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Midvale • When Marcus Stevenson says he has been a community organizer for 10 years, that stretch of time represents a big chunk of his life.
After all, Midvale’s new mayor is only 27 years old.
Before winning his own campaign and taking the oath earlier this month to lead this suburban city of 36,000 residents, Stevenson worked for other candidates and lobbied for environmental causes. So while he may be green as a mayor, that is a color with which he is entirely at home.
Reflecting on how he became drawn to pushing for stronger environmental policies and more sustainable cities, Stevenson says he discovered that respect for nature has always been a part of his life.
Growing up in Layton, he saw his childhood weekends filled with camping trips. On the way, Stevenson would listen to rock classics with his father, memories that resonate in his mind to this day.
“I was thinking: Why do I care about the environment so much?” he said. “And I think a lot of it comes back to just kind of the basics of growing up and always being on a mountain.”
Granted, during those coming-of-age years, while his desire to preserve the landscape was being shaped, pop quizzes about bands and famous songs were as important as school assignments. But the outings provided bonding activities with his dad.
Now, with a family of his own, Stevenson simulates the tradition with his three stepsons, Gavin, Orion and Logan — and community and nature have been priorities.
Stevenson turned his passion into a profession, becoming political director of O2 Utah, a nonprofit watchdog that aims to hold decision-makers to account on a range of environmental fronts — from air quality to public lands to renewable energy.
From those roots sprang the new mayor’s goal to transplant his statewide environmental advocacy efforts into local solutions.
Stevenson might be young, but he’s hardly your average millennial, a fact he acknowledges.
He owns a house with Nikki and now ranks among the youngest mayors in Utah. He hopes that his awareness of issues facing young families will help him understand better what’s important to his constituents, including how to navigate a bonkers housing market.
“My wife and I purchased this home just a couple of years ago and the friends that I have around my age, most of them do not own homes, because they can’t afford it,” he said. “If we were trying to buy today, we couldn’t do it.”
Living those experiences, though, has contributed to what others see as Stevenson’s levelheaded personality.
“Sometimes we tease him as the dad here at the office,” said David Garbett, executive director of O2 Utah, “even though he’s younger.”
His ability to listen, his political smarts and his demeanor impressed Garbett when the latter ran for Salt Lake City mayor in 2019. Garbett asked Stevenson first to be his campaign manager and, later, to help him set up O2 Utah.
Garbett believes Stevenson — who unseated incumbent Mayor Robert Hale — is now ready to be a civic leader, one who will work to improve the environment in Midvale.
Becoming a “pandemic parent” in 2020 and home-schooling three boys while keeping a full-time job also inspired Stevenson’s mayoral pursuit.
He realized there were parallel realities existing in the same neighborhood: Some parents held down more than one job and had to deal with their kids’ contact with gangs. Other parents, like him, could work from home, watch their children and help with their lessons.
“When the idea came up about running, those were kind of the things at the forefront of my mind,” Stevenson said, “trying to make sure that we have somebody in City Hall who has personal experiences in some of those or have been around them.”
There are limits to what cities can do on these issues, but, as mayor, Stevenson wants to help by coordinating with various county and state agencies.
Given his eco-resume, it’s natural that Stevenson is eager to make Midvale more sustainable by boosting bikeability and walkability.
He advocates for more bike lanes and hopes to bring the Utah Transit Authority’s Hive Pass to residents. This program allows unlimited access to TRAX, buses and the S-Line streetcar for $42 a month. It includes a free year of GREENbike membership.
Switching to renewable energy is also on his to-do list. “There’s a lot that needs to happen at the Legislature to get there, but a city can be there and advocating.”
Some of Stevenson’s goals for Midvale
• Implement the Hive Pass.
• Push a switch to renewable energy.
• Diversify housing options and urge mixed-use zoning.
• Continue investing in old downtown by fixing crumbling infrastructure, bringing in new businesses, and supporting existing ones.
• Encourage responsible growth by not giving as many incentives to developers and seeking walkable projects.
• Engage in community policing with more social services focused on rehabilitation over heavy-handed punishment.
Pieces of family history populate the Stevenson home, including a Norman Rockwell print of “The Problem We All Live With,” which depicts a Black girl with a glittery white dress being escorted by U.S. marshals to school as she passes a wall with racist graffiti.
There’s also a vinyl collection, reminiscent of his road trips with his dad.
Stevenson first met Nikki when she yelled at him in 2016. At that time, she was running for the Utah House and Stevenson was working on Ben McAdams’ campaign for Salt Lake County mayor.
Several candidates had joined forces visiting various neighborhoods in a campaign bus and Stevenson had made a mistake on Nikki’s route. She was not pleased and still rolls her eyes when she tells the story.
They now have been together for five years and married in June 2021.
“It’s been a hectic year with the pandemic, wedding, buying a house, campaign,” Stevenson said. “And apparently we’re not slowing down”.
Nikki has a full agenda, too. She works as a culinary arts teacher at a residential treatment center. She also is on the Midvale Community Council and serves in the major incident review board of the Unified Police Department.
“It’s nice to have somebody who has mutual interests and passions and goes out and cares,” she said of her husband, “and sometimes to our own demise will care about other people in the community more so than what gets done around here.”
Stevenson will be especially busy as he transitions to his new elected office. Though the mayoral post is technically part time, he plans to go full throttle in fulfilling his duties.
“Having this opportunity is something I’m incredibly thankful for,” he said. “And I don’t want to have any regrets at the end of the term that I didn’t do enough.”
Community on wheels
Somedays Stevenson can be seen at the Copperview Skate Park, where he skateboards “very casually.” The sport has been in his family since he was a kid and now his boys also practice with him.
At Copperview, he has felt part of the community.
That is a feeling he fears many residents don’t share. Though they pay the city’s utilities and taxes, residents often travel to neighboring Sandy for events and entertainment options. That is something Stevenson would like to change.
Even before being sworn in as mayor, Stevenson started coordinating local events with the Chill Foundation, an organization dedicated to building resiliency through skateboarding and snowboarding.
The goal is to establish relationships and make Midvale’s public spaces part of residents’ lives. It’s not about becoming a good skateboarder, but creating a good community.
“Simple things like that can help build some of that community,” he said. “At the end of my four years as mayor, hopefully people in the city feel like they know their city more and have more of a community that they feel a part of.”
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.