Let this be known once and for all: Being a single mother, businesswoman and county commissioner does not leave a lot of time to learn cooking.

"My kids laugh at recipes I attempt," Salt Lake County Commissioner Mary Callaghan said ruefully.Callaghan's focus has been elsewhere in her one-term tenure as commissioner. She talks a lot about crime, taxes, growth and encouraging business development.

And she wants to continue - Callaghan is seek-ing a second term. She will face challenger Wendy Smith - a single mother herself - in the Republican primary election June 23.

The winner will face Democrat Karen Crompton in November.

Callaghan learned early on what she was interested in. She was involved in high school student government and received degrees both in business and politics. She is a long-time active member of the Republican Party and says, "I pounded a lot of campaign signs."

Callaghan is also driven and ambitious. She has two bachelor's and two master's degrees from the University of Utah and Westminster College and dreams of someday being a U.S. senator. As was said of Abraham Lincoln, her ambition is a little engine that never quits.

Look at Callaghan move sometime. She walks quickly. She talks quickly. Her hobbies are all movement-oriented: hiking, skiing, tennis, travel.

"I don't stay penned up very well," she said.

As for camping, however, she likes motels and cars, not the die-hard wilderness survival stuff. Reason: "I don't like snakes."

Callaghan's active nature manifests itself in her lithe physique. She does, however, have one incongruous little secret: She's a closet chocoholic.

"It's her favorite food," said one friend with a laugh. "But you never see her eating it."

As commissioner, Callaghan heads the county's Department of Health and Human Services, containing such divisions as criminal justice, aging services, animal services and such.

There is one particular area of the department - mental health - with which she is painfully familiar. Her husband, William Callaghan, suffered from bipolar disorder (manic depression), and his illness progressed to such a point that he committed suicide six years ago, two years before Callaghan ran for commissioner.

"Since then, (medical researchers) have discovered so much more, they better understand the brain and chemicals that can affect it," she said. "I wish we could have had that six years ago."

Callaghan had already had to deal with the freak death of her 18-year-old brother by heart attack before dealing with her husband's death, "the most difficult crisis in my life." But she has a stoic streak. She sometimes comes across as reserved, a curious attribute for an ambitious politician, because she doesn't wear emotions on her sleeve. She deals with the crises, takes steps to get past them and tends to business.

Callaghan also says she's attuned to the needs of the generation sandwiched between children and elderly parents since she had to take care of her incapacitated mother for many years while also nurturing her two children (she has a 12-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter).

Callaghan has endured sharp criticism from fellow Commissioner Brent Overson of late - Overson supports opponent Smith - criticism sharp enough to get a rise out of just about anyone. But that's not her style (though some supporters say Callaghan would do well to fire back a little more strongly). Callaghan's reaction to Overson's latest salvo was simply, "I'm used to it."

She even goes herself one better. While others decry the seeming inability for commissioners to agree on much of anything of importance, "I think healthy debate is good for a democracy."