Who should be The Salt Lake Tribune’s 2023 Utahn of the Year?

The newspaper’s choice and the results of this survey will be published later this month.

(The New York Times; The Salt Lake Tribune) Clockwise from top left: Tim Ballard; the whale sculpture in the 9th and 9th neighborhood; Tara Lipsyncki; Lauri Markkanen; Erin Mendenhall; and Julius Murray.

It’s that time of year again.

Since 1997, The Salt Lake Tribune’s editors and editorial board members have been choosing a Utahn of the Year. The aim is to find the person, persons or entity who — for good or ill — best reflect the state and its biggest news stories of the year.

Last year the distinction went to University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham, who, Gordon Monson wrote, “created great moments, great memories, great blessings — for himself, for his team, for all of Utah.”

Readers also get a say in this decision. Last year, you picked Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of potential candidates for The Salt Lake Tribune’s 2023 Utahn of the Year. Don’t see your nominee? Write-ins are welcome.

You may vote here or below the list of nominees. Please submit your vote by 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. Reader poll results will be published at the same time as the editors’ choice.

Affordable housing • As studies find that most homeowners and nearly all renters in Utah are unable to afford what is currently available on the market, elected officials are setting ambitious goals to create more affordable housing units.

Russell Ballard • M. Russel Ballard, who served as acting president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died in November. The 95-year-old was well known, well respected and well loved by government, religious, business and community leaders.

Tim Ballard • Tim Ballard, founder of anti-child-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad, dominated headlines in recent months for his “Sound of Freedom” film, which Robert Gehrke wrote seemed “too good to be true,” his beliefs in psychics and reincarnation, his close — or not so close — ties with the LDS Church and for a series of lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault. His decadelong friendship with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes raised questions, too.

Tim Ballard accusers • Five women have come forward with lawsuits against OUR founder Tim Ballard for allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. They contend OUR leadership and board members knew about internal accusations of sexual assault against Ballard and did nothing to protect them or stop his alleged behavior.

Black Menaces • Armed with a tiny microphone and a series of simple questions, the Black Menaces have gone viral time and time again for their videos at Brigham Young University. This year, multiple police reports came to light that detail a confrontation between a Black Menaces member and a school staffer.

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding • For the second year in a row, Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder, Utah, was named one of the top eateries in the nation. Jen Castle and Blake Spalding’s is the only Utah restaurant ever selected as a national semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards — the dining industry’s top honor — in the category of Outstanding Restaurant. The two chefs often advocate for rural Utah, the environment, sustainability and human rights.

Kayden Denny • For the first time in the Salt Lake City School District’s history, a Native American student was named valedictorian. Instead of a speech, 18-year-old Kayden Denny performed a traditional hoop dance. “One of my things in life is to tell people that Native Americans are still here, and you can still learn about them,” the Diné, or Navajo, student said.

Flood control crews • While this year’s record-breaking snowpack provided some much-needed relief from drought, it also resulted in a stressful spring and summer for many Utahns who were put on flood watch. Flood control crews like Salt Lake City’s “Stream Team,” which consists of engineers, hydrologists, administrators, communications specialists, emergency management officials and more, quietly helped save homes and city and state property from disaster.

Kara Eaker • University of Utah gymnast Kara Eaker announced in October that she is retiring from the sport, alleging she was a victim of “verbal and emotional abuse” at the U. and asserting that an independent investigation into then-head coach Tom Farden earlier this year was incomplete. The 2020 Olympic alternate and two-time All-American on beam said her “physical, mental and emotional health rapidly declined” as a result of her treatment as a Red Rock. Farden and the U. have since “mutually agreed to part ways.”

Martin Galicia and Patricia Martinez • Like many who start a new life in a new country, Martin Galicia worked his way up and, along with his wife, Patricia Martinez, wondered what it would be like if the couple opened their own Mexican restaurant. His first job was dishwashing at a Park City steakhouse when he moved to Utah in the 1980s. For decades, they discussed, worked, opened a food truck and saved until a spot opened up at 1732 W. 5400 South in Taylorsville, where they debuted Taqueria Martini in January. “I’m proud that they could achieve their dream,” their daughter told The Tribune.

Ivory Innovations and Call to Action • Ivory Innovations and Call to Action announced plans in September to build upward of 850 rent-subsidized dwellings across the state. Their joint partnership, called Housing for Impact, will fund construction of apartments and town homes over the next three years in Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Draper, Magna, Lehi, Francis and Park City. Many of the housing projects will be adjacent to community resources for seniors, families and other groups in need.

Tara Lipsyncki • Despite bomb threats and Proud Boy protests, Salt Lake City drag queen Tara Lipsyncki is determined to continue her work advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. In the past year, she has supported other drag queens in southern Utah, hosted drag queen story times and published a book. She plans to open a bookstore/community space in Provo and is clear that her mission is to “go against the grain” and “stand up for the marginalized human,” she told The Tribune. Otherwise, “you’re not doing anything of value, in my mind, at least.”

Celeste Maloy • Celeste Maloy became Utah’s newest member of Congress in November after Chris Stewart retired. Early in the race, there were questions about whether the former staffer in Stewart’s office and first-time candidate was eligible to run as a Republican because she was an inactive voter when she filed to compete in the race. While she’s “been really careful not to make a lot of promises,” she says she’ll do everything she can to be “the best representative of the people in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.”

Lauri Markkanen • Lauri Markkanen, a 26-year-old, 7-foot forward has made quite the name (and nickname) for himself in Salt Lake City. Dubbed The Finnisher, he joined the Jazz in the aftermath of the Donovan Mitchell trade and led a no-name team to surprising success and earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player title. Jazz coach Will Hardy says that, this season, he’s becoming even more of an overall threat.

Erin Mendenhall • After a year of seemingly contentious campaigning, Erin Mendenhall won reelection, defeating former two-term Mayor Rocky Anderson. Mendenhall’s first term was marked with crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights protests, an earthquake and a windstorm, but she touts a record of working with state and local officials to address challenges like homelessness. This time around, she says, she looks forward to creating an entertainment district to support the Utah Jazz, building more tiny-home communities, turning Main Street into a promenade, attracting Major League Baseball to the city, and working with the state, county and other cities to do more for unhoused Utahns.

Julius T. Murray III • Julius T. Murray was named chair of the Ute Indian Tribe earlier this year. He’s one of the youngest members ever to hold the office and takes over leading the sovereign Indian nation of 3,000 members that’s the namesake for Utah. He stepped in as the tribe battles the state over energy development, land with cultural significance and the treatment of Indigenous students in schools — and he says the Utes won’t back down. “We were the original people of this land,” he told The Tribune. “A lot of people don’t recognize that. It’s time that they do.”

David Nielsen • David Nielsen, the IRS whistleblower who blew the lid off the amassing wealth in Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took his case against the faith’s financial practices to the U.S. Senate and CBS’ “Sixty Minutes” in 2023. Nielsen called Ensign Peak’s account “a clandestine hedge fund,” and the Securities and Exchange Commission fined the firm and the faith a total of $5 million for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings.

9th and 9th whale • In April 2022, a large, multicolored whale emerged in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood. In the year since it went up, it’s become a mascot for a record-breaking winter. With a cheeky social media presence and a cultlike following, the whale continues to attract an audience and — most recently — an ultramarathon runner who completed 800 laps around the sculpture to raise funds for the Utah Avalanche Center.

Scott Owen’s accusers • Former therapist Scott Owen built a reputation over his 20-year career in Utah County as a specialist who could help gay men who were Latter-day Saints. But this summer, three men gave The Tribune and ProPublica strikingly similar accounts of Owen allegedly touching them inappropriately. Since the Tribune-ProPublica investigation was published, Owens was charged with 10 felonies.

Pelicans • Thousands of American white pelicans fly into Gunnison Island each spring to nest and raise chicks. This year, however, there were almost none. While record-breaking snowpack raised the lake more than 5 feet, recent actions have effectively cut off the north arm, where Gunnison Island lies, from any new inflows. “Why bother to nest there if all your young are going to be eaten up?” said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.

Alissa Pili • In one game this year, Utah Utes junior forward Alissa Pili scored a career-high 33 points and added eight rebounds and eight assists. While she’s always been a physical force on the basketball court, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and 6-foot-2 powerhouse made a name for herself in Alaska playing football and wrestling. She also won four state titles in volleyball and shot put, and two in discus.

Sean Reyes • Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ previously low-key dealings are now getting viewed under a microscope after his friend Tim Ballard imploded. Records show that he’s traveled extensively since his 2020 reelection, with donors supporting more than 30 stints at high-end resorts across the country, in Mexico and in Europe — along with a Texas excursion to shoot feral hogs from a helicopter. He also seemed to have silver screen dreams, having pitched a scene he wrote to Ballard. An investigation into that relationship has called into question whether the state’s leading legal officer should be elected or appointed.

Mitt Romney • He’s spent decades in politics, but Mitt Romney announced this year that he’s ready to step aside for new leadership. Known for his strong convictions and dedication to his faith, the Republican Utah senator once again made headlines for criticisms of his own party that came to light in McKay Coppins’ biography, “Romney: A Reckoning.” While he’s keeping his post-congressional plans quiet, he’s said he hopes to focus on immigration, the ballooning national debt and climate change before he leaves office in 2025.

Terry Sanderson • When Terry Sanderson hit the Park City slopes in 2016, he was likely unaware of just how much attention he would eventually gain. Seven years after they collided, he took on actress and Goop mogul Gwyneth Paltrow in a closely watched — and highly mocked — trial. While he didn’t receive the initial $3.1 million in damages he sought, Paltrow did leave Sanderson with a shoulder tap and the “I wish you well” heard ‘round the world.

Tracy Smith • Tracy Smith, a longtime photojournalist at ABC4, was “one of the hardest workers in the industry,” his newsroom said after he was hit by a pickup truck while on assignment. He died of his injuries 11 days later. He’s remembered as having “an extremely positive influence in our newsroom, always lifting up those around him and giving out accolades to all his co-workers.”

Southern Utah Drag Stars • After being denied a permit to host a drag show at J.C. Snow Park in St. George this past April, the Southern Utah Drag Stars sued and accused city officials of violating the First and 14th Amendments as part of “a yearslong effort to target drag performances and LGBTQ pride events.” In June, a federal judge ordered those officials to allow the show to go on. “We’re from southern Utah, so we are resilient,” said CEO Mitski Avalōx after the June 30 performance.

TikTok • TikTok, a video-sharing social media platform, saw Utah drama both on its platform and in its legal department. A number of Utahns went viral on the app — including BYU students, a sustainable landscape designer and Utah’s Department of Transportation for their use of a leather-clad Shrek, among other things. State officials, however, allege the app is harming youths’ mental health and violating consumer protection laws.

Unsheltered population • Utah’s unsheltered population continued to swell in 2023, forcing the state’s political, business and community leaders to call for — and take — more action. Many of these Utahns, like Darren Ray, say they found themselves with nowhere to go because of circumstance. “I wish I could have, would have, should have done things differently,” Ray told The Tribune this summer. “I wish I would have saved more money. I wish that I wouldn’t have gotten cancer.”