Alejandro Puy: We elected the most diverse City Council in history. Now what?

Last November, when thousands of voters in West Salt Lake cast their ballots, I became the very first Latino elected to represent the most diverse community in Salt Lake City. (District 2 is a majority Latino district, with a very diverse mix of cultures and nationalities.)

If you’re surprised by that you wouldn’t be the first, and you certainly aren’t alone. The truth is that critical barriers to entry still exist for minorities looking to run for office. It’s not until we understand what barriers exist that we can knock them down, paving the way for a new generation of diverse representation in Salt Lake City and across our state. The incredible time commitment, the expectation of a traditional education in a decidedly nontraditional world, economic requirements, and trust and political connections can leave everyday Utahns behind in representation.

But politics — becoming an elected official and serving your community — shouldn’t be open only to the white, educated, and wealthy. We always talk about the lack of diversity in elected and volunteer positions; how valuable voices from different backgrounds are in our government. We desperately need diverse voices, but now this City Council that I serve upon, in tandem with Salt Lake County and the state of Utah, must do everything we can to break down the walls that we had to fight through to make it here, so that no one else ever has to fight.

I know the walls firsthand. As an immigrant, recently naturalized, I had to balance my personal obligations, putting many of them on pause, with my desire to serve my community. I was lucky to have the flexibility to take a leave of absence from work from the day I filed until the end of our campaign. I’m single, and I don’t have kids. I have worked in politics, made connections, and knew what it takes to run in Salt Lake City for years before I ever decided to file. I was lucky, and the system shouldn’t only reward the lucky ones.

But how do we open up the opportunity for others: the single mother on the West Side, working two jobs, who wants to serve her community to create a better future for her kids — how do we create a city where she can volunteer for a city board, or run for office without it creating an undue burden upon her life?

Providing ample opportunities for childcare that’s affordable and accessible, expanding the public’s access to technology like a working computer and webcam that is imperative to joining boards, running and showing up to virtual town halls and constituent meetings, and making an advanced civic education easily attainable for all are good starts. Still, they require all of our city councils, our County Council, and our State Legislature to come together to make representing all of us truly possible for all of us.

I’ll keep doing the work to make running for office more accessible to everyone. And if you’re eager to serve your neighbors through volunteer, or elected office, I hope you’ll join me in breaking down barriers and creating a stronger, more representative Salt Lake City where all voices are heard and appreciated.

Alejandro "Ale" Puy | Salt Lake City Council

Alejandro “Ale” Puy represents District 2 on the Salt Lake City Council.