Dave Robinson is not big on labels. So, when he ran in the nonpartisan Salt Lake City mayoral race, that suited him just fine.
“I’ve been either a registered Independent or unaffiliated all my adult life,” he said of his political leanings.
So, when he was approached by leaders within the Republican party to run for Salt Lake County Mayor, against incumbent Ben McAdams, he had to set one thing straight: He isn’t.
“I told them they better think deeper and harder about a queer man running on their Republican ticket.
He was told the “gay issue wasn’t an issue.”
They even went so far as to tell him they would work to ensure he didn’t have a primary race.
And that, in fact, is how it played out.
“You know, I’ve had real, genuine support for this race from within the Republican party,” he said. “Yeah, there are some crazies, but they are far and few between.”
He gave the idea of running a great deal of thought, and decided there were a number of issues dear to his heart that differed between him and the incumbent.
If elected, he would be the highest-ranking gay person in the state.
Another label he’s refused to put upon himself is “victim.”
“I was raised LDS right up the road from [Utah Eagle Forum director] Gayle Ruzicka,” he said. “I left home at 15 and I also went on an LDS mission.”
His father hated him. Really hated him. Dave was in a typical LDS family, where all the boys and his father were athletic. Each of his brothers went on to collegiate sports. But he had no interest.
“I just had no desire,” he said. “Sports just didn’t reflect on me.”
“It may have been all that polyester,” he quipped with a chuckle.
He moved out of his house at 15, arranging for himself to live with another family in the ward.
But that was not enough for his father.
“My father was obsessed until the day he died with his hatred toward me,” he said. “He would publicly say I was a con man, a child molester.”
When a brother, his father’s favorite, died in an auto/pedestrian accident, leaving behind a young wife and four little kids, his father took to the podium at sacrament meeting.
“He said it was truly hell when you lose the son you love, but the son you despise is still alive,” Robinson relayed that someone in his ward told him. “I wasn’t listed in the obituary. I also wasn’t listed in my father’s obituary when he died.”
In fact, when his father died, Robinson went for the first time in 20 years to his family home with flowers for his mother. No one answered the door, and he sat on the porch and waited. He was met by three American Fork police officers who told him he’d better leave.
“I haven’t been in a family photo for over 20 years,” he said.
“But, I don’t hold it against any of them,” he said. “I never have.”
“That is the story of a kid who commits suicide,” he said. “But I refuse to be a victim. Instead, it makes me want to go out and kick some ass.”
And that, rather than a defeatist attitude, is where Robinson gets his drive to make a difference in this world.
Ranch hand to entrepreneur
When he moved from his home as a teen, he paid for his room and board by being a ranch hand for the family.
Now he has become an entrepreneur.
“I own a couple of businesses here in Salt Lake County,” he said. “One is a home building company that takes under-utilized properties, governed by strict zoning, oversight committees, and commissions, and helps them contribute to the neighborhood.”
City Block LLC specializes in the downtown market and takes the buyer from property acquisition to design and permitting to the actual construction.
“There is a ton of red tape,” he said, “but in the end, zoning comes around and realizes it’s in the city or county’s best interest to find ways to make a project happen while addressing the needs of the neighborhood.”
He also works on saving open lands in Salt Lake’s canyons through his company SS Consulting.
“I believe we need to protect the watershed, protect open space and protect the backcountry,” Robinson says.
Another endeavor he works on is providing housing for larger conventions that come through Salt Lake. Before AirBnB became popular, Robinson was running a locally grown version called Convention Housing.
“The Governor’s Office shows that we have a 1,000 bed shortage during the Outdoor Retailer show.,” Robinson explains. “We were able to host a total of 4,000 bed nights last summer.”
Differences with McAdams
The reason Robinson chose to run against a popular incumbent is that there are major issues, in his mind, that are not being addressed.
“People tell me I’m being mean to Ben,” he said, “but all I’m doing is pointing out things I would do differently.”
One of those things is addressing the convention housing deficit.
“What we need is surge housing,” Robinson explains. “The idea of a 1,000 room hotel is old-school thinking. Here we are, ready to hand over $75 million to incentivize the hotel, and we have no takers. What we need is new thinking.”
Robinson said that earlier talks with the county’s convention bureau over temporary surge housing were shut down by McAdams because the idea got in the way of his pet hotel project.
“We need to utilize the resources we have today,” Robinson said. “By promising not to punish those providing housing in their homes to meet the temporary demands of housing, we can address the bed shortage.”
Robinson also has a different idea to address open space and public access, which is why he developed is company to address it.
Rather than take public funds for lawsuits and conservation, Robinson believes that a model similar to crowdfunding is the answer.
His SaveASpot.org project allows people to spend as little as $25 to conserve open space.
“These small purchases are matched by those who have big money and believe in open space,: he explained. The first project is to protect the Cardiff Bowl in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Robinson also disagrees with how much McAdams has grown the administrative staff of the county.
“I think we need to limit the size of the county budget,” he explained. “McAdams has grown his staff by 33 percent since he took office.”
“We have had a budget increase of 42 percent, but only a 12 percent population increase.”
Radical Gay Agenda
One small group of Republicans who are giving him some grief seem to be affiliated with Rep. Lavar Christensen.
“I’ve had a few people come up to me during meet-and-greets and stand nervously while I talk to others. Eventually, I get to them and they have the same question: Are you gay?” he said. “I say, well, yes I am.”
They then go on to tell Robinson that he has been deceiving them, even though he has been interviewed in several publications, including this one, where he states openly that he is gay.
“They say, well I’m worried you are only running to serve the radical gay agenda,” he said. “I tell them I have no idea what that even means.”
The county has a nondiscrimination ordinance in housing as well as one in employment. They even provide health care benefits to transgender employees. At the county level, Robinson says, he doesn’t see what a mayor can do to further extend a “radical gay agenda.”
“After digging and asking more questions,” he said, “it is readily apparent these people are working for Christensen.”
He approached Christensen at a recent event, where he says the representative admitted he has concerns about his “radical gay agenda.”
“After talking with him, he seemed to get that I’m a well-rounded candidate that has many issues as priority,: he said. “But then I find out he moved to the next room and repeated the same “radical gay agenda” story to whoever wold listen.”
If there were a radical gay agenda item on his docket, Robinson would love to see the county come up with an annual gay winter games that would draw winter sports enthusiasts from around the world to return to the area each year or so too compete.
“That would show business owners around the world that Salt Lake County is a welcoming place for all,” he said.
While many leaders within the LGBT community have expressed support for his ideas, he is having a hard time with follow-through on their promises. In fact, he has been unable to even get an interview with Equality Utah, who tell him it is a budget issue.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises funds for openly LGBT candidates, believes that allies are great, but openly LGBT elected officials are much more needed. Some point to McAdams’ silence when Judge Robert Shelby ruled laws against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional as an example of why that is true. Q