On a bright Monday afternoon on the steps of City and County Building, former two-term city councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, clad in a blue coat once worn by her grandmother, took the oath of office for the third time in her life—this time for the highest position in the state’s capital city.
In her speech, Mendenhall, who began her career in politics as an air quality advocate, addressed a crowd of about 500, envisioning a unified city where public servants, advocacy groups, community organizers and business could join forces to tackle every major problem facing the city.
“Our city has long led the way on new paths toward progress and we have done so with political willingness, creativity and tenacity,” Mendenhall said. “As the stakes have risen on issues from immigration to homelessness, equity and belonging, affordable housing and climate change, we need that tenacity … now more than ever. Our city will achieve more when we bring allies to this work.”
Mendenhall called on Salt Lake residents, “housed and unhoused, young and old, immigrant and native, families of all sizes, races and cultures,” to provide input into creating a city with a promising future for all people. “None of us can do this work along, not a citizen, not a council-member and not a mayor. I need you,” she stressed.
In one of her first initiative as mayor, Mendenhall said she would oversee the planting of 1,000 trees every year in the city’s west side neighborhoods to help combat poor air quality.
Inline with her advocacy of sustainable economic growth, Mendenhall also emphasized the importance of building a city that attracts entrepreneurs and growing businesses. She called on organizations to recognize their social responsibility in providing equal opportunity and reducing environmental impact.
“Let's be the city that works together to improve our air quality, not only through government actions, but corporate and personal responsibility,” Mendenhall said. “A city that acknowledges that we all breathe the same air and that it's all of us that must prioritize cleaning it.”
The inauguration comes only a day after police arrested 16 demonstrators occupying the southwest corner of Washington Square Park in protest of the city’s failure to fully address homelessness. Mendenhall and former Mayor Jackie Biskupski released a joint press statement on Friday, Jan. 3 saying that attempts to meet with the protesters had failed.
Deb Blake, a member of the Take Shelter Coalition, appeared to be the only protester to attend the ceremony, silently holding a sign that read, “Shelter for all, Mendenhall!” Blake told City Weekly that more protesters would have been in attendance if it were not for the “excessive brutality” used by the police during the operation to disband the camp.
Following the ceremony, and prompted by City Weekly, Biskupski offered the following piece of advice for Mendenhall: “I think you have to listen to your experts as you are making decisions and creating a path forward,” she said. “The experts at city hall are amazing and [their] depth of knowledge is extraordinary. I think anyone who comes into office should really get to know that expertise and understand who you’re working with. There are no boundaries after that.”
An hour later, Mendenhall was ready to roll up her sleeves. “Okay, Salt Lake City. It's time to get to work,” she tweeted.