Van Turner realizes he has a race on his hands. This is the first election in 12 years as District 2 city councilman where he’s had to make his own flier to mail out to voters.
“This is kind of a big deal here,” Turner says, admiring one of the fliers.
Turner has moved to sending out a mailer only since facing tough competition from LaMalfa, who took first place in the September primary. But for Turner, a flier is not the secret weapon. The secret weapon is not so secret—it’s the fact that the fourth-generation west-sider has got roots on the block going back decades. For that matter, he’s pretty much got his own block—or, at least, a nice stretch of California Avenue, where his burger joint, Hook & Ladder, sits next to the family flower shop his father and grandfather used to own back when it was the only grocery store for miles. That shop is also adjacent to the beauty salon Turner owns, which once stood as his childhood home.
Next to Hook & Ladder, Turner also can claim a corner of the neighborhood’s first community garden, which his business waters for free.
“Yeah, this is my little corner of the world right here,” Turner says. “Some of these politicians tell you they’re going to do all these things, and then they say, ‘Well, I’m going to be here regardless of whether I win or lose.’ I remember one candidate said that, and I think it was about two months later they moved away to Park City.”
“Business people focus on what their passion is,” Turner says. “Whether you’re Jon Huntsman, or the little guy with the bookstore around the corner.” In Turner’s case, that includes flowers, hair and some sumptuous burgers—the jalapeño burger with the upgraded deep-fried mushrooms instead of fries is truly a work of love. But after 12 years, Turner now has to convince voters he can keep the sizzle on the west side.
The west side’s struggle for infrastructure is one issue Turner says has been an ongoing battle. In the late ’90s, the water line along California Avenue broke regularly, he says, flooding homes and businesses, with three breaks happening in one day alone. Since his election, that line’s been replaced. He also touts the anti-graffiti program for preventing fences, Dumpsters, business fronts and church walls from being marred by graffiti.
Bringing a west-side police precinct to the district has helped reduce crime by allowing cars to patrol the neighborhood instead of responding to incidents after they’ve happened. Since 2008, crime in the district has dropped 15 percent.
“I was over on 700 South last night, and the only complaint I heard was there were too many police on the street and that occasionally they went too fast,” Turner says.
He’s also brought new lighting to Redwood Road and California and hails the North Temple viaduct in his district as the city’s largest current construction project.
But Turner has also faced setbacks, including the recent decision by the Utah Department of Corrections to place a 300-bed parole violators’ center in his district—the fourth such facility to be located in the district.
“I’ve been involved in these things way too much,” Turner says. He can count one success of thwarting the placement of a 500-bed-plus facility, but says otherwise, when the Legislature mandates the need for a facility, cities have the least say in the matter.
“I never heard Mayor Becker madder on any other issue than that,” Turner says. “But our hands were tied.”
Being a small-business owner, Turner believes, helps give one staying power in a community.
It’s hard to imagine how running three businesses leaves time for the council, but Turner shrugs off such concerns, saying that after the lunch rush, there’s always a lull for time to put out fires and talk to reporters. While talking with City Weekly, Turner is interrupted twice. He gives a status update about helping an acquaintance in drug counseling, and lets one resident know that he had called the city on a house that had been trashed and abandoned by the residents. Turner proudly notes the city’s new good-landlord program, which will require training and good practices to turn slumlords into responsible landlords.
Still, Turner knows he has a fight on his hands.
“We’ve had to ratchet this [campaign] up a bit,” Turner says. “But that’s fine, we like it. Gets me out from the apron.”
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