Watching the new airport rise as a symbol of Salt Lake City’s vibrant future, I realize the one built during my time as mayor must come down. I’m proud of the old structure. I made its expansion a top priority during my tenure. But Salt Lake City International was built for 10 million passengers a year and now serves more than 25 million annually. Air travel has changed dramatically. So must our airport.
The job of Salt Lake City mayor has also changed, as has the race to get there. This year, for the first time ever, we have two women on the ballot. As I evaluate their leadership qualities and experience, I think back on the positive changes each of my successors brought to our capital city.
Palmer DePaulis was a leader who really listened to residents. Deedee Corradini was a builder and economic developer. Rocky Anderson championed social justice. Ralph Becker improved planning and the environment. Jackie Biskupski extends equality and access to all.
Each of these mayors brought unique brush strokes to the painting that is Salt Lake City. It is a canvas rich in color, depth, and promise — a display for all of us to see and to find inspiration.
So, which of these two candidates will become our next artist? What does the future demand of city leadership now? And who is most up for the task?
Each promises more affordable housing and to repair broken roads. Each honors diversity and a city that welcomes all. Both have pledged to fight crime, create jobs and to provide essentials like clean water and sewer. There is even a mostly ceremonial role for involvement in public education — though a mayor’s bandwidth is limited here, with funding and curriculum decisions falling to federal, state, and local school board authorities.
I endorse Salt Lake City Council Member Erin Mendenhall for mayor. She is the candidate with the strongest experience to lead the city, bringing energy, creativity and a tireless work ethic to the job. Erin is a dynamic public speaker and engaged listener. As a leader, she will aim high to reach her own goals, but she will compromise and collaborate with others when necessary to get the big things done.
My association with Erin spans several years. I worked with her when I directed Utah Clean Air Partnership and witnessed her dedication in tackling our dismal air quality. She understands that science and medical data will drive solutions. She will build solid partnerships with elected leaders and other advocates. Erin ably led the non-profit Breathe Utah, gaining valuable executive experience. She is currently chair of the Utah Air Quality Commission, surrounded by a statewide network of clean air expertise.
We also need a bridge builder. Erin has a unique opportunity with her council experience to reunite the mayor’s office and City Council to greater health and function. Of course we need separation of executive and legislative powers, but the working ties between the two bodies are frayed and require repair. We need to restore the mayor’s power to run the city and provide daily leadership, and the council’s power to represent neighborhoods and to fund major initiatives. Erin can start that from Day One.
This is a vital election, and mail-in ballots drop on Oct. 15. Our next mayor faces exploding growth and environmental challenges with the Northwest Quadrant and inland port. Land and water speculators work every day to gain the right to develop and spoil our city’s canyon watersheds — source of 60 percent of our drinking water. There is heavy intrastate competition among cities to woo businesses that will support working people and grow tax bases. And even with increased and compassionate services for our homeless population, statewide pressure to do more with fewer resources falls directly (fairly or not) on the Salt Lake City mayor.
With all of that to contend with you might reasonably ask, who would want the job? For the right person, leading our incredible city is a great privilege. Erin Mendenhall is the next right person. I trust her to do this job. She has earned my vote, and I hope yours, too.
Ted Wilson was Salt Lake City mayor from 1976 through 1985. He was director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah for 18 years. Retired and a resident of Salt Lake City, he voluntarily serves on several boards and loves a regular spin in the Wasatch Canyons on his electric bicycle.