SALT LAKE CITY — The 2018 election is still a month away, and yet candidates are already lining up to challenge Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski in 2019.
Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, who had been critical of Biskupski before leaving office last year, announced Thursday his bid to succeed her when her term ends next year.
"What we really need in Salt Lake City is leadership that listens and leadership that really cares," Penfold said before of a crowd of supporters in front of Publik Kitchen on Tuesday. "My campaign for mayor will look different because, frankly, I'm different. I know how to listen, I want to listen."
Penfold, who was council chairman in 2017, chose not to seek a third term on the council last year. Since then, he never ruled out a campaign to be mayor of Utah's capital city and said he was "seriously considering" a run.
But Thursday, standing near 900 South and Harvey Milk Boulevard — the road Penfold helped rename in honor of the fallen gay-rights activist — the former councilman officially launched his campaign with a focus on bringing people of all walks of life together and attention to neighborhood impacts.
"I know how to partner, and I know how to help people come together and do impossible things, like rename 6 miles of a street in Salt Lake City," Penfold said. "I know how to bring people together because I've done it. I believe firmly that the job of Salt Lake City is to serve the people of Salt Lake City."
Penfold, along with former Councilwoman Lisa Adams, who also did not seek re-election, criticized Biskupski for not collaborating well with the council as they ended their terms last year. Both were supporters of former Mayor Ralph Becker, who narrowly lost to Biskupski in 2015.
But Thursday, Penfold didn't directly attack Biskupski and maintained an air of optimism, aimed at expressing a desire to hear from constituents in their neighborhoods and how issues like affordable housing and air quality impact them day to day.
"Things will fall out during the campaign, I'm sure," Penfold said about clashes with Biskupski. But above all, "I really want to focus on what opportunities we have and how we can really work together to make the best city we can possibly make. And I think people are there, they want to see us moving forward, so that's my hope."
Biskupski in a prepared statement did not address Penfold's challenge, but listed her accomplishments as mayor.
"For the last two and a half years I have focused on the critical issues Salt Lake City residents care about most," Biskupski said. "Every major initiative I have put forward, including an affordable housing plan, clean energy plan, transit master plan, infrastructure plan and fiscally responsible budgets have been adopted unanimously by the council.
"I will continue to work toward these goals to bring real and lasting change to the capital city," the mayor said.
Penfold's announcement means the 2019 race will include a contest between two of Salt Lake City's most prominent LGBT community members. While Biskupski became Salt Lake City's first openly gay mayor, Penfold became the Salt Lake City Council's first openly gay member when he was elected in 2009.
Penfold also served as executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation since 1999. Previously, he engaged in Salt Lake City issues in the early '80s and eventually became chairman of the Greater Avenues Community Council.
Penfold so far is the second person to confirm a 2019 bid against Biskupski. Last month, well-known Democrat and business consultant David Ibarra told the Deseret News he was planning a run for mayor, though he has not yet formally announced it.
David Garbett, executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, and outgoing state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, have also told the Deseret News they're "seriously" considering a run against Biskupski.
Penfold joked "everyone says its early" for him to announce his campaign, but he said "the big election" — the primary — isn't far off.
Penfold said he expects several "challenging, qualified" people to enter the race for a crowded primary, and noted that perhaps that will be "the biggest challenge for me."
A recent poll found Biskupski may be facing an uphill battle for re-election. The Utah Policy poll released last month found 56 percent of 203 likely Salt Lake voters said it was either "definitely" or "probably" time to elect a different mayor.5 comments on this story
In her almost three years in office, Biskupski has faced numerous controversies — clashing not just with last year's council, but also with this year's.
Those controversies include her handling of her transition to mayor when she asked for resignation letters of nearly all department heads, to the selection of sites for homeless resource centers, and most recently Biskupski's refusal to endorse council negotiations with state leaders to make changes to the bill that created the controversial Utah Inland Port Authority.