Ben McAdams quiets critics with willingness to listen, compromise

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Photos for profile on Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Ben McAdams Monday, July 30, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

NOTE: This is the last in a series of stories profiling the candidates for Salt Lake County mayor. Republican candidate Mark Crockett was featured on June 17, prior to the GOP primary.

SALT LAKE CITY — Ben McAdams called it a "train wreck happening in slow motion."

It was February 2008, not long after McAdams joined Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's administration as a senior adviser.

A month earlier, Becker had proposed creating a citywide domestic partnership registry,  a mechanism by which employers voluntarily could extend health care and other benefits to their employees' partners — including gay couples — if they reside in Salt Lake City.

The proposed ordinance was met with skepticism and resistance by the state Legislature. One state lawmaker — then-Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan — called it "wrong" and vowed to make sure neither Utah's capital city nor any other municipality would pass such a measure.

Buttars argued that the city's proposal violated both the letter and the spirit of Amendment 3, the state's constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and other domestic unions.

"Sen. Buttars said he was going to overturn it," McAdams recalled. "I went to (Mayor Becker) and said, 'I think there's a way to do this.'"

McAdams recounted the experience during a recent interview at his home in the Avenues section of Salt Lake City. It's a success story that he says demonstrates his approach to public service in both the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office and the Utah Senate.

It's the same approach he says he would bring to the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office if he's elected to replace fellow Democrat Peter Corroon in November.

"I usually find that when I listen to others, we can find common ground," McAdams said.

That was the case in 2008, though it seemed unlikely early on.

After Buttars introduced legislation to invalidate Salt Lake City's domestic partnership registry and prohibit municipalities from passing similar ordinances, McAdams called Buttars and set up a meeting with him at the then-senator's home.

"I met with him in his living room for three hours," McAdams recalled, noting that he spent most of that time listening to Buttars' concerns.

That meeting sparked a series of discussions, debates and rewrites that ultimately were reflected in Salt Lake City's mutual commitment registry — an ordinance with a different name but the same substance of the domestic partnership proposal.

The modified ordinance was unanimously approved by the Salt Lake City Council in April 2008, and couples began registering their partnerships a few weeks later. Buttars ultimatley supported the ordinance.

"(Buttars) was worried about something that was not in the bill the way that he understood it," said McAdams' wife, Julie. "Ben was able to write the bill to address his particular concern, but it didn't change what Ben was trying to do.

"Had he not sat down and spent the time to figure out what (Buttars) was worried about, they wouldn't have gotten that far," she said.

Becker said McAdams' work on the mutual commitment registry is just one of many examples of how his personable attitude has benefited the city during the past 4½ years.

"He's someone who is happy to meet face to face with anyone and listen to them, regardless of their point of view," Becker said. "And he has a unique ability to creatively find solutions that address people's concerns and still not betray his principles and values and the objectives of what we want to do for our community."

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