been marginalized.”
The 2020 census found that 21% of Salt Lake City is Latino, 5% is Asian, and 5% are people of two or more races. The city is 63% white, 3% Black, 2% Pacific Islander, and 1% Native American.
While a bit outdated, a 2015 Gallup poll found Salt Lake City to be 4.7% LGBTQ, the seventh highest for a U.S. metro area.
Mano, who represents the Ballpark neighborhood, said Salt Lake City has long been a magnet for LGBTQ individuals who have found less acceptance in places that are rural or more conservative.
“Salt Lake City has always been a safe haven,” he said, “and I think it is great that our leadership now reflects that value.”
Reaching these majority-minority marks is “long overdue,” said Wharton, who represents Capitol Hill, Marmalade and the Avenues. “I am really excited and honored to be a part of such a diverse council.
“As an openly gay man and as someone who always wanted to be in public service but grew up afraid that maybe wouldn’t be possible, this means the world to me,” Wharton said. “I’m really proud of us, and I’m really proud of the city.”
Fowler said these distinctions are “truly exciting,” though she also found it heartening that in the recent campaigns, the candidates’ identity took a back seat to their views on major issues such as housing and public safety.