Jim Dabakis put to rest a long-running rumor on Tuesday: The outgoing state senator has entered the race to be Salt Lake City’s 36th mayor.
“I’m in,” Dabakis told his more than 32,000 Facebook followers during a live broadcast.
Prior to the announcement, Dabakis was trepidatious. “If you want to win, you’ve got to check your soul out. It’s none of this, ‘Oh everybody will be behind you.’ It’s not. It’s the most lonely thing there is, to run,” Dabakis told City Weekly the day before his announcement.
“It’s not for sissies,” he said. “It’s exposing yourself and your life.”
The race is quickly starting to crowd. Local businessman and philanthropist David Ibarra and ex-Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold are also challenging the mayoral seat. Jackie Biskupski, the city’s first openly gay mayor, was elected in 2015.
Dabakis released poll results Monday morning from a telephone survey in which 42 percent of respondents said they’d vote for him if the election were held today if he and Biskupski were the only candidates. (More than one-quarter of those surveyed were undecided, and 31 percent said they’d back Biskupski.) Dabakis also held the lead among all candidates—though 42 percent of those surveyed said they were undecided—with 27 percent of respondents saying they’d vote for him if the election were today.
“It would never have given me the green light, but it might well have given me the red light,” Dabakis said of the survey. “It was never going to be the deciding factor.”
Dabakis has represented the state’s 2nd Senate District since 2012, when he won the seat vacated by County Mayor turned Congressman-elect Ben McAdams. Candidly blunt, Dabakis is known for his grand, public gestures that he hopes expand Republicans’ worldviews. For instance, on Feb. 22 he introduced a DUI-related bill to a Senate committee and noted that he’d gone to breakfast that morning and drank until he reached a .05 blood-alcohol concentration.
“Sometimes a spotlight and sometimes cynicism and a bit of poking fun is the best way to call attention to the ridiculous," Dabakis said in an April cover story.
Dabakis told City Weekly that being mayor would be different from his time in the Senate, given the differences in the power structure between the liberal city and the conservative state offices. “It’s not just taking potshots at a system that is gonna do what it’s gonna do, and making them pay a bit of a price for doing what they do,” Dabakis said, explaining that it was against his fun-loving, friendly personality to be such a vocal oppositionist for the past six years. Perhaps, he suggested, being mayor would be different. “So, it would be a kind of fallback to being what my nature is, which is to put my arms around everybody and say, ‘How am I doing? How can we do better?’”
Standing outside Rose Park Elementary School on Tuesday, Dabakis emphasized the importance of education, hinting at what could become an important platform during his candidacy. “I have done nothing but talk education, education, education in my time in the Legislature because I believe we are letting our children down, and I believe we are not doing what we should be doing, particularly to at-risk kids,” he said. “Mayors ought to be doing things for the next generation, as well as this week and this month.”
Toward the end of his broadcast, Dabakis explained that mayors must be visionary, ambassadorial and business savvy.
“I’m not running against anybody,” Dabakis said. “I’m running for my vision, and for my view of the city. I hope that we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”