On Jan. 7, McAdams officially takes over as senior adviser on intergovernmental affairs to incoming Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
The resume of a 33-year-old attorney turned political appointee sounds pretty unspectacular, until you factor in his being Mormon and a Democrat.
“I think I am a part of a new demographic,” McAdams says. “More and more young members of the [LDS] Church aren’t satisfied with the status quo, and are willing to see that being religious encompasses more than one or two issues. The environment, tolerance, loving one another—these are all religious values.”
As Becker’s adviser for intergovernmental affairs, McAdams will act as a go-between for the mayor and every other governmental body around, from other cities and counties around the state to the Legislature.
“I’ve known Ben for some time,” says mayor-elect Ralph Becker. “He is one of the shining stars of our political scene.”
As a devout member of the state’s dominant faith, McAdams expects his beliefs will help him build bridges with many camps in town—or the whole state, for that matter.
“Ralph is a consensus builder, and I’m happy to be part of building coalitions with many communities here, including in the LDS faith. Those are the people I worship with every week and, while most of them are very conservative, I’m very comfortable with them and look forward to using my background to build relationships with them,” McAdams says.
McAdams has a typical LDS upbringing, but with atypical results. A West Bountiful native, he served a church mission in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. There, he had a unique conversion experience. It was his own, to the political left. “The inequality I saw in Brazil made me come away from it with a need to dedicate myself to public service,” McAdams says. “It’s really where I became a Democrat.”
McAdams first got his taste for politics at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, which helped him land an internship at the White House press office during the Clinton administration. His work there would later lead to a job in 1999 as part of the advance team for the Clintons traveling abroad. McAdams coordinated with local media in a Kosovo refugee camp and helped arrange a meeting in Jerusalem between then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha.
McAdams, by this time, was a political junkie. Finishing his education at the University of Utah in 2000, McAdams ran an unusual, but successful, campaign for student body president.
“I made a coalition of groups not normally represented by student politics,” says McAdams, who allied “outsider” students groups like ethnic and married students’ organizations that carried him to office without plying the usual frat-boy voting block.
“One of our platforms was to get a child-care center put in the university,” McAdams says. “We found a lot of the budget was used for parties and events, and so we lobbied to use some funds to help set up a day-care center for students who had children. For a lot of student parents [at that time], it came down to choosing between school or family.” The daycare program was a success and even has been expanded since McAdams graduated.
McAdams helped work on several campaigns and later received his law degree from New York’s Columbia University in 2003. He spent the next four years working at a Wall Street law firm. McAdams is now back in Salt Lake City where he has been practicing as an attorney and teaching at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.
McAdams denies having further political ambitions, and is focusing simply on his upcoming tenure in the Becker administration.
“I worked in New York City for four years and walked away from a very high-paying position because I didn’t forget about my community. Working for Becker is an ideal position for me to do that.”