George Chapman: Time to evaluate candidates for Salt Lake City mayor

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) All eight of the candidates for Salt Lake City mayor gather for a debate at the Salt Lake City Library on Wed. June 26, 2019, which includes, from left, David Garbett, Abi Olufeko standing in for Rainer Huck, David Ibarra, Jim Dabakis, Richard Goldberger, Stan Penfold, Erin Mendenhall and Luz Escamilla. The debate was hosted by the ABU Education Fund and the University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society and moderated by Averie Vockel.

In the next two weeks, ballots should be mailed out to vote for the Salt Lake City mayoral candidates. There are a wide range of candidates and, based on my experience of politics in the city, these are my takes on the candidates.

Utah state Sen. Luz Escamilla is a long-time legislator with around 50 bills that she has helped pass into law. She is endorsed by Democrats, Republicans and business professionals. She has also, from the start, agreed with the mayor that the state’s inland port is wrong and deserves to be fought in court.

Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold impressed me with his knowledge of the city’s finances. It seemed at times that he knew more about RDA finances than most of the RDA staff. He also has a community activist background and has been chair of his Greater Avenues Community Council. His reputation for helping affordable housing started before anyone else was concerned about it and his efforts to organize efforts to keep people in their homes has garnered him respect.

Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is also a former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, is one of the best communicators I know of. But in the senate his reputation for refusing to go with the flow only allowed one of his bills to become law. He says he supports the inland port lawsuit, but he helped organize the agreement on the inland port. Because the city needs someone that can actually accomplish things, I think that he should consider focusing on helping the Democratic Party instead of running for mayor.

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall has six years of experience on the City Council, and, like Penfold, could hit the ground running the city. But some have questioned her efforts to increase taxes, including the parks bond from a few years ago, and several tax increases in the last year for Salt Lake City citizens. She has also encouraged efforts to extend the S-Line to 400 South, which would require hundreds of millions of local taxpayer money. Her behind-closed-doors decision to put a homeless shelter in the Sugar House created a big backlash. A more recent controversy was her efforts to lead the council to ignore the mayor’s efforts to fight the state’s inland port land and tax grab and reach agreement on the port.

Businessman David Ibarra has an incredible reputation with other businessmen and high-level elected leaders. He has been on many boards, has built several successful businesses and created a successful scholarship program. His potential solutions create more questions than answers. I have watched him answer separate questions on parking and transit and transportation with the same answer, electric autonomous vehicles will solve the problem. I am not sure that that is enough to solve the city’s problems.

Businessman and former Southern Utah Wilderness attorney David Garbett has been helping lead the Pioneer Park Coalition, which has been instrumental in pushing many of the homeless out of the downtown area and into the rest of the city. That reputation may not sit well with voters.

Rainer Huck and Richard Goldberger do not seem to be realistic candidates. Huck has tried to focus on the recent tax increases and police brutality, legitimate questions in an election, but his suggestion to put homeless in a camp in the northwest section of the city seems to be unrealistic. Goldberger’s message on homeless walking the streets also seem to be questionable.

My realistic candidates who have the best potential for the future success of Salt Lake City are Escamilla, Penfold and Mendenhall.

There will be debates with the candidates on July 15 at noon that will be broadcast on local news channels, and on July 16 at Westminster Jewitt Center, 1700 S. 1250 East, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., that will be live on Facebook. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. there will be a meet and greet with the candidates.

Please listen and consider their positions and then vote.

George Chapman

George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City and writes a blog at georgechapman.net

Return to Story