Charlie Luke has been cast by his opponent J.T. Martin as a lobbyist eying his seat on the council as a chance to steer city money to his lobbying clients—to get voted in so he can cash in. While Luke runs his own government-lobbying firm and has represented clients ranging from Intermountain Healthcare to the Utah Transit Authority in the past, before he was a lobbyist he was a political junkie always working for other people’s campaigns and waiting for the day he would run his own.
Among those in Salt Lake City’s council races, Luke is the most polished candidate. He’s got baby-kissing charm and the confidence of someone who’s been there and done that, even if he hasn’t held office himself.
“For about 20 years, I’ve run a number of different campaigns,” Luke says to a young couple hanging outside Einstein Bagels on 15th and 15th. “Going from the campaign manager side to the candidate side has been interesting,” he says, unable to resist breaking into a goofy grin.
But for a smart and politically savvy candidate, Luke’s made a platform on a very unsexy cause—potholes.
Not just potholes, of course, but other issues like water, sewer and basic infrastructure projects he says past administrations have neglected during tough budgets, favoring instead “shiny new toys,” as he calls proposed big city projects like a new convention hotel and performing-arts center.
“It’s hard to campaign on ‘Let’s fix a road that’s still drivable, let’s fix a water line that still brings water to your house, let’s fix a sewer line that is still pumping your … stuff away,’ ” Luke says as we begin our pothole patrol of District 6. “But it needs to be done.” As we roam the idyllic Norman Rockwellian, tree-lined streets of the east bench, Luke points out numerous stretches on Princeton, Herbert and other streets where potholes mar the road. One mini-crater even marks the road at the intersection of 1700 East and 1300 South where Martin’s former business, Emigration Market (now a Harmons), is located.
Cruising past the Yalecrest neighborhood, Luke points out the only road-fixing project currently under way in the district, a major repair at Yalecrest and Military—just outside of Martin’s home.
“I think that speaks for itself,” Luke says.
Luke makes the argument that infrastructure and city services can’t be pushed to the back burner during tough budgets, but need to stay up front. But he also believes the city hasn’t explored other revenue options for funding the upkeep of city parks by, say, seeking corporate sponsors to help fund projects in exchange for naming rights.
He also points to the Bonneville Golf Course as a prime example of how old systems leak city money the way the course’s aged water system leaks H20.
“We talk about how important it is to be a sustainable city … and yet we have one of the oldest and nicest golf courses in the city using a manual-crank, 80-year-old irrigation system,” Luke says.
Luke also hopes he can make municipal services become a priority again, arguing that small neighborhood businesses like the new Caputo’s Market & Deli location on 15th and 15th is a prime example of the city’s red tape nearly putting down a viable small business.
Troy Peterson, who opened the new branch of the popular Italian deli on the east side, says that negotiating the city’s permit process was nightmarish.
“We might have re-thought the location if we would have known what it takes,” Peterson says. Luke counts the near loss of the popular deli as cause for the city to consider creating a business-mentoring program to help fledgling businesses get up and running and start contributing to the local economy.
While Luke’s position on infrastructure might not grab headlines, his needling of Martin for his temper is resonating. The political bug bit Luke early, at age 13, when he knocked on doors campaigning for his junior high vice principal, who was running for the Legislature. But for others, engaging in politics might not be as easy—and it doesn’t get easier, Luke says, if residents hear about their city councilman berating citizens for speaking up at public meetings.
“If there were just one outburst, you could overlook it, but you have a pattern,” Luke says. “I know [Martin] is a passionate guy and he loves what he’s doing, but the district deserves new leadership that understands how to work with people.”
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