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Emotions fill City Hall as West Valley swears in its first female mayor

After traveling a long road, Karen Lang embraces her new job with excitement, vowing to make 2022 a “great year.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Karen Lang is sworn in as the first female mayor of West Valley City on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

West Valley City • Karen Lang journeyed a long road en route to becoming West Valley City’s first female mayor.

She served a combined 20 years on the planning commission and City Council and twice unsuccessfully pursued the city’s top post.

She never gave up, though, and on her third try, she reached her goal, achieving something no other woman had in West Valley City.

Lang acknowledged and celebrated that fact as she took her oath Tuesday at City Hall as head of Utah’s second most-populous municipality.

“I’m very honored and privileged that you have enough faith in me to elect me to be mayor,” she said. “I want to thank everyone that’s here today. And all those who have supported me on this path.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Karen Lang makes a few remarks after being sworn in as the first female mayor of West Valley City on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

A business owner, Lang accepted her new role and responsibilities with much excitement and emotion.

“Tears are a sign of commitment,” she said, “not a weakness.”

Lang’s involvement in municipal politics started in 1997, when former council member Janice Fisher nominated her for the city’s planning commission.

Fisher’s presence Tuesday at the table designated for Lang’s family was, in part, the reason for the new mayor’s tears.

“When I see her, I cry every time,” she said, referring to her beloved mentor. “I really appreciate her 20 years of support”

With the previous mayor, Ron Bigelow, bypassing another term, Lang prevailed over Steve Buhler, another longtime West Valley City Council member, by 17 percentage points.

With Lang’s elevation, her District 3 seat is now open and will be filled by appointment.

Lang aims to continue the work she started on the council — but at a higher and wider scale. She looks forward to leading the strategic planning for the city.

Though West Valley City boasts more than 140,000 residents, Lang hopes it retains a “small-town feel” — while still accommodating positive commercial developments, including downtown upgrades and additions of hotels and medical buildings.

The city’s new chief executive expressed her excitement about the new year.

“We’re going to make this a great year,” she said, “for the city and for the council.”

That council includes a new member. Real estate broker Scott Harmon was sworn in to represent District 2, a seat left vacant by Buhler when the latter chased the mayoral post.

“I’m not a politician. I don’t know what to say,” he said in starting his remarks. “I love living here. I love the community that we have, and I’m excited to be part of it in a different way.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Scott Harmon makes his debut as he is sworn in as a new member of the West Valley City Council at a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., a community health program manager, returns as District 4′s council member.

“It’s an exciting place to be living. It’s an exciting place to be raising my two daughters,” he said after expressing his gratitude for the dynamics on the council.

“Decisions include us,” said Fitisemanu, who is of Samoan and Hawaiian heritage and sported flower garlands around his neck. “When we talk about taxes, we also pay the same taxes, the same fees.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jake Fitisemanu Jr. make a few remarks after being sworn in for another term of the West Valley City Council at a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

Lars Nordfelt also started a fresh term in his at-large seat.

“I hope that I will be worthy of the trust that you put in me,” the math teacher said. “I hope that all of us will continue to do what we can to make a difference for our city.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lars Nordsfelt makes a few remarks after being sworn in for another term of the West Valley City Council at a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

Other new mayors also took their oaths Tuesday in Salt Lake County, including former council member Brett Hales in Murray, former emergency program manager Natalie Hall in Bluffdale and environmental advocate Marcus Stevenson in Midvale.

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

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