SANDY — While Salt Lake County reckons with growing pains and air quality anxiety, four mayoral candidates on Thursday shared similar ideas for facing those issues and their visions for the future of the county.
Salt Lake County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jennie Wilson, Shireen Ghorbani and Stone Fonua each made their case during a courteous debate at Jordan High School in Sandy.
They are vying to replace Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who officially submitted his letter of resignation as mayor of Salt Lake County in December following his election to Congress. McAdams' Jan. 2 resignation started the clock on a 30-day timeline for the party's central committee — made up of about 1,000 members — to vote on a replacement.
When asked Thursday night how they would approach issues like homelessness and growth in the community, all four emphasized the need for more affordable housing.
"We have to work to expand access to permanent supportive housing," Ghorbani said. "It is a violation of human dignity that we cannot figure out how people are forced with the decision of sleeping out on our streets."
Ghorbani and Wilson both pointed to the need for higher density housing in communities throughout the valley.
"I think communities are starting to get it. The county, again, doesn't have an ability to force it, but what the mayor can and should do is lead, and connect," Wilson said.
Bradshaw said he believes the county needs a master plan for housing. The county mayor needs to lead on that issue, he also said, and "every city needs to make a commitment of what they will do to solve this regional crisis."
He said developers, especially those that receive tax incentives, should be required to "dedicate a portion of the development to affordable housing," adding that the mayor should advocate for "better protection" for tenants.
Ghorbani also said communities in the county should share an equal burden for bringing density to their areas so that it "is not just a reality that one township or one area of this valley is facing, but it's something we do together."
Fonua advocated for a test run first.
"If we don't pilot the program, take all the red tapes and everything out of it, pilot it, and let it work out, who knows? In the future, we'll all be out of debt," he said.
Throughout the debate, Bradshaw and Wilson both pointed to their experience and accomplishments during their respective years on the county council.
When the candidates were asked how they would "act as a counterbalance" to the supermajority of Republicans in the legislature, Wilson said that the Democrats' success in the 2018 election sent a message to the state that "we have more political capital than we have had in the past."
Wilson, who lost to now Sen. Mitt Romney in November's election, pointed to her ability to "speak loudly" and "forcefully," adding that it's important that a mayor "knows how to use a pulpit" as well as negotiate. "We have to build strong relationships," she said.
Throughout the debate, Fonua, a local business owner, acknowledged that "I'm a different candidate" and "I'm not the status quo."
He said he doesn't typically disagree with anybody, but when there are disagreements he will "sit down with them and get it right." Fonua said he believes solutions to problems can be found by "asking children" for their ideas.
Bradshaw said that he has the ability to disagree on policies "without demeaning the other individual."
Ghorbani, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Chris Stewart in the state's 2nd Congressional District, emphasized the importance of building "common ground" between parties.
Equality, income, education and employment in the state was another focus of the debate.
Bradshaw said he will "demand change" in funding in the state's education system so that all children are given equal education opportunities. He also emphasized the importance of supporting local businesses.
Wilson said she will hire someone who understands the needs of different communities to work on the county's economic development team.
"I'm frustrated that our governor, and I pray he doesn't do it again … he will say, 'Look how great things are. Look at our economy. It's on fire, let's bottle it and sell it to the world,'" Wilson said. She said improving equality in the state would be a "No. 1 priority" for her.
"A mayor needs to speak up, a mayor needs to fight for our communities and people in need," Wilson said.
When it came to the pollution issue, Fonua incited some chuckles from the crowd by suggesting using a golf cart as a second car.4 comments on this story
Bradshaw said he would propose a telecommute policy for county employees, suggesting that they not drive on days when the air quality is unhealthy. He also said he wants to see the Utah Transit Authority become a free-fare system.
Ghorbani suggested expanding the county's energy management program, while Wilson said she would like to advocate with the federal government to do things like "tax trucks that pass through."
The Salt Lake County Democratic Party's central committee will meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Corner Canyon High School in Draper to choose who will serve out the remaining two years of McAdams' mayoral term.