In most places during election year, politics turn two camps — Democrats and Republicans — against each other.

In Salt Lake City, where the majority of voters lean Democratic and City Council races are nonpartisan, the politics of the races often break voters into two other parties — LDS and non-LDS.

This year, as 17 candidates, both LDS and not, vie for four open City Council seats, some want to keep "church talk" out of the campaign, while others are happy to bring it in.

Most candidates who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they hope religion stays outside the political fray, while some non-LDS candidates wonder how affiliation affects the decision-making of LDS council members.

"I just hope that in this election religion won't be a hot topic, but I wouldn't back away from it," said Amy Jordan, 30, a Sugar House mom who is running in District 7.

That's a ditto for LDS candidate Janneke House, 23, who recently earned a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Utah after being involved with College Democrats.

"I don't want (religion) to become an issue during the campaign, but I'm sure it will," she said.

Jordan, whose previous political experience includes an internship with former Democratic state senator Pete Suazo, shares the view held by most LDS candidates — city government is about urban planning, downtown development, preserving open space and fighting crime — not the church to which someone belongs.

While non-LDS candidates don't dispute that view, they say religion does affect the votes of LDS Church members.

"I don't think it should matter. Unfortunately, all too often that bias does leak into their judgment," said Derek Dyer, 30, the executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance, who wants to unseat incumbent Eric Jergensen in District 3.

"I think a lot of LDS people would agree that having a 100 percent LDS City Council is almost bad for the religion in a way, because it adds to this kind of underlying animosity that LDS and non-LDS residents have towards each other."

Much has been made of the religious affiliation of current City Council members. All seven council members belong to the LDS Church, although some are more active than others.

The two most controversial issues to hit the council chambers over the past four years have involved the LDS Church, which lobbied heavily during both the Main Street Plaza fray and the Nordstrom relocation issue.

After a lot of community debate, the City Council overwhelmingly backed the solution that the LDS Church favored in both of those cases.

Councilwoman Jill Remington Love, who is running unopposed in District 5, was the only council member to cast a vote against the church during the past four years.

Mayor Rocky Anderson, who according to exit polls secured 81 percent of Salt Lake City's non-LDS vote in 2003, has openly wondered if some council members are more apt to vote their religion than not. Expressing his frustration, the mayor has called for more diversity, including religious diversity, on the council.

Leslie Benns beat a similar drum in west-side District 1, where she's taking on incumbent Carlton Christensen. She has questioned why a LDS Republican should represent a district that is politically liberal and religiously diverse.

"We need to empower the neighborhood and not the church," she said.

Benns faces three other challengers in District 1 and at least two are LDS. Terry Jessop and Arnold Jones, who hopes to parlay his council run into a successful Democratic presidential bid in 2008 (www.arnoldjonesforpresident2008.com), agree that religion should stay out of the race.

And other LDS candidates insist they are objective and leave their faith outside of government.

"I can't imagine (religion) will affect any decisions I would make," said District 7 candidate Deedra Hansen Lambert, another Sugar House mom who has sought campaign strategy from Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairwoman Megan Risbon.

Soren Simonsen, an LDS Democrat running in District 7, thinks likewise.

"Certainly, my religious conviction won't guide me in making decisions, but I will do what I think is in the best interest of the community," he said.

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In Salt Lake City, LDS Church members make up about 45 percent of the city's population, and politics often center on church and state issues, especially since the LDS Church owns so much property in downtown Salt Lake City.

Not every LDS candidate wants to avoid church and state discussions. Mark Dalton, another District 7 candidate, said he welcomes discussions on LDS influence.

"It's healthy to discuss it," he said. "By pushing it under the rug, it's difficult to come to a common consensus."


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com