Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis is pondering a tough question: Should he run for re-election as mayor or should he go for broke and try to be governor now that Norm Bangerter has decided to step down?
DePaulis has been a popular mayor, so it is not a ridiculous question. Whatever he does, the mayor ought to have some historical perspective to help him, so here goes.First, mayors of cities nationally have a very difficult time stepping up to higher office, especially governor.
That is partly because mayors generate a lot of controversy running cities, and by the time they seek higher office they usually have endured so much criticism that many voters will not trust them as governors or as U.S. senators.
Yet, even progressive, popular mayors are rarely elected governors of their states, and so many young, promising mayors scuttle their own political careers by running and losing.
Such likely potential governors as Joseph Alioto, former mayor of San Francisco; Frank Rizzo, former mayor of Philadelphia; Kevin White, former mayor of Boston; John Lindsay and Ed Koch, both former mayors of New York; and Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles - all failed in their seemingly promising campaigns to be governors.
Too often the state senator, the attorney general, the lieutenant governor or some inexperienced attorney or businessman will come out of nowhere to become governor, while the charismatic, experienced mayor is passed over.
Second, it has never happened in Salt Lake City.
Eighteen of 30 Salt Lake mayors have served only a single term, and no Salt Lake mayor has ever managed to step up to the governorship.
The best chance for such a step was taken by popular Mayor Earl J. Glade, who served 12 years in office, (1944-56) and ran for his final term unopposed. He ran for governor in 1952 against J. Bracken Lee and lost.
Beginning in 1976, Ted Wilson was an extremely popular mayor of Salt Lake City, yet failed in his attempt to become a U.S. senator and then, after stepping down as mayor early in a third term, failed in his attempt to become governor in spite of an impressive early lead in the polls.
Only two other Salt Lake mayors succeeded in stepping up to higher office - Robert N. Baskin, who served as mayor from 1892-96, subsequently became a justice of the State Supreme Court - and Jake Garn, who was elected to the U.S. Senate while serving as mayor of Salt Lake City, and thus served an abbreviated mayoral term - 1972-74.
One reason Garn pulled it off is that his tenure as mayor was so short he had little time to make the enemies necessary to make him unpopular.
Third, DePaulis is a Democrat.
Although he can run a non-partisan race for mayor, he would have to seek the governorship as a Democrat. In spite of Democratic gains in the recent midterm elections, Democrats generally have a difficult time winning elections in overwhelmingly Republican Utah.
Although both Cal Rampton and Scott Matheson were extremely popular Democratic governors, every Democrat has to win such support on his own - at great political risk.
In fact, it would seem that a better argument could be advanced for a politician who has already achieved higher office to run successfully for mayor.
In spite of a controversial career, Lee, who served two terms as governor, ran successfully for mayor and matched Glade's 12 years in office before he retired from political life in 1972.
DePaulis is young. He has some charisma. He is good with words. With some notable successes and comparatively few failures, he may have as good a chance as any other mayor of achieving the governorship.
He should probably go for it.
But he should keep in mind that if Bangerter were a Salt Lake resident, Bangerter's chances of being elected Salt Lake mayor would be much better than DePaulis' chances of being elected Utah governor.