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Tom Smart, Deseret News
FILE "“ Randy Horiuchi on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Salt Lake City. The longtime Salt Lake County councilman and former chairman of the Utah Democratic Party passed away Thursday. Acquaintances and political colleagues said Horiuchi was a dear friend and the 'life of the Democratic party.'

SALT LAKE CITY — Randy Horiuchi, whom a longtime acquaintance described as "the life of the Democratic Party," died Thursday at age 61.

Horiuchi, a longtime Salt Lake County councilman and former chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, was an institution in Salt Lake County government, serving 22 years on the Salt Lake County Council and former Salt Lake County Commission.

Peter Corroon, chairman of Utah Democratic Party and former Salt Lake County mayor, said Horiuchi loved his family and the people with whom he served.

"He loved his community and he loved politics. Above all, Randy was always willing to give a helping hand and was fiercely loyal to his friends. While he was an avid Democrat, he had as many Republican friends as Democrat," Corroon said.

Among them was Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who noted Horiuchi's "unending optimism."

“Randy Horiuchi championed the great state of Utah for more than 25 years, giving generously of his time, talents and resources to enhance the lives of Utah residents, particularly in Salt Lake County. I have always admired Randy for his passion and unending optimism during his years of public service. Those of us who knew Randy loved Randy. He will be missed,” Herbert said in a statement.

Word of Horiuchi's death came as a shock to many people long involved in Democratic party politics.

Horiuchi had suffered a stroke January 2012 and underwent extensive physical therapy, which enabled him to complete his final term in office. He did not seek re-election in 2014. Friends said he was recently hospitalized but they were unaware of the reason.

Last December, friends, family and politicians feted Horiuchi at a luncheon that was part tribute and part roast as he prepared to leave public life. The event culminated with an announcement about the start of the Randy Horiuchi Political Fellowship at Westminster College, where he had taught as an adjunct professor.

The fellowship will be awarded to two Westminster College interns — one each to assist the state Democratic and Republic parties during general election years.

Jill Remington Love, Salt Lake City's Community and Economic Development director, said she met Horiuchi when she was in high school.

He recruited her to work on a congressional campaign and the two became close friends, working on many political campaigns in the succeeding years.

"I went to the Democratic convention when I was 18, and I met Randy at that convention and he was just this big, powerful force," she said. "Every year after that, Randy would call me and say, 'I've got this candidate you've just got to come and meet.'"

Karen Hale, former state senator and community relations director for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said Horiuchi "was this lovable guy. There was no way you couldn't like Randy."

Hale said she particularly cherished Horiuchi's use of superlatives, sometimes describing ideas or accomplishment as "the biggest in the world" or telling people, "You're the best."

Horiuchi "was always the life of the Democratic party in all ways. He had a conscience about a lot of issues, and he would help prod the party that way. Then he really was the life, adding humor and saying things that needed to be said but in a way that couldn't be offensive to anyone because he said it with such humor," Hale said.

Salt Lake City Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski said Horiuchi "was a force of nature in Utah politics for decades, with instincts and savvy unmatched in political circles. He had an incredible ability to take on his opposition with force and skill, yet rarely let it get personal, an art almost gone in today's political arena."

Horiuchi was an early supporter of Biskupski during her unsuccessful run for Salt Lake City Council in 1997, "during a time when it wasn't as easy as it is now to support an LGBT candidate. He was always there when I needed him."

Horiuchi's love and enthusiasm for politics was contagious and motived countless young people to join and remain part of Utah's Democratic Party, Biskupski said.

"We have lost a political giant," she said.

Former state Rep. David Litvak, now working for Salt Lake County on criminal justice initiatives, knew Horiuchi both as a political leader and as a county councilman.

"He was such a great human being, nevermind all he accomplished as a council member, commission member beforehand. The things that he championed, what I saw, were human services (and) economic development. More than anything, he was just a great person. He was the kind of person, as an elected official, anyone could come up to, anyone could talk with. You never needed to be intimidated by the idea of who Randy Horiuchi was, though he was quite the legend, but he was so approachable. He was such a remarkable individual."

Litvak said Horiuchi's death is a huge loss for his family and the community.

"More than anything, (I) just hope and pray for the well-being of his family," he said.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis said news of Horiuchi's death came as a shock.

"I've known Randy for years and years and years, and have worked with him on so many things for the benefit of the county and the city. It's just a great loss. He was such a character, and he could fill a room and just absorb all the energy. He could be so happy. He was witty and charming, but then he knew how to get down to business," he said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Horiuchi helped shape Salt Lake County as a community and as an organization.

"He dedicated much of his life to public service and will be remembered fondly for his ability to keep us all laughing, even during tough times. I’m sending my deepest sympathies to Randy’s family and friends,” McAdams said.

Longtime friend and fellow Democrat Pat Shea said Horiuchi's passing occurred at an ironic time.

"With the terror of Paris and Beirut being used as a wedge to divide us, Randy had this remarkable, genius-like quality to unite us. He could make us forget our differences by making us laugh together. Great sorrow to Fran, his wife, his daughter and son. His chipper attitude and problem solving disposition will be greatly missed."

House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Horiuchi's death was a huge loss.

"He was a great friend and neighbor, living just down the street from me for several years. He was a neighbor to everyone who knew him. He was a total people person, a great teller of stories. He was quick to see a person's good qualities and always ready to make a new friend. He will be dearly missed,” King said.

Horiuchi's long career in public service started with his election as student body president of Cottonwood High School.

While many people Horiuchi mentored over the years had loftier ambitions than local government, county government was the best fit for him, he told his council colleagues following his last Salt Lake County Council meeting in December 2014.

“The privilege has been mine for working for a government that’s so misunderstood. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of governments,” he said.

But it's also a form of government that is close to people, some of whom rely on the help they receive from county government, whether its Meals on Wheels for seniors or mental health services, he said at the time.

“It’s where the action is. It’s where people really care about other people."