SALT LAKE CITY — Though campaigning began long ago, the official makeup of the Salt Lake City mayor's race is now final.
Friday at 5 p.m. marked the deadline for filing to run for the mayor's office — and the official pool of candidates now stands at eight, with one newcomer and one dropping out earlier this week to endorse another.
As candidates enter the official campaign season ahead of the Aug. 13 primary, issues including air quality, housing affordability, environment, homelessness and transportation top most candidates' priorities.
And as campaign session heats up, the biggest hot-button issue is so far shaping up to be controversy over the state-formed Utah Inland Port Authority and the lawsuit filed earlier this year by Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who surprised the city when she bowed out of the race, citing a "complex family situation."
The lawsuit, challenging the port authority's creation and whether the state had the power to give final land use and taxing authority to the 11-member board, is widely supported by most candidates, who are already pledging to back keep the lawsuit alive if elected mayor. At least one candidate, however, said he'd put the lawsuit on hold to avoid a costly fight.
Their stances come amid a time when the controversy over the inland port — a proposed global trade hub meant to maximize the state's imports and exports with a network of truck, train and air connections — is at an all-time high. This week, environmental activists crashed a port authority board meeting, where one protester was arrested.
The race to lead Utah's capital city has so far taken a mostly positive tone, and all candidates who spoke with the Deseret News on Friday pledged to keep it that way, promising no negative tactics and to instead focus on issues.
The candidates and their priorities, listed in order of the day they filed, are:
Longtime state Sen. Luz Escamilla entered the Salt Lake City mayor's race after 11 years on Capitol Hill — experience she points to as enabling her to be a "champion" for Salt Lake City.
Escamilla promises she'll work across party lines, advocate for minorities and advance progressive agendas, despite a Republican-controlled Utah Legislature in Utah's Capitol.
She was the first mayoral candidate to officially file this week, which she said shows that her campaign aims to be the "worker bee."
"We're here to work for Salt Lake City," she said, pledging to "empower" the city on issues including sustainability, air quality, local transit and other issues.
As for the Utah Inland Port, Escamilla said she's been frustrated from "day one" with the state's "heavy-handed approach" to controlling the development of the port, and she threw her support behind Biskuspki's lawsuit.
"The lawsuit should move forward," Escamilla said. "It will provide the courts with an opportunity to prove a better way of working between the state and municipalities."
David Garbett, former attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, filed his candidacy after one previously announced candidate, Christian Harrison, withdrew to endorse Garbett.
Garbett has taken a strong stance against the Utah Inland Port. He said he firmly opposes the port and would rather see a "Utah Clean Air Hub, aimed at "spurring innovation to address air quality and climate change, reducing pollution on the Wasatch Front, and education," according to his website.
Air quality is what "drew me into this race," Garbett said, growing tired of the internal battle of whether to leave the city for the health of his children.
"There's no reason we have to move forward on an inland port," he said, adding that he'll support the lawsuit challenging the port authority's creation.
Garbett said his work as an environmental lawyer and leader of the Pioneer Park Coalition gives him experience with environmental and neighborhood issues including air quality, housing affordability and homelessness.
"I don't have experience as an elected official, but what I'm bringing is novel ways of thinking about things," he said. "Instead of just saying, 'Vote for me because of what I've done in the past,' I want to show them where we can go in the future."
Salt Lake City Councilwoman and Utah Air Quality Board Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall is running on a platform of experience, saying she knows how to get things done in City Hall.
"Salt Lake City deserves a mayor with experience that makes city government work for the people and the energy to do that hard work that it requires, and a common-sense approach that works with the community at every step," she said.
Her top priorities include "building a city with cleaner air and stronger neighborhoods and a thriving and resilient economy." She said she'll also prioritize the city's "critical infrastructure" and making the city competitive in the tech industry.
As for the inland port, Mendenhall said she'll keep Salt Lake City at the negotiating table, as she did as council chairwoman last year, when she continued negotiating with state leaders after Biskupski walked away.
Mendenhall also calls herself an "environmentalist" who supports open and public lands. As for the lawsuit, she also said she'd keep it alive.
"I want to be clear: I do not support the state's tax and land use grab from Salt Lake City," she said in a video posted on her campaign Facebook page. "The way that those decisions have been taken from us is wrong."
Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis says his experience on Capitol Hill positions him as the right person to not only make sure the "potholes are filled" and city money is being "well spent," but also to have the right relationships to be the city's "ambassador."
"For me, being that ambassador, that bridge, will be the No. 1 job," Dabakis said.
Though he said the state has a tendency to "pick on" progressive Salt Lake City, Dabakis — who was well-known in the Utah Legislature as a loud Democratic voice and advocate for the LGBT community as an openly gay man — said he knows how to navigate issues in a collaborative way, despite political differences.
"Ultimately those issues ... are going to require somebody that can pick up the phone and call Gov. (Spencer) Cox or Gov. (Greg) Hughes or whoever the governor is going to be," he said.
Dabakis said he'd be a mayor who also "has the ability to stand up and say to the rest of the state, 'No. This is what we believe,' and be strong and bold and not cower away from representing our city in a political direction."
Dabakis also stands firm behind Biskuspki's lawsuit against the inland port authority, calling it "essential" to clarify the law related to the state's power over the city's land and tax authority.
Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold said his campaign, ever since he became the first candidate to announce he will run, remains extremely "neighborhood focused." He said he's knocked on countless doors.
"We're all about getting out into the neighborhoods and listening to people and talking to people and hearing what they have to say," Penfold said. "We're all about knocking on doors."
Penfold said residents' top concerns include air quality and "skyrocketing" housing prices — issues that he said will also be his top focus as mayor.
Soon, Penfold said he'll unveil his "Stan Plan," or more details about how he'd address top issues.
As for the inland port, Penfold also supports continuing Biskupski's lawsuit to help "resolve the legal issue" behind the port authority's formation. But also, Penfold said, it's going to take more to address the future of the port, pointing to tensions that continue to rise as demonstrated by last week's protests.
"We need to have a reset," he said. "People aren't happy with the direction at all, and I think to move forward we have to sit down at the same table and say, 'What are we all trying to achieve' and here's how to move forward."
A candidate that had not yet indicated he would be running in the mayor's race until he filed his paperwork, Rainer Huck isn't a stranger to Salt Lake City elections.
The retired engineer ran for the mayor's seat in 2007, but was among seven candidates who did not advance from the primary, losing to Dave Buhler and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
Huck, who called himself a "freelance philosopher" in the 2007 election, did not return a request for comment Friday.
Local businessman David Ibarra said when he started knocking on doors in January, he resisted forming too many opinions about issues he'd tackle if he were mayor, wanting to draw on feedback from Salt Lake City residents first.
Now, after his campaign knocked on thousands of doors, Ibarra said he has a very good sense of what matters to residents.
So Ibarra said he'll prioritize addressing homelessness issues stemming from the "ripple effect" some neighborhoods have felt from Operation Rio Grande. He said he'll also prioritize housing affordability, environment, transportation and roads.
"People are passionate about what (we're) going to do to fix these things," Ibarra said.
He said all those issues are "connected," and so he's focusing on an approach "where we do it horizontally instead of each thing vertically."
As for the inland port, Ibarra said he, too, is in favor of an environmentally friendly approach, and he supports the lawsuit to determine jurisdiction over the project. "If we have no jurisdiction, we have no input, and then we'll be a victim of what comes next," he said.
Freelance journalist Richard Goldberger was the last candidate to file before the 5 p.m. cut-off Friday.
Goldberger calls himself a "common-sense cat" who isn't your typical political candidate.
"I don't like politicians at all," Goldberger said, adding that he believes if given the choice most people would rather "hold a handful of their own toilet paper" in their hand rather than a politician.7 comments on this story
Goldberger said his slogan is "government by objectives," focused on looking "at each issue and finding answers that are really doable to solve these problems."
As for the inland port lawsuit, Goldberger said it's not a "win-win situation" and could cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars," so he'd rather "put it on hold" while he negotiated.
"These things can be handled in a way that's responsible," he said. "It doesn't need to be in court. ... It's a waste of taxpayer money. I'm opposed to it."