SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero became the first to enter the race for Salt Lake County mayor on Thursday, saying he chose a State Street venue for his announcement because it is neither on the east side or the west side.
"And it's outside of my own Salt Lake City" where Romero grew up, lives with his wife, Cecilia, and their two children, and represents District 7 as a state senator.
Romero's formal announcement is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Mediterranean Market & Deli at 3940 S. State.
The field is wide open since incumbent Mayor Peter Corroon, also a Democrat, is not running. Romero said he wanted to announce his candidacy first so he had time to introduce his objectives before having to make comparisons with an opponent.
Acknowledgement of the different types of diversity in the county was a recurring theme as Romero talked earlier in the day about himself as a candidate. On an individual level, he said that diversity is ethnic, cultural and economic. And among the layers of government, Romero said his experience as a state senator gives him an important perspective on the relationships between state, county and municipal governments.
"My advocacy has been representing the urban core," he said, with the county population representing an expansion of his current Senate district.
There are long-standing complexities in the interaction between county and municipal governments in Salt Lake County. "The tension ebbs and flows." And just as the Utah Legislature has complained about having too much federal intervention, Romero said he recognizes counties and municipalities can see state government as overbearing. As mayor of the state's most populous urban county, Romero said he would use his experience in the legislature as a tool to coordinate among different levels of government.
"I think the way it has been done is going to change," he said of that complex interaction, and he sees the best changes growing out of agreements between local governments, not legislative mandates.
Salt Lake County is a major provider of municipal services, including law enforcement, firefighting, parks and roads, and it often competes with municipalities that also provide those services. Salt Lake County does not have wall-to-wall cities, and Romero believes communities should take the lead in determining how the most local government services are structured.
"In Millcreek, they are going through a very public discussion about whether they are going to incorporate. But that doesn't mean Magna or Kearns should have to follow suit," he said. "It is responsible for the public to ask, 'How does this relationship work? Is it happening in the most effective, efficient way?'"
An unusual part of Romero's platform, for this type of race, will be his emphasis on education. "Education will play a front-and-center role in my advocacy. Education needs all of the champions it can get."
Romero sees the growing population of refugees, immigrants and others in the county where education has not been part of their family background. He would like to target the oldest child in such families and find ways for them to make it to, and through, college. "Then they can be an example to their younger siblings."
Romero was raised in Salt Lake City and practiced law before going to work for Zions Bank where he is a vice president for corporate sales. He was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 2004 and became a state senator in 2006, where he became the Senate Minority Whip in 2008. He became the Senate minority leader after the 2010 election.