In anticipation of the Salt Lake City municipal primary elections being held on Tuesday, Sept. 13, City Weekly takes a look at the two hotly contested City Council races, the issues involved and the six candidates vying to represent Districts 2 and 6.
The biggest issue facing Salt Lake City’s District 6 may be one that isn’t really a District 6 issue at all. Can you say Walmart? You know, whether the big-box store will build an even bigger box on Parleys Way and Foothill or just rebuild on the same old boxy footprint.
“People like to say it’s the Walmart, but it’s not really in District 6; it’s in District 7,” says J.T. Martin, the incumbent who’s facing challengers Charlie Luke and Tracey Harty in the primary. While that may be so, Walmart is taking a bit out of Luke, who, as a member of the planning commission, voted to move forward with Walmat’s expansion plans.
“It’s definitely a polarizing issue in the district, but my point of frustration is that my opponents are using my vote as a pro-Walmart vote,” Luke says. In fact, he says, he wants to give the city more control over Walmart’s actions by approving plans with strict conditions.
Harty says she was surprised to find that people cared so much about the Walmart rezone, but that she favors smaller, mixed-use development and would nix the rezone. Harty, account supervisor for an advertising firm, came to city politics through the divisive Local Historic Designation (LHD) question for the Yalecrest neighborhood. Martin believes the neighborhood wants more flexibility than what Harty would favor, and that the city will work toward a citywide policy on neighborhood preservation.
Harty says she looks forward to a citywide solution, too, but thinks Martin equivocated when he got pushback on the LHD. Her issues now include the increasing traffic on Foothill Boulevard, confusion over bike lanes on 1500 East and changes on 1300 East.
Luke, whose background includes running many Democratic campaigns, thinks the “invisible” issue is public safety and worries that the east side no longer has a police precinct. He thinks the new public safety building could house the precinct or, alternatively, the Walmart site. Attention to the aging infrastructure and capital improvements is also important.
Martin is concerned, too, about the Foothill corridor and wants to pursue funding to ensure the update of the East Bench Master Plan. He’s also focused on making sure Miller Park gets its share of compensation from the Chevron oil spill.
Citywide issues captivate him: the Leonardo opening, the public safety building, North Temple, a convention hotel and the idea of a performing arts theater. “I’ve never thought long-term,” he says. But statistics on the growth of the city have convinced him that some projects may be important for the future.
Luke points to Martin’s “history of arguing or berating constituents that don’t agree with him,” and calls for more civility. Martin, however, says he’s learned a lot and has had “his moments.” “But no, I never berate,” he says. “I’ll never stop protecting the Great Middle. … And I’ve been very effective.” On Sept. 13, his public will weigh in on that.
For Van Turner, it’s déja vu all over again. Celebrating 12 years on the City Council, Turner also has the honor of facing an opponent he’s defeated twice before—activist Michael Clara. Plus, he’s been thrown into a primary by a third candidate—statistician and newcomer Kyle LaMalfa.
Bring ’em on, says Turner, who seems comfortable enough that he’s raised no money for his campaign, compared to LaMalfa’s $10,420. Clara has taken in small donations amounting to $2,760.
“Elections are all about timing, not money,” says Turner, who says he has taken donations in the past, but then returned them. He’s concerned about people expecting favors, and knows that budgets are tight.
Turner says his issues remain projects like decorative lighting, sidewalk and curb accessibility and other infrastructure problems. Clara, however, is still wondering why city leaders let the airport TRAX line fall in priority to the point it had to be largely funded with city dollars, and why the west side can’t obtain the HAWK crosswalk traffic lights that dot the east side.
Turner says he’s working on those, as well as increasing recreational opportunities, safety and managing growth on the west side. His district already has 3,000 more constituents than it should, so redistricting will be a major topic.
For LaMalfa, education—or making better friends with the school board—is his No. 1 issue. And redistricting should acknowledge that the west side has half the children in the city, but only two of seven board members. He wants better relations with the library system, too.
A postcard highlighting that LaMalfa is non-Mormon, progressive and LGBT-friendly was recently sent to voters. LaMalfa has denied any association with it, and simply says the candidates all have different styles.
Clara’s relations with the school board have shown a different style. He’s filed multiple civil rights complaints, many of them successful, and lost a school board race by one vote. He has stated his commitment to education and minority issues, has long been a Boy Scout leader in the area, and is involved on the leadership level with his church.
Clara also has worked against gang violence on the west side, and despite his election losses, has garnered support from state and community leaders. As chair of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, he says he has helped his party come to center on the immigration issue.
LaMalfa has interacted personally with constituents, he says, as a founder of the People’s Market, and has been knocking on doors and handing out calling cards to get known. Communication, he says, is a key issue. He wants to move the city back to more personal outreach rather than relying on e-newsletters and online contact. Many west-siders do not have Internet access, he notes.
Turner, as he has before, is moving his fire trucks from place to place, displaying his election signs—just for good measure. One thing for sure, the west side has plenty of campaign signs from its three candidates.
District 4 has no primary this year, with incumbent Luke Garrott and challenger Jack Gray running in the general election.