Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon last month stood at a microphone in a cramped radio studio, headphones on, as he worked his way through a third take of a public service announcement on Medicaid services for county residents.
And he delivered the message in fluent Spanish.
Language skills are just one of a battery of line items Corroon can list on his resume, and all will likely be brought to bear on the political quest he announced Friday — a Democratic gubernatorial challenge of incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert this fall.
And while this latest chapter in Corroon's career is only beginning to unfold, his first steps into the realm of politics were motivated by reading a landmark book in a most appropriate place.
"I spent a year in Washington, D.C., in 1999 working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development," Corroon said in a December interview. "While I was there, I read 'Democracy In America' by Alexis de Tocqueville. He came from France to write about the U.S. prison system and ended up writing about how our government works and how great our democratic system is. That's what got me interested in politics."
Shortly after the HUD stint, an experience Corroon, 45, described as one that opened his eyes to both the good and bad of government, he and his wife, Amy, bought their first house in Salt Lake City. Corroon got involved with his community council, and in 2001 launched an unsuccessful campaign for a Salt Lake County Council seat.
"I didn't finish dead last," Corroon said. "I came in fourth out of five."
Not dissuaded, the Connecticut native headed back to his community council and worked on political campaigns of candidates he liked, both Democrats and Republicans. Then, in 2004, Salt Lake County Democratic Party head Nichole Adams (now Salt Lake County Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn) called Corroon with an idea: Why not take a shot at Republican Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman?
A challenge of the powerful GOP incumbent by a relatively unknown newcomer, which at first blush appeared to be political folly, became something else entirely when Workman was accused of political shenanigans, including misusing public funds, and dropped out of the race. Before the scandal, Corroon was the only Democrat willing to take a chance.
"No one else wanted it," Corroon told the Deseret News in 2004. "Frankly, I was waiting for somebody to step up. If there had been a stronger candidate (in terms of name recognition), I wouldn't have run."
But run he did, and he outpaced Republican and independent challengers to take over the helm of the state's most populous county. A successful first term set up an absolute crushing of Michael Renckert in 2008 when Corroon more than doubled the GOP challenger's vote count.
Corroon attributes his success in office to lessons learned in his civilian life, where he's worked for himself, midsize businesses and international companies. That after earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University, a master's in real estate from New York University and a law degree from Golden Gate University.
"I've tried to bring the essentials of effective business practice into my role as head of county government," Corroon said. "They have much in common, budget, communication, efficiency and being able to work well with others."
Corroon has other characteristics that, according to his fraternal twin brother and business partner, Chris Corroon, play into his success as the county's top executive.
"What you see is what you get with Peter," Chris Corroon said. "He's a very genuine and generous person, who's humble and extremely smart."
The mayor's sibling also said his twin has a fierce competitive spirit.
"Peter was a great hockey player back in the day," Chris Corroon said. "He played left wing and was the guy you sent into the corners if you needed to settle an opponent down."
The Corroon boys grew up in Greenwich, Conn., two of six kids in a home where family values were dictated by Catholicism and the Grand Old Party.
"We grew up in a conservative Republican household steeped in the tradition of Ronald Reagan," Chris Corroon said. "My mom was a big supporter of both the Bushes. It was an unwritten rule that you go to church every Sunday and vote Republican."
The mayor said his evolution to the blue party hasn't changed the principles that were instilled during his childhood.
"My values have stayed consistent over time," Corroon said. "Wanting to help people in need, supporting the middle class, local business … at the end of the day I think my mother is proud of me for maintaining those values."
Maura Carabello, a managing partner of public relations firm The Exoro Group, said Corroon's political stance is one that should play well with all Utah voters.
"He's a conservative Democrat who is not particularly defined by his party," she said. "He's one of those candidates who defines himself independently."
That independent spirit and value set, a combination that's resonated widely with Salt Lake County voters the past two election cycles, will be put to the test on a statewide basis as Corroon poses a challenge the untested, and unelected, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert. In early litmus tests around the state of voter sentiment, Corroon said he got positive feedback from both sides of the political divide.
"I've been talking to people from all over the state and hearing about their issues," Corroon said. "And I'm hearing encouragement from places I expected it, from Democrats and also from Republicans who've encouraged me and said I'd make a great governor."
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More on Corroon
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon intends to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday. In anticipation of the announcement, Deseret News reporter Arthur Raymond shadowed Corroon during a typical work day in December and interviewed his family and associates.