We need to hold the line on spending. We need more control closer to the people, and we need to have economic growth in this valley. And with Mike Winder as your next county mayor, we'll do all three things. —Mike Winder
WEST VALLEY CITY — Mike Winder listens. Most of the time, anyway.
It says so on his campaign billboards and mailers, a promise the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor backs up by displaying his personal cellphone number on them.
"I get calls every day, all day long," Winder said during a recent interview from his campaign headquarters on the corner of 3500 South and 2700 West. "It's been heartwarming to talk to hundreds of residents across the valley and hear about their concerns and hopes for the future of Salt Lake County."
Chatting with residents, he says, "has been my favorite part of campaigning."
He didn't listen, though, when supporters suggested to him that putting his phone number on a billboard might not be a good idea. You never know who is going to call or what they might say, they warned.
"That's just how he operates," said Corey Rushton, a West Valley City councilman and friend of Winder's. "He's always been very accessible, always trying to get out and meet and talk with people."
He also didn't listen to family, friends and supporters who questioned his decision to run for county mayor so soon after his publishing deceit — the Richard Burwash revelations — came to light in November 2011. Burwash is the fictional name Winder admitted he created and used to write stories about West Valley City for local media outlets, including the Deseret News and KSL.com.
"He's always had this determined attitude," Aimee Winder Newton said of her younger brother. "He doesn't give up. I think that's one of the reasons he decided to still run after all that."
The Burwash issue and the questions it spawned have lingered in the Republican race for county mayor between Winder and former County Councilman Mark Crockett, even though both candidates have said they would rather talk other issues, such as getting government spending under control.
But debates between the candidates have pointed to the Burwash incident as an issue of honesty. Can you trust someone who deceived the public, even if that deception was well-intended?
Winder hopes so.
"I've apologized profusely for using a pen name, and many people have accepted my apology," he said, noting that Crockett is one of those who's publicly done so.
Winder doesn't shy away from questions about the Burwash controversy. And he admits that putting himself in the spotlight so soon after the incident "at times has been painful for me and my family."
So why do it?
"At the end of the day, it's because I care about the future of Salt Lake County," Winder said.
It's a quality Winder has possessed his entire life, his sister says. Newton remembers "playing city" in the unfinished basement of their parents' home when she was 10 and her brother was 8.
"Mike always wanted to be the mayor of the city," Newton said. "He would say he wanted to make the roads nice and help the people."
Winder would use masking tape to create the outlines of those nice roads on the concrete floor. The siblings would then ride their big wheels around a city of cardboard boxes decorated as houses and businesses.
Winder was always looking out for others in the real world too, Newton said.
While student body president at Taylorsville High School, Winder took a mentally disabled classmate to prom, knowing that she'd never gone to a school dance. At lunch time, he would look around the cafeteria and sit with anyone who looked like they needed a friend, she said.
"He was always looking out for the little people and those less fortunate," Newton said.
It's a quality that supporters say will serve Winder well if he prevails in the GOP primary against Crockett on June 26 and then against Democrat Ben McAdams in the general election Nov. 6.
The county provides key services for its most needy residents through its aging services, mental and behavioral health and youth programs. Winder said the county must work to find efficiencies to improve those programs to better serve the county, without raising taxes.
A good way to do that, he said, is by growing the tax base.
"I have a track record of helping to do that," Winder said, citing his work as Winder Farms' vice president of marketing to help transition the company from Utah's oldest milkman to a successful online grocer.
As West Valley's business development director from 2000 to 2004, Winder said he was focused on helping the city become more business-friendly. It's a goal that continued during his time on the City Council and then as mayor.
Today, the city is enjoying what Winder and other city leaders call "the West Valley renaissance," with construction under way on the $500 million Fairbourne Station, a transit-oriented development that will feature the first four-star hotel on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Not far away, Valley Fair Mall also is being redeveloped.
Crime is down; graffiti is disappearing; and code-enforcement violations are declining, Winder said.
"People can drive through West Valley, and if they haven't been here in a while, they'll see the difference," he said. "Our city is on the up and up. … You can feel the pride in our city as you talk to residents."
Winder said Salt Lake County should be leading the way as Utah emerges from the economic slowdown by working closely with cities on their economic development and redevelopment projects.
Winder said the relationships he has with other cities also will make the county stronger.
"For years there's been a dysfunction between the county, the cities and the townships, with the county behaving as both a municipal entity and a regional entity," he said.
Winder wants to see townships and other incorporated areas form new cities or join neighboring municipalities.
"We have a real opportunity to change the game, to help more areas of the valley become parts of cities, to give them a voice," he said. "I believe the government closest to people governs best."
Now is a good time for a change, Winder said, because the county is at a crossroads. County government has grown too large, as has its annual budget.
"We need to hold the line on spending," he said. "We need more control closer to the people, and we need to have economic growth in this valley. And with Mike Winder as your next county mayor, we'll do all three things."
If you don't believe him, Rushton suggests you give Winder a call at 801-633-1300.
"Ask him about any issue that affects your community," the city councilman said. "The majority of the time when people have questions, they talk with Mike and they walk away feeling better about things."
Occupation: Managing director of Vici Capital Partners
Politics: Served on the Salt Lake County Council, 2005-08
Education: Bachelors degree in economics from BYU; law degree from Stanford
Family: Wife, Judy; two daughters
Occupation: Author; previously worked as vice president of marketing for the family business, Winder Farms
Politics: Mayor of West Valley City, 2010-present; West Valley City councilman, 2006-09.
Education: Bachelor's degree in history and master of business administration from the University of Utah; certificate from executive leadership program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
Family: Wife, Karyn; four children
Residence: West Valley City