Mayoral March Madness | Buzz Blog

Mayoral March Madness 

Get ready to rumble—the primary is fast approaching.

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click to enlarge DEREK CARLISLE
  • Derek Carlisle

Salt Lake City’s mayoral race is getting more crowded by the day. In the past week alone, three hopefuls have joined the fray, bringing the total number of candidates to nine. Here at City Weekly, we’re already bracing for the onslaught of attack ads that’ll run ad nauseam as we get closer to the August primary. Assuming we survive the lunacy, we’ll be there to cover the race between the top two vote-getters, culminating in the November municipal election.

But first, the primary.

How to sort this packed field? Who’s a contender and who’s a pretender? The stakes are high. The city faces crucial decisions on homelessness, affordable housing, and what the hell to do with the inland port. With so many candidates, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed—but don’t fret, dear reader. We're here to help with some creative visualization and an insider’s guide to each contender’s strengths and weaknesses. Think Mayoral March Madness. Everyone who’s declared they’re running is included in the bracket, as are a few we hope will toss their hats into the ring before this summer’s primary. Seeds were randomly assigned based on an unscientific methodology—we picked names out of a bowl—but don’t pretend you don’t want to see Orrin Hatch go toe-to-toe with Jazz Bear.

Official candidates:

Jim Dabakis

Luz Escamilla

David Garbett

Richard Goldberger

Christian Harrison

David Ibarra

Aaron Johnson

Erin Mendenhall

Stan Penfold

Hopeful contenders:

Jazz Bear

Orrin Hatch

Russell Nelson


Stan Penfold

Description: Less than a week into his campaign, Stan the Man, as no one but us calls him, is already hitting the campaign trail hard. Last weekend, Penfold officially kicked off his candidacy and banged on doors in Marmalade, pitching prospective voters on a year-round “Free Fare for Clean Air,” an initiative where city residents could ride public transit free of charge. Fingers crossed that’ll include Bird and Lime scooters.

Strength: Affable, “oh, shucks” personality paired with a commanding knowledge of the city’s issues.

Weakness: Only owns like four sweater vests. (Kelan Lyons)

Erin Mendenhall

Description: Former city council chairwoman Erin Mendenhall has served on the council for six years. She comes from a nonprofit background, previously leading Breathe Utah. Mendenhall currently serves on the state Air Quality Board in addition to her council duties and has advocated for passage of ordinances for mother-in-law apartments, an $87-million road bond and wage increases for council members.

Strength: Experience leading the city council.

Weakness: If she raised wages for council members, what’s to stop her from raising wages for teachers, law enforcement … the mayor? (Ray Howze)

Richard Goldberger

Description: The creator of a now-defunct newspaper, Goldberger brands himself as a “Common-Sense-Crat,” per his GoFundMe page. “My objectives are to ignite those people who really don't give an F about city politics so that real positive change can occur,” the fundraiser reads. Apparently no F’s are given—no one has donated yet.

Strength: A blinding passion for his campaign and nothing to lose, due to low levels of name recognition.

Weakness: It would be expensive to change all the signage at city hall to ALL CAPS, to match his social media page. (KL)

Orrin Hatch

Description: Ol’ Orrin has to be bored by now, right? The public service lifer has been out of the Senate for more than two months, so it’s safe to assume he’s itching to restrict the rights of his fellow man, or more likely, woman. Power may be the only stimulant Hatch will ever try, but it’s a hell of a drug.

Strength: No soul or sense of shame.

Weakness: Potential danger if Hatch’s reanimated corpse turns evil, à la Pet Sematary. (KL)

Jazz Bear

Description: Listen, he’s no Gritty, but this basketball beast is a serviceable mascot who deserves a shot at the city’s driver’s seat. Think about it—SLC would get the best terms possible in the inland port negotiation if its principal representative were a 500-pound bear. And let’s see state lawmakers tinker with our booze laws when our top elected official is willing to literally jump through fire to make sure we’re having a good time.

Strength: Raw physical power and agility.

Weakness: Suspect level of fluency in human languages. (KL)

David Ibarra

Description: Local industrialist David Ibarra received praise for his business acumen when he announced his campaign way back in November. Ibarra has started four companies and has said he wants to use those skills to help Salt Lake City grow.

Strength: Alliances. Former Mayor Rocky Anderson and District Attorney Sim Gill spoke at Ibarra’s campaign launch in November.

Weakness: Could his patented performance-management software backfire in assessing his own performance? (RH)

President Russell M. Nelson

Description: Lo, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prophet has a rare chance to reclaim Salt Lake City for his flock. All he has to do is join the heathens in seeking this earthly pleasure—the mayor’s office—and Brigham Young’s stomping grounds are finally his. “This is the place,” Nelson, and now is the time to win it back.

Strength: God is on his side.

Weakness: LDS flock baptized after death don’t have voting rights … yet. (KL)

Jim Dabakis

Description: Since leaving office, former-Sen. Dabakis has performed in a local play, landed a role in a KUTV podcast and continued to chirp via Twitter at local and national politicians for their conservative ways. Combine that with campaigning and updating his horde of Facebook followers, and it’s no wonder he hasn’t had time to mount any new displays of showmanship to appeal to his progressive legion. Expect him to be one of the heavyweights this election.

Strength: An almost Trumpian-level of understanding how to engage with voters on social media.

Weakness: What’s the line at which Dabakis will stop deeming himself Patient Zero to prove a point, like he did with booze and weed? Will he voluntarily go homeless? Do harder drugs? Move to a houseboat on the inland port? (KL)

Aaron Johnson

Description: Veteran Aaron Johnson says his voice has illegally been muted by government organizations on Twitter, so he’s sued Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Tribune describes it as “a rambling, poke-in-the-eye federal lawsuit written and filed without the help of an attorney” where “Johnson accuses Salt Lake City of violating his constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection.” FUCK YEAH! Despite the trolling, he’s only filed paperwork to run and doesn’t have an official website, official announcement or anything yet, so there's that.

Strength: He’s an online troll.

Weakness: He’s an online troll. (RH)

David Garbett

Description: David Garbett is a former attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition. In his campaign announcement, he stressed the need for clean air along the Wasatch Front and solutions to affordable housing.

Strength: Good bones. He’s billed himself as a clean-air and renewable-energy champion.

Weakness: Shaky foundation. He came in last in this winter’s poll conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics. (RH)

Christian Harrison

Description: Harrison is openly gay and a practicing Mormon. Wait, what? Yes, they exist. In his campaign launch, Harrison said he wants to create open doors between the council and the mayor’s office.

Strength: Familiarity with the ins-and-outs of downtown.

Weakness: Despite serving on the Downtown Community Council for 13 years, can voters pick him from a police lineup? (RH)

Luz Escamilla

Description: Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, has served in the Legislature since 2009 and most recently was the Senate Minority Whip during this winter’s general session. Escamilla has fought for clean air in Salt Lake (most recently directing the Department of Environmental Quality to monitor environmental impacts from the inland port via her bill) and legal and civil rights for minority groups in Utah.

Strength: A decade of experience in the Legislature representing the city’s westside and *ahem* its Northwest Quadrant.

Weakness: How will she adjust to missing a “democrat” label after her name? (RH)

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