1 of 1
Laura Seitz, Deseret news
FILE— Kristy Chambers, director of the Columbus Center and a South Salt Lake Chamber board member, speaks with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams after a homeless site evaluation committee meeting at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Happy Easter! Spring is here and it’s time to talk about rebirth and renewal — especially whether the downtrodden (Utah Democrats) can be revitalized.

The public profile of up-and-coming Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was boosted dramatically in the homeless shelter battles — but perhaps not in a good way. Has McAdams helped or hurt himself?

Pignanelli: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T.S. Eliot

When in public office I attempted the resolution of a controversial issue every legislative session. I believed then, and now, political capital is a wasted asset unless it is spent. (Of course, as a media hound I loved the attention!) Officials who tackle tough issues and suffer through the short-term pain usually receive long-term benefits from their leadership. But it all depends upon if the cause is undertaken for the right reasons, unexpected external forces are beneficial and there is an overall strategy.

The transformation of McAdams from a nice guy to an effective problem-solver is still underway, and not without blunders. (West Valley City deserved better handling and Draper was a fiasco.) Furthermore, politicos are commenting how Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski artfully benefited from the recent process while avoiding any attacks. McAdams now owns this issue — with good or bad results.

McAdams deserves accolades for not “playing it safe.” He is reaping grief for the missteps (surprising for such a polished statesman). But the long-term may give him a strong return on the investment of political capital he made, opening other opportunities.

Webb: Many people in South Salt Lake and West Valley City are understandably upset at being targeted for homeless facilities. Much of that anger has been directed at McAdams. But in the furor, McAdams has shown he is a strong, resilient leader who can take on tough, unpopular tasks and solve problems. No whining, no complaining, no making excuses, no blaming others. He accepted the hardest political task of the year and made good progress.

Certainly, this matter is by no means finished and a lot of extremely hard work remains. Homeless challenges will never be completely resolved.

Still, long-term, I think the perception of McAdams among most Utahns will be that he is a solid, fair-minded leader willing to tackle big problems without regard to political consequence.

Is McAdams positioning himself for a run at a higher office? Can he win statewide?

Pignanelli: Politicos joke that Utah Democrats do not have a “bench” of strong candidates for statewide office, they have a “few chairs” — which includes McAdams. It’s common knowledge that the county mayor wants a shot at statewide office. He possesses a great resume and ability to build bipartisan coalitions. The homeless shelter issue may provide a legacy of making tough decisions and developing solutions.

Yet in Utah, county office is a dead end for the politically ambitious. (In the last 80 years or so, the exceptions are Ted Moss, Mark Shurtleff and Gary Herbert.) McAdams can best shed this curse with deep reforms to county government. Further, he will need to further polish his image as a Utah Democrat who is different from national party leaders.

Webb: McAdams is really the Democrats’ only viable statewide contender. But it’s incredibly difficult for even a moderate Democrat to win statewide. The numbers don’t add up.

Therefore, McAdams should consider running as an independent, appealing to mainstream Utahns by making the pitch that hyper-partisanship has resulted in gridlock and dysfunction and is tearing the country apart. A large chunk of centrist Utahns aren’t represented by the extremists that control the organizational apparatus of both political parties. He could focus on jobs, the economy and practical problem-solving, instead of ideological litmus tests.

It would be very difficult to run as an independent. It wouldn’t work for most candidates. But McAdams is one of the few who might be able to pull it off.

Imagine this ticket for governor: McAdams and retiring Provo Mayor John Curtis (who is a terrific person and very effective leader and politician). That’s a ticket that could get a lot of mainstream Utahns very excited. Trouble is, McAdams and Curtis would have to arm-wrestle over who’s the governor and who’s the lieutenant governor.

On a multi-state trip to “unify Democrats,” new Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez along with Sen. Bernie Sanders will visit Utah this month. Will this help or hurt Utah Democrats?

6 comments on this story

Pignanelli: Sanders attracted a huge number of fans in his election rally who will return to cheer him and jeer Trump. Humorous signs and speeches will abound, but it’s unlikely these politicians will move the needle.

Webb: These two old leftists won’t help Utah Democrats win elections. They favor big government, higher taxes, more government handouts for everyone, more regulation and higher deficit spending. A lot of moderate Democrats in Utah believe the party has abandoned them. Sending these two ultra-liberals to Utah is clear proof.