Over the next four years, we're going to be making decisions about what we want our county to look like in the next generation. Those are very important decisions, and I believe we should put our hands on the steering wheel and decide where we're going to go. —Ben McAdams
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."
Becker is one of several elected officials within the county who have endorsed McAdams in the race against Republican Mark Crockett, a former county councilman.
But neither McAdams nor Crockett view the race as Republican vs. Democrat.
"Salt Lake County voters, by and large, are independent," McAdams said. "Neither candidate is going to win without crossover support from independents and the other party."
Last month, Republican mayors from throughout the county joined McAdams on the median of Vine Street in Murray to show their support for the candidate. The event was purposely held in the middle of the road — not on the right or the left — to demonstrate what supporters say is McAdams' non-partisan nature.
"Ben is a consensus builder whose even tempered, non-partisan and pragmatic approach to tough issues like fiscal management, education and sustainable communities makes him my choice to lead Salt Lake County into the future," Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall said. "He not only gets things done; he gets things done the right way."
As a father of four, McAdams has his children in mind with many of the things he wants to get done as county mayor. He wants to make sure his kids have access to quality education; he wants them to be able to go outside at recess, and not have to worry about unhealthy air; and he wants them to have places to live and work when their education is complete.
"I know that when you look at public eduction, most of the pieces of that puzzle are at the state level," McAdams said. "But there are things the county can do, and I'm committed to doing that."
He says the county needs to increase after-school programs, particularly those for at-risk kids. Salt Lake County also has a large refugee population that needs extra attention.
"I really think the future of our schools is the most important issue for residents of Salt Lake County right now," McAdams said. "That's the most important issue in our family. What kind of education will our kids receive as they attend our neighborhood schools?"
As for air quality, McAdams says it's time to "stop talking and start finding solutions."
"The real solution has to be over the long term," he said.
Encouraging people to drive less and not idle their cars is a good start, McAdams said, but promoting smart growth throughout the valley, focusing on commercial centers where people can live, work and play will have long-term benefits.
"Growth is neither good nor bad," he said. "What's good or bad is what we do to prepare for it. Preparing for circumstances we see in the future is a Utah value. We shouldn't just find ourselves letting it happen to us. We should plan ahead and prepare."
With growth comes an opportunity for give shape to the county, McAdams said.
"Over the next four years, we're going to be making decisions about what we want our county to look like in the next generation," he said. "Those are very important decisions, and I believe we should put our hands on the steering wheel and decide where we're going to go."
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Political party: Democrat4 comments on this story
Occupation: Senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker; also teaches securities law at the University of Utah
Politics: Has served in Utah Senate since December 2009, when he replaced Sen. Scott McCoy
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Utah; law degree from Columbia Law School
Family: Wife, Julie; four children — twins Kate and James, 6; Robert, 4; and Isaac, 1
Residence: Salt Lake City