Until last week, the Salt Lake City mayoral race might as well have been a crapshoot. And with eight people to divide the vote, maybe it still is.
But it’s not really eight. Four of the wannabes don’t have enough of a base to make a whimper. John Renteria, embattled Centro Civico Mexicano director, hasn’t ever won an election and what with being under house arrest for a parole violation, probably won’t. Robert Muscheck, whom Overthrow.com—a Website run by the American Nazi party—euphemizes as a “white activist,” has his own problems—a permanent injunction for making waves around an elementary school, protesting their “liberal” educational materials, not to mention their lunch menu. Rainer Huck is an anti-Rocky Anderson candidate in a pro-Rocky city, and J.P. Hughes’ right-wing, below-the-belt proctologist jokes might play better with Toastmasters than vote-casters.
So that leaves four. It used to be two Democrats and two Republicans. But Keith Christensen, disparaging the labels, threw off the GOP and registered as “independent.” But he’s no Merrill Cook. This is who he is—fiercely independent. “It’s about time people knew who I am,” he says. “I’m just sick and tired of being mischaracterized.”
Christensen, a real estate lawyer-turned-businessman, has been a city councilman and is endorsed by Anderson, who asks if anyone really thinks he would support a die-hard Republican.
Christensen says he has the leadership and life experience that no other candidate does. Not even Dave Buhler, now the lone Republican running.
“Dave’s a bureaucrat,” Christensen sniffs. In fact, Buhler is a current councilman, has been a state senator and is an associate commissioner for the state Board of Regents, making him at least a knowledgeable bureaucrat.
“I’m not running as a Republican, but I’m not running away from it, either,” Christensen says.
Comfortable in their Democratic robes are Ralph Becker and Jenny Wilson. Becker is a community planner and the current House minority leader. He is much about process.
“I am really the only candidate looking at ideas for Salt Lake’s future in a very substantive way … gathering the best ideas and looking toward the future and setting a course after looking at a variety of options,” he says. And while he definitely has a blueprint, Becker is also known as being inclusive to a fault.
Wilson is a Salt Lake County Councilwoman and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson’s daughter. That helps her with name recognition among political hacks but also sets her up as a political diva, born to serve. (Note: Jenny Wilson is also City Weekly editor Holly Mullen’s stepdaughter.)
On the county council, she did try to forward an initiative to offer health benefits to same-sex partners and promises to do the same as mayor. Pushing the progressive label the acronym GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) veritably rolls off her tongue as a monosyllabic word.
Each of the four candidates has a Website—and a vision for the city. But frankly, no one feels on the cusp of victory. After all, in the last open mayoral election, 1999, Anderson won the 11-person primary runoff with a little more than 6,000 votes. Dave Jones, another Democratic consensus seeker, lost to the ultimate loser, Stuart Reid, by a hair. In the end, it was only about 37 percent of the city’s registered voters who elected Anderson.
A lack of passionate issues this time also contributes to confusion.
“People will get names mixed up—Dave Becker, Jenny Christensen,” says Becker. “It’s a reflection that this is an off, off year.”
Polls haven’t been a lot of help, either. The first—a Dan Jones poll—put “I don’t know” in the lead with 44 percent. Wilson came in second with 20 percent support.
Buhler, who had 12 percent, says he did his own polling in early April and came out with 19.5 percent, virtually tied with Wilson.
Wilson downplays the polls, saying they’re just a snapshot in time, and Becker and Christensen have decided against doing any—for now. There are other ways to spend your money, after all.
There are T-shirts (Becker’s are eye-popping yellow), brochures (Buhler’s are full-color and comedic), Websites and blogs (Wilson’s waxes eloquent) and billboards (Christensen’s bigger than life).
You can do your own poll—an instant runoff—at DemoChoice.org. As of press time (with 68 votes), it showed a Becker-Christensen runoff, with Becker winning.
And no, Anderson is not going to run, especially as a write-in candidate. “Absolutely not,” is his answer. Which really means you won’t have that hot-button reason to march to the polls on Sept. 11.
But then, you may just want to shoot some craps. cw