On March 27th, I sent off a questionnaire to all of the then ten mayoral candidates for Salt Lake City. I received written responses from three of the candidates, Ralph Becker, Dave Buhler, and Jenny Wilson. Jenny Wilson and Keith Christensen were also good enough to spend some time with me at lunch to discuss my questions.
Over the next week I will post the responses I received (alphabetically by surname), summarizing with an endorsement at the end. The mayor’s race is a non-partisan race and I have tried to approach it as such, basing my endorsement not on past friendships, party affiliation, or support of my own race for the U.S. Senate in 2006. I believe that all of the four candidates who took the time to respond to me are exceptional people of which any would make a great mayor and an asset to our city. Unfortunately, I can only endorse one.
Here is Ralph Becker’s response:
1. What is your plan for action to rejuvenate Main Street and Downtown? This does not include the City Creek Center or plans by the LDS Church. How do you plan to encourage locally-owned business development?
Downtown Salt Lake City should be an international destination for trade and tourism, and it should be densely populated with a rich mix of retail, financial, cultural, recreational, and residential opportunities that attracts area residents, tourists, and employees alike. That can happen with City leadership in the following ways:
As mayor, I will develop a consensus vision that sets out a clear direction for downtown development using a collaborative approach to moving forward comprehensively along a well-specified path. (Downtown Rising presents a nice roadmap as a starting point.)
- This vision must include:
- Residential as a key component
- Balanced, multi-modal transportation (draft plan is very promising)
- Promoting gathering places â€“ private and public
- Moving the cultural district concept forward
- Making sure hospitality and entertainment are integral part of downtown plan
- A focused RDA effort that keeps a level playing field for businesses of all sizes and is proactive in carrying out City vision.
- A targeted small-business program that promotes locally-owned businesses downtown.
- Lack of sustainable standards for new construction downtown
- Mitigate constructionâ€™s effect on businesses
By focusing on the following, downtown can be revitalized:
- Itâ€™s the cityâ€™s responsibility to make sure that downtown is properly promoted, and a big part of that is emphasizing the nightlife.
- As a hub for arts of all kinds, we need to bring local artists back to downtown, with an emphasis on small/medium-scale art spaces.
- The RDAâ€™s governing strategy needs to be revisited â€“ both in terms of the process itself and in terms of what it funds.
- The City must work closely with County and State to concentrate cultural facilities downtown. Not having the RSL stadium in downtown SLC is a tragedy, for example.
- Above all, I will focus on partnering with the LDS Church, the Chamber, and other organizations who are working to develop downtown so that the focus is on the entire downtown and its relationship with the city and region. Itâ€™s the mayorâ€™s job to be the collaborator-in-chief, and I embrace that role.
2. Pioneer Park has consistently been a target of Mayor Anderson for revival. Do you feel the park is in need of revival? If so, what would your plan be?
There are definitely things we can do to Pioneer Park that will make it a more attractive place to be. But I would be very resistant to any major development of the park that takes away the open space that it contains. A better walking/jogging path, for example, would complement the open space amenity, as would some kind of interactive historical monument or educational exhibits, but I feel strongly that large-scale structures are not as appropriate there.
What the park needs most, however, is more people â€“ look at the energy and atmosphere that it has during the Farmers Markets. I will work to increase the density of housing and commercial structures in the vicinity of Pioneer Park so that a critical mass of residents and visitors feel comfortable being in the park both day and night.
We also need a sensitive, sensible way to address the large homeless population that occupies the Park now, scaring away other City residents much of the time.
3. Historic preservation has traditionally taken a backseat to economic and developer demand in Salt Lake City. Do you feel this is a proper course of action for a city? What are your own feelings on Salt Lake’s historic properties? What would you do to protect or rid the city of them? Do you believe the RDA (Redevelopment Agency) has been a success in Salt Lake City? Should a government entity like the RDA be able to claim “economic hardship” in order to demolish historic properties in Salt Lake City?
As you know, Peter, I have a long history of working to protect historic structures. (Iâ€™ve received a â€œgoing to batâ€ award from the Utah Heritage Foundation for my work to save the Cache County Courthouse.) Historic structures are irreplaceable sources of beauty, character, and heritage. City policies should put preservation and renovation first. Having historic districts helps. Making it more difficult for property owners to allow historic buildings to become dilapidated needs to be strengthened. Redevelopment is part of change, but protecting our historic heritage should always be part of the equation. Iâ€™ve commented on the Cityâ€™s RDA above, but let me add that I would want to look at how the RDA addresses historic properties. For example, the final result for the Brooks Arcade was tragic; we had a good restoration in place that was scuttled in favor of a facadectomy (my word).
4. Liberty Park has received a lot of city funding while the Tracy Aviary has been largely ignored by the city. Promises of shared funding have also not been kept. What will you do to balance the attention of city funding for public facilities? Do you think the city needs an aviary?
Tracy Aviary is a great asset in the City and Liberty Park. Iâ€™m not aware of the specifics of the Cityâ€™s failed promises. The Aviary is a great way for our residents, particularly our children, to learn about birds and ecosystems. Iâ€™d want to see how the City can be a good partner for Tracy Aviary. Iâ€™ve been encouraged by some of the recent changes there.
5. Please tell me how you balance compromise and conflict, diplomacy and leadership.
Pete, you have known me for quite awhile and know how I operate as a public official. The best public solutions come from engaging the stakeholder and the public in a meaningful process that brings everyone to the table. I built a successful public and business career around that approach. Achieving desired, lasting results entails good decision making processes. I have been part of a national effort for state governments to promote good governance called Policy Consensus Initiative (PCI). You can find out information about the work Iâ€™ve engaged in: http://www.policyconsensus.org. Collaborative decision making starts with respect for all views; that does not mean that principles and values are compromised.
6. What is your priority list for your attention? Do you believe national and international problems should ever override your local focus? How do you prioritize public interest verses private commercial concern? What comes first for you?
If I must list a specific issue that is my top priority, it would be education. There is so much that a municipality such as ours can do to make our public education system stronger, and the SLCSD is ready to partner with the city in that effort. Iâ€™ll be issuing a portion of my platform on this topic soon.
I donâ€™t think that non-local issues should â€œoverrideâ€ our day-to-day issues here in Salt Lake City, but I do think that some national issues directly affect us and that there are times that the mayor should speak to them. With education, for example, federal restrictions on the use of education funding are an issue that I would be very vocal about with national leaders. Same with federal housing policy: decisions that are made in DC in terms of who is eligible for HUD housing can have an immediate and direct effect on our cityâ€™s ability to attract and retain teachers, and it influences as well our approach to homelessness and low-income housing. So I would judiciously use the mayorâ€™s bully pulpit; it would, however, certainly be constrained to issues that I feel affect our lives here in Salt Lake City. In my opinion, an elected official should carefully choose issues to address that go beyond our boundaries.
As for balancing the public interest and private concerns, I do believe that a balance must be struck: we have to create an economic environment that encourages innovation and creativity, but ultimately the government is charged with oversight. The market is not perfect. There are definitely times when the city should step in and both provide leadership where private enterprise may fear to tread, and also regulate the private sphere to ensure that it does not marginalize those who are unable to keep up economically.
7. Do you believe municipal fiber-optics are an essential part of an advanced city infrastructure?
Pete, you heard my answer to you at the Hinckley forum and you know my record on UTOPIA at the Legislature. We need to step up as a City; if the private sector wonâ€™t provide necessary infrastructure, the City residents should be given the opportunity to vote our taxes to accomplish making Salt Lake City a leader in fiber optics.
8. Are you in favor of Utah’s liquor laws? Do you think they are appropriate for all areas of Utah? What role does government play in moderating adult behavior?
Utahâ€™s liquor laws should make sense; they donâ€™t. I believe in quiet diplomacy to try to bring sensibility to this issue.
9. How do you intend to bridge the gap between belief systems in Utah?
This is one area where visible and active leadership is crucial. As I wrote above, I bring a collaborative approach to decision-making. As an example, I have a very good working relationship with legislators who embody a wide spectrum of political and cultural beliefs. Coming from a position of respect and openness can go a long way toward bridging the differences between the different cultures in Salt Lake City.
10. What are your opinions of the Utah legislature, and how do you intend to make sure Utah’s capitol city has a working relationship with the legislature?
Pete, you know my history and approach here, and Iâ€™ve indicated much of my response in previous answers. I will build on my strong relationships in the Legislature to bring better results for Salt Lake City. My work to bring the Legislature to Salt Lake City for its annual site visit this year I hope will open some eyes to our City and itâ€™s issues, as well as show them a good time.
11. All the mayoral candidates appear to be in favor of “Buying Local” according to the Vest Pocket survey. Where is your website hosted? If you have a business website, where is that hosted?
Xmission. Xmission. I appreciate your services and have to say that your customer service people are very personable and responsive.
I have had a local business for more than 20 years, am a member of Vest Pocket and Buy Local First, and appreciate the need and benefits of local businesses.
Your questions covered all of the issues. I cannot vote for the S.L. Mayor but will read with interest the future responses, and pass them on when I can. Thank you!
I have been following Ralph Becker’s career in the legislature for years. He is my pick for mayor, and his answers above reinforce for me his strong experience, vision, and personality. Thanks Pete!
Ralph has a strong background in planning and government issues. he is knowledgeable and experienced in business and government. he has personal integrityand what you see is what he is. Since by this tiime the candidates have all learned the right words to the song, I’m not sure if your questions look closely enough at the candidate’s backgrounds and real selves. Ralph walks the walk. I’m sure not all of the other candidates do.
Thank you for doing this for us, Pete. As a member of Democracy for Utah, we are very interested in the Mayoral Candidates responses to questionaires of this caliber. I will post this on our website. http://www.democracyforutah.com
I have had the opportunity to help organize two Mayoral Candidates Forums focusing on issues concerning the Latino/Hispanic community. These issues include education, housing, immigration and economic development on the West side of Salt Lake CIty. From my perspective, as a passionate educator and politically active Latina, Ralph has demonstrated his support of our diverse communities (i.e. bills he has supported and introduced) and he has plans and ideas for the future that will bring our city together and help our diverse community get on a path toward educational, economic and social justice. Ralph Becker has my vote for Mayor of Salt Lake City.
Pete – Thank you for hosting this dialogue! Great to see Ralph’s viewpoints and positions like this. Thanks for the good work.
Thanks for these questions. This is a valuable resource.
Pete, thank you for doing this! I, unfortunately, cannot vote for SLC Mayor, my vote is in the County district. However, I feel that the City mayor affects all of us in the area. And since I talk politics with a lot of people, I think that being informed about the race (and even having opinions!) will be very beneficial. I look forward to seeing this series posted. Again, thanks!
I feel that Mr. Becker did not fully answer some of the questions, in particular #10. Maybe you know the answers to these questions, but I don’t! Yet, it’s the career politicians’ way to answer without really answering. And honestly, I don’t believe Mr. Becker has really thought about Tracy Aviary which is evident in his answer.
I was disappointed in Mr. Becker’s response to the soccor playing fields in SLC that were part of the Real stadium deal. He claimed that if he’d known the $7.5 million deal was not really a gift, he would have voted against it. He should have made it his business to know what he was voting for. SLC’s interests were nearly sold down the river. Clearly there was no oversight here from anyone. It was evident from the county’s wrangling that the Mr. Checkett’s was not being open nor honest. When the county asked him to show them the money, his answer wasn’t exactly spontaneous, was it?
It’s early, and I’m undecided, but that was a major strike against Mr. Becker in my opinion. Looking forward to hearing the other candidates’ views on Tracy Aviary (just kidding!)
I really think that Rep. Becker went into amazing depth here.
I especially liked that he’s been a member of Vest Pocket and Buy Local First.
Great questions Pete. Ralph, thanks for answering the questions here and thanks for helping us better understand your positions.
Thanks for providing this forum. Mr. Becker strikes me as a bright guy with some good ideas. I am concerned, however, about his going along with the Real stadium deal, later claiming that he was mislead. A seasoned politician can hardly play the dupe. So, it calls into question his motives or ability to guard the public interest in complex negotiations. I’m also concerned about his almost automatic support for legalizing undocumented immigrants. I wonder if he’s an equally forceful advocate of those who have applied for citizenship legally. Judging from his comments in the press, it sounds as though he would make a haven for those who break and evade immigration law. I’d rather not afford that group a place of priviledge, but make it easier for those who’ve applied through legal channels, and support the recent (legal) immigrants we already have.
Although I understand some of the concerns vis a vis Represntative Becker going along with the REAL deal and not being concerned enough about illegal immigration, I think we need to pay attendtion to the fact that Representative Becker is runnning for the office of Salt Lake City Mayor.
This city needs a person who is able to be cognizant of city issues. I don’t have enough behind the scene facts regarding the Salt Lake REAL deal as proprosed to the Legislature, but to judge a candidate on one vote is very short sighted.
I support Representative Baker for his experience in working with the current Legislature, knowlege of City Planning and his ability to work and communicate with all the citizens of our City.
I appreciate this forum as a way to express our thoughts about the various candidates.
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I feel that the only issue I need closure on that you didn’t touch on enough was environmental policy. I think that when we talk about boosting our economy, we need to be careful that we aren’t whoring out what makes Salt Lake beautiful. Sure, historical preservation is important too, but not as much to me as whether industrial factories and smokestacks make the other half of the city hideous and make it even harder to breathe.
What a relief to get rid of that nut case Rocky Anderson. He has done more to damage the reputation of SLC. While Becker may not be perfect, he certainly is a million times better than Crazy Rocky.