Final ballot results released Aug. 15 in the Salt Lake City mayoral race, in an incredible turn of events, third place Luz Escamilla pulled ahead of the largely presumed next mayor of Salt Lake, Jim Dabakis. On election night, a mere 109 votes separated the two, while Erin Mendenhall confidently announced her moving on to November’s general election.
Escamilla explained her come-from-behind victory: “We knew we had an aggressive field game to get out the vote and these results show that our hard work paid off.”
If elected in November, Escamilla would become Salt Lake City’s first ethnic minority mayor. She spent her last two years of high school living in a border town in Tijuana, Mexico, and crossing into the U.S. every day to attend school in San Diego. In 2004, she became a U.S. citizen.
As a resident of Rose Park, she has touted her understanding of the West Side and of the city’s growing minority populations, as well as her relationships with state leaders, as a boon to residents. She has received a large degree of support from her Capitol Hill colleagues, and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who is not running for re-election, has all but endorsed her.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall entered politics because of the area’s air quality.
“I entered public service 13 years ago when I learned that the air quality in Salt Lake City was so bad it could take two years off my newborn son’s life. My first thought, of course, was to walk away and take my son somewhere with cleaner air. But instead of walking away, I decided to stay and get to work.”
Mendenhall and Escamilla set the stage for a friendly, respectful race. During a question-and-answer forum at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, they often called each other “the good councilwoman” or “the good senator,” and praised one another’s experience and knowledge.
They both stated a focus on air quality, immigration and protecting the city’s interests in connection to the inland port, if elected. In regard to immigration they also agreed to tell the city police force not to aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement with raids or deportations.
Where they differ though is on the reorganization of city government: Mendenhall would not do it because she values the current administrators’ experience and knowledge. Escamilla said she would reorganize the city government and focus on helping it become more efficient, improving communication to underserved communities, and bringing “city hall to the neighborhoods as well.”
Another area Mendenhall and Escamilla agree upon is LGBT rights. Just prior to June’s Pride Festival, they both commented on the LGBT community to QSaltLake Magazine.
“I firmly believe that city government should serve inclusively; this means that a Mayor should lean in — and give our LGBTQ community leaders a seat at the table. As Salt Lake City grows, I will ensure we intentionally cultivate and foster local talent from tech to creatives to entrepreneurs. Those seeking a vibrant and progressive community should be able to grow roots here in Salt Lake City free of discrimination. Affordable housing, clean air, and well-paying jobs are LGBTQ issues, and we need to treat them as such,” Mendenhall explained.
Escamilla said, “Salt Lake City Pride and its festivities are critical and are an extension of the love shared among the LGBTQIA+ community. The growing visibility of all members of this community shows that Salt Lake City values diversity and progress. Salt Lake City residents have a long-standing reputation for making members of its community feel valued. We are a family and all parts are integral here. Our culture is vast and has space to expand.”
Utah’s capital has never had a mayoral election showdown between two female candidates.