SALT LAKE CITY — Ralph Becker lagged 1,450 votes behind Jackie Biskupski in Tuesday's unofficial election results for Salt Lake City mayor, but nearly 24,000 vote-by-mail ballots arrived at the county clerk's office Wednesday and have yet to be counted.
Because a breakdown of how many of those ballots came from Salt Lake City won't be available until Thursday, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said it's unclear what those remaining ballots mean for Salt Lake City's mayoral race.
Will Biskupski hold her 52 percent to 48 percent edge, or can Becker close the gap?
"I can't comment on that," Swensen said. "I have no idea."
By law, final results cannot be made public until they are certified with an official canvass Nov. 17.
Becker remained confident Wednesday that the race could shift in his favor after the remaining votes are counted.
"I'm anxious to see how it shakes out," the two-term mayor said in an interview on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Salt Lake City Recorder Cindi Mansell said until she knows what portion of the ballots came from the city, she can't say what percent of the yet-to-be-counted votes Becker will need to prevail. She did, however, say late ballots typically follow a similar voting pattern as election night results.
That's why University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said Becker has probably already lost the race.
"Certainly there is a little bit of uncertainty, but it seems unlikely that (Becker) will win this in the end," Burbank said.
Becker said since he declared his candidacy in January, he's felt as though he's been "swimming against the current of the third term."
Burbank said a mayor winning three elections is rare in Salt Lake City, and Becker's favorability among voters was likely weighed down by a collection of controversies voters attribute to Becker's administration: golf course closures, unpopular parking meters and the expensive Broadway-style theater being built on Main Street.
"What this came down to was a question of personality and a question of incumbent versus the challenger, whether people were satisfied with Becker after eight years in office or if they were looking to make a change," Burbank said. "What (Biskupski) did well was present herself as an alternative, somebody with a different approach. She captured this sense of dissatisfaction of people saying they were tired of Becker."
Burbank said both Becker and Biskupski's campaigns — funded at more than $876,000 and $620,000, respectively — were both well-managed, with neither making "major political blunders."
Rather, the blunder that seemed to have the most impact on Becker, the U. professor said, was the forced resignation of former Police Chief Chris Burbank in the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three female police officers.
"The firing wasn't a sharp distinction because Biskupski said she would have fired Burbank, too, just earlier, but it was how it was handled," Matthew Burbank said. "It looked like a late-in-the-game reaction leading up to the primary, so it looked much more political than he intended it to."
If she maintains her lead, Biskupski told Doug Wright that her first course of action will be to "make significant strides" in homelessness and drug-trafficking issues.
Matthew Burbank said there isn't really a stark difference between Becker and Biskupski regarding policy positions, and Salt Lake City residents likely won't notice a big difference if — or when — Biskupski takes office.
"When you bring in a new administration, there's going to be a shift in priorities, but honestly I don't think there will be a big change," he said. "Certainly Biskupski might get personally involved on homelessness and perhaps move that along a little more quickly, but that's a difficult issue. It's not one the city has complete control over, and it's not one that any mayor is going to be able to resolve immediately."
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