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Poll Positions 

Two new faces are expected on the Salt Lake City Council after the city’s first ranked-choice election

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click to enlarge Salt Lake City recently completed its first ranked-choice election. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Salt Lake City recently completed its first ranked-choice election.

Three incumbents secured reelection to the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday, according to unofficial results, while a fourth council member appointed in May saw his tenure cut short and an open seat looks to be decided by fewer than 200 votes.

In District 1—which includes Rose Park, Westpointe, Jordan Meadows and parts of Fairpark—Victoria Petro-Eschler currently leads with 51.7% of the vote after two instant-runoff voting rounds. Her victory will not be finalized until the election canvass on Nov. 16, but with roughly 13,000 ballots left to be counted county-wide, Petro-Eschler’s 124-vote margin appears unlikely to be reversed.

“I’m incredibly excited and ready to get to work doing the things my neighbors and I talked about at their doors,” Petro-Eschler told City Weekly. “I’m also eager to join what appears to be a council full of amazing people who bring strengths from their diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

click to enlarge Victoria Petro-Eschler leads in the race for Salt Lake City Council District 1. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Victoria Petro-Eschler leads in the race for Salt Lake City Council District 1.

Petro-Eschler’s opponent, Blake Perez, did not respond to a request for comment, but on Thursday posted a concession to his campaign Facebook page.

“A few hours ago, I called my opponent to congratulate her on their victory,” Perez wrote. “Although the results are not what we wanted, I’m incredibly proud of the campaign we’ve ran.”

District 1 has been without representation on the City Council since the resignation of former councilman James Rogers in October. The council is scheduled to appoint a replacement next week, who will serve until the next city council term begins in January. While it is anticipated that the council will appoint the winner of this year’s election—Petro-Eschler—they are under no requirement to do so.

Also on the city’s west side, the election for District 2—Glendale, Poplar Grove and Fairpark—saw the defeat of Councilman Dennis Faris, who was appointed in May to fill the vacancy left by former Councilman Andrew Johnston. When he leaves office in January, Faris will have served on the council for only 235 days, among the shortest city council tenures in recent memory. In 1997, two council members—Lee Martinez and Mary Mark—were appointed to fill vacancies in April of that year before losing their respective reelection bids in November.

click to enlarge Dennis Faris was appointed to the Salt Lake City Council in May. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Dennis Faris was appointed to the Salt Lake City Council in May.

Faris finished third behind challengers Billy Palmer and Alejandro Puy, who earned 43.6% and 56.4% of the vote, respectively, after four rounds of instant-runoff voting. Palmer on Friday stressed that every vote needs to be counted before a full picture of the race is drawn, but acknowledged his deficit in the results.

“We ran an honest campaign for the right reasons,” Palmer said. “I wanted to fight for my neighborhood and we’re happy about that.”

Faris told City Weekly that he was satisfied with the ranked-choice voting format—which 23 Utah cities employed this year as part of a state pilot—and proud of his team’s work.

“It was a tough battle,” said Faris, a former chairman of the Poplar Grove Community Council. “I did everything I could and I’m looking forward to continuing to work to improve the west side.”

Faris said he had not yet made any decisions regarding his political future. He was also critical of what he called a “ludicrous” amount of money spent in the city council contest.

“[Puy] bought and paid for the seat,” Faris said. “As a professional canvasser, campaigner, his company handled everything.”

But Puy pushed back against those and other comments—sources familiar with the District 2 race confirmed that campaign finance complaints have been formally raised against Puy—saying that his team strictly followed fundraising rules and that his resume as a campaign worker is widely known.

“It’s not a secret,” Puy said. “If they didn’t do their homework about who I am, then it’s on them.”

click to enlarge Alejandro Puy leads in the race for Salt Lake City Council District 2. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Alejandro Puy leads in the race for Salt Lake City Council District 2.

Puy noted that his opponents received support from Political Action Committees and in-kind contributors (Puy did as well). And while he perceived himself as the underdog for much of the race—saying he lacked the key endorsements secured by his competitors—he made up for the disadvantages by focusing on direct communication with residents.

“I put every single penny I had on mail, on knocking doors, on outreach to voters,” Puy said. “Now that I have won the election, they’re trying to make it an issue about working in politics.”

He said he looks forward to beginning the work of representing his neighbors on the City Council.

“I’m excited to bring to the table a part of Salt Lake City that feels neglected and forgotten,” Puy said. “I know this city cares about communities of color and minorities and I am looking forward to being a voice on their issues and the west side as a whole.”

In the three remaining council races, incumbent candidates appeared to easily secure reelection based on the unofficial results. Election results for District 3—The Avenues, Capitol Hill, Marmalade—showed Councilman Chris Wharton with roughly 62% on the first round of voting while current council Chairwoman Amy Fowler was holding her District 7 seat—Sugar House—with 65% of the vote. Councilman Darin Mano, who was appointed last year to fill the vacancy in District 5—Liberty Wells, East Liberty, Ballpark—won roughly 50% of the vote against 4 challengers, with runoff ballots pushing him into a majority on round 2.

In a prepared statement, Mayor Erin Mendenhall noted that with the new ranked-choice voting method, voter participation was at comparable levels to the previous municipal election in 2017.

"I'm encouraged that the city's residents were engaged this election cycle," she said, "and hope that the format enabled them to feel like they had a greater investment in the outcomes beyond just one vote for one individual."

bwood@cityweekly.net

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About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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