Candidates take the stage for debate in Salt Lake City Mayoral race

Posted at 10:06 PM, Jul 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-17 13:36:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City's mayoral candidates squared off Thursday night during a debate sponsored by The Salt Lake Tribune.

The race now includes five candidates: Incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker; City Council Chairman Luke Garrott; Former state representative Jackie Biskupski; local activist George Chapman; and businessman Dave Robinson.

During the debate, which was held at the Salt Lake City Library, the group tackled a wide range of topics, including the economy, policing and homeless services.

"This administration has ignored drug dealing downtown. It's gotten so bad, it will take probably 50 new cops to even stop it expanding," Chapman said.

All of the candidates, with the exception of Becker, stated they would not move the Road Home Shelter from its current location in the Rio Grande district. Becker explained he would respect the decision of the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, which is tasked with deciding whether or not to relocate the facility.

"We also need to look at these individuals, the homeless people, as individuals; we need to understand what they are faced with,"  Robinson said.

The candidates also touched on the city's police department, which has been at the center of controversy in recent weeks.

Former Police Chief Chris Burbank resigned in June after a disagreement with Becker over how a sexual harassment case within the police department was handled.

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable and intolerable in the workplace," Becker said. "Fortunately, we have strong sexual harassment policies and strong policies to protect our workers. "

Becker acknowledged there is always room for improvement, however, his challengers doubted his ability to lead to any real changes.

"We have a real problem in our city with sexual harassment," Biskupski said. "It's not just in the police department. It's in the fire department. It's out in the airport. And I would agree that if the leadership of this city was strongly leading on this issue, with a zero tolerance policy, we wouldn't see what we are seeing."

With the departure of Burbank, Garrott said the city has a difficult and important job to do in finding a replacement. In the future, he said the city needs more "community policing," something he felt the area has been lacking under Becker.

"I know organizational culture is hard to change, but it's impossible to change if you're a leader whose hands off and lets his directors do what they want," Garrott said. "That's what we've seen from our current leadership."

Concerns over open space and the city's failing golf courses were also raised, as well as city's future economic development plans.

The primary election is August 11.