SALT LAKE CITY — Ralph Becker continues to walk the campaign trail, going door-to-door, chatting with residents and handing out fliers.
It was that grass-roots, on-the-porch campaigning that Becker credits for his victory in a hotly contested race to replace Rocky Anderson as Salt Lake City's mayor four years ago.
This time around, Becker is comfortably cruising toward a second term in office. There was no primary election, and his only competition on Election Day comes from a 79-year-old political newcomer who only filed as a candidate because nobody else did.
"It's been very comfortable," Becker said of his re-election bid. "It's been almost too relaxing in a way because there just hasn't been the level of intensity that I'm used to in a campaign."
Avenues resident J. Allen Kimball didn't want Becker to be too comfortable, though. An uncontested race, Kimball says, can give a politician a false sense of approval from the people he or she serves.
Kimball cites a poll earlier this year that indicated Becker had an 84 percent approval rating with Salt Lake City residents. That number also sounds about right to Kimball, but he wants to make sure the mayor doesn't ignore that other 16 percent.
"I just think somebody needed to (run against Becker)," he said.
Kimball recalls putting up his flag on Fourth of July and wondering if anyone had decided to run against Becker — and if they hadn't, whether he'd be up to the task.
He visited the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office three times prior to July 15 — the final day candidates could file for municipal elections. During the third of those visits, Kimball paid his $315 and officially declared himself as a candidate for mayor.
Though municipal elections are nonpartisan and the candidates' political affiliation will not be listed on ballots, Kimball said he identifies with the Republican Party. Becker is a longtime Democrat. Salt Lake City voters have not elected a Republican mayor since 1971.
Who is J. Allen Kimball?
Kimball is a lifelong resident of Salt Lake City who grew up on the east bench before settling in 1961 in the Avenues, where he's lived ever since.
He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1953 and spent the majority of his career working in the family business, Kimball Equipment Co., selling construction equipment.
In 1989, while serving as Kimball Equipment's president, Kimball moved the expanding company into a long-abandoned manufacturing facility that had been scheduled for demolition.
Today, the 65-year-old company is still located at that site, 2839 W. California Ave. It's a point of pride for Kimball, who says far too many industrial companies have moved out of Salt Lake City when they've needed to expand.
"Companies either grow or they ungrow," he said. "The companies that grow need more room, so they have to change locations."
Kimball said Salt Lake City should be doing more to help those companies, utilizing undeveloped land in the city's Northwest Quadrant to bring back an industrial component he says the city is lacking.
Kimball doesn't blame Becker for decisions by manufacturing companies to relocate outside of Salt Lake City. It's a problem Becker inherited, he says, "but he hasn't done very much to change the direction."
Kimball says Becker is too focused on pet initiatives such as adding bicycle lanes and building a downtown performing arts center.
"I believe the city should be concentrating on its core responsibilities — streets, public safety, clean water, picking up the garbage, those sorts of things — and not trying to expand its horizons into ventures that it's not prepared to handle," Kimball said.
A theater capable of hosting first-run Broadway shows would be a nice addition to Salt Lake City, he says, if a private developer wanted to come in and build it. The city, however, shouldn't be involved as a partner, Kimball said.
As for bike lanes, Kimball is OK with them, too, as long as they don't get in the way of vehicle travel.
"(Becker) has grand plans of expediting the increased accessibility of bicycles on the streets and moving the cars over," Kimball said. "If he (is re-elected), it will be a sign to him to go for it."
Somebody, he says, had to step in and say some in Salt Lake City want more emphasis placed on roads for cars, not bikes.
And as it turned out, that person will be turning 80 next year.
"I have good health," Kimball said. "I think I still have some tread left in me."
A relaxed race for Ralph Becker
The absence of a high-stress campaign has allowed Becker to spend more time focusing on the job he was elected to do.
His door-to-door visits with Salt Lake City residents are more laid back, a chance to meet with his constituents and listen to their concerns rather than launching into a campaign spiel.
"I'm working as hard as I have at any time in my career," Becker said, "but it's different because there are parts of the race I just haven't had to spend much time on."
Fundraising, for example, has been nothing like four years ago, when he raised more than $700,000 to emerge from a crowded field as Anderson's successor. Four candidates raised at least $500,000 in that race.
With much less effort, Becker has raised about $418,000 in his re-election campaign. As of Sept. 1, he had spent just $174,000 of that.
Kimball has spent about $3,000 — including $1,000 of his own money.
Becker's experience also dwarfs that of his challenger. Prior to being elected mayor, he served from 1996-2007 in the Utah House of Representatives, including seven years in leadership positions.
Among the first-term achievements Becker says he's most proud are the Mutual Commitment Registry, a mechanism by which employers voluntarily can extend health care and other benefits to their unmarried employees' domestic partners — including gay couples.
Becker also worked with the City Council to "normalize" Salt Lake City's alcohol policy, doing away with the law that only two establishments can sell alcohol per block face.
Other accomplishments include working with the Utah Transit Authority to begin construction on a light-rail line to the airport; securing $26 million in federal funding for the Sugar House streetcar project; introducing transparency and open government initiatives; facilitating the opening of The Leonardo and the start of construction on a new public safety building; and increasing bikeways in the city by nearly 50 percent.
"This is a time of really momentous change, and my hope is to continue to play a role, to facilitate those positive changes," Becker said.
"I hope, as a city, we can do a lot of great things by truly engaging the community in Salt Lake City, with our neighbors and with our partners at the state and federal levels," he said.
Contributing: Richard Piatt
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company