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Leslie Reynolds-Benns

Politically, Rose Park is traditionally a Democrat's stomping ground, chock-full of ethnic minorities and voters who often shun the GOP. Now a new Salt Lake City Council candidate has emerged, stating she wants to unseat the district's "white, Mormon Republican" incumbent councilman.

Leslie Reynolds-Benns, a white woman who is married to a black man, says she will file her candidacy for City Council this July — taking on two-term incumbent Carlton Christensen, who has held the District 1 seat for eight years.

"I don't see how a white, Mormon Republican is a good representative for a working-class district that's mostly made up of minorities," Reynolds-Benns said.

And Reynolds-Benns may have some help.

This November, four of seven Salt Lake City Council members are up for re-election. Two of those four are incumbents and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who belong to the Republican Party. And those two both come from districts that traditionally vote Democrat — District 1 (Rose Park) and District 3 (Avenues/Capitol Hill).

County Democrats are targeting both District 1 and 3 in their effort to get more Democrats elected at the local level, Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Megan Risbon said.

"Those are definitely two seats that we will be focusing on," she said.

Council races are officially non-partisan, but political affiliation often comes up during the campaign.

While Democrats may have their candidate in District 1, they are still searching in District 3, where incumbent Eric Jergensen had been preparing to face lesbian attorney Jane Marquart, who had said she would bring a different voice to the City Council.

Marquart, who chairs Equality Utah, has dropped out of the council race, citing family commitments. Marquart had been backed by Mayor Rocky Anderson but said she was unprepared for the time commitment required to be a City Council member. That time commitment would have taken her away from valuable family time, she said.

"I didn't have time to do everything I do in my life and go to that many council meetings," she said.

Marquart made the decision to withdraw last month and has since returned some $6,000 in campaign contributions she had raised.

Risbon said Democrats continue to look for a candidate in District 3.

"Mayor Anderson's also looking at a couple people in both (District 1 and 3) to run," she said.

Christensen said this week he will seek a third term in District 1. In the last election, he ran unopposed. He maintains religion and political affiliation should not be issues in the non-partisan council races.

"I feel like I've done a good job and I've worked to be as equitable as I can," he said. "I certainly spent my entire life in the area and know it as well as anybody."

Reynolds-Benns, who lives in the city's Westpointe neighborhood, said she is disturbed that community councils in District 1 are dominated by white LDS Church members. That power balance doesn't jibe with the overall makeup of the district, which is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the state, according to census data.

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"I just think that we need to empower the neighborhood and not the church," she said. "The Mormon Church has this huge organization, but I think I better represent the people."

LDS Church members in the neighborhood have a good organizational structure but are often exclusive, Reynolds-Benns said. Reynolds-Benns is a part-time author whose works include "Mormons in Transition."

Christensen said he tries to work with everyone and doesn't track their religious affiliation.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com