Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker had crammed a handful of supporters and a gaggle of media into the small art gallery attached to the Mestizo Coffee House at 641 W. North Temple to announce his bid for a third term as mayor, when minutes before the start of the press conference, District 4 Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott issued a press release announcing his own challenge against Becker.
Becker has been a popular mayor, lauded for supporting bike lanes and an aggressive agenda for a sustainable city, but this go-around it seems the Becker brand won't likely be able to ward off serious challengers. Becker cruised to victory in 2011 when his only competition was a kindly 79-year-old Republican named John Allen Kimball, who more or less shrugged his shoulders and challenged Becker because nobody else was.
Not this time.
is now the first official challenger, there have already been rumors of other contenders. Utah Policy reported
in August that openly gay former legislator Jackie Biskupski helped fund a poll to test the water about a possible run for mayor.
Garrott, an 18-year resident of Salt Lake City and professor of political science at the University of Utah came out swinging in a press release challenging Becker for being an absentee mayor with his out-of-state travel (Becker was recently named president of the National League of Cities) and for prioritizing flash-in-the pan projects over people.
“Ralph has spent eight years catering to big-dollar, luxury and legacy projects. People must be the top priority for Salt Lake City’s mayor,” Garrott 's statement reads. “We should focus instead on making home ownership and living in the city more affordable, attracting better paying jobs, and improving public education and opportunities for our children.”
At Becker's conference, however, he touted a long list of accomplishments that he personally had a hand in during the last seven years he's been at the the helm, such as the city being the first to adopt an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, preceding similar ordinances in over a dozen cities. He also pointed to energy conservation efforts such as making the Public Safety Complex adjacent to Library Square the first net-zero facility of its kind in the country— a similar tack he want to take with the future renovation of the Salt Lake City airport.
He also cited the expansion of the Airport TRAX line and the Sugar House Streetcar, as well as the addition of numerous bicycle lanes in the city, as all helping to enhance the city experience and the ability of its residents to access transportation.
While numerous downtown business owners have complained
of Becker's bike lanes for cutting out parking spaces that push customers away, Becker asserted that under his leadership, city government has “has a made a huge difference” for the betterment of downtown Salt Lake City. Becker pointed out, for example, that the plan to develop the City Creek shopping mall in downtown “was still in a questionable condition when I came into office.”
“We spent five years developing the concepts around both the cultural core and specifically the Eccles Theatre which is under construction,” Becker said, calling the Broadway-style theater a “catalyst” for the downtown. He also championed new zoning ordinances allowing for a variety of mixed-uses around transit corridors as well as major re-writes on the city's liquor laws, for example allowing guidelines for bars in neighborhood districts and allowing for more than two liquor-serving establishments on a single block.
“We have completely opened the doors for a whole variety of endeavors in Salt Lake City that simply didn't exist when I came into office,” Becker said.