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Becker, Biskupski face off in debate focused on Latino issues

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Posted at 7:29 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-15 00:43:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City's Latino community took its mayoral candidates to task Monday night.

They invited incumbent Ralph Becker and challenger Jackie Biskupski to debate issues impacting Latinos in the city. Over the course of nearly two hours, they debated health care, immigration and education.

For the most part, Biskupski and Becker seemed to agree on the topics- expand Medicaid, improve education for minorities and reform immigration. But they differed when it came to how they should accomplish each goal.

"When I came into office eight years ago we were facing a recession that we didn't know was going to lead to a depression. We faced the biggest budget shortfall in the city's history. Today, this city is number one by almost every ranking of prosperity,” said Becker, in his closing remarks.

The mayor touted a record of success in the city, pointing to economic development efforts within the Latino community throughout his two terms in office.

“This city has been on a roll and has a momentum,” he said.

Biskupski, however, didn’t view it that way. After eight years in office, she said the mayor had failed to address the needs of those living on the west side of the city’s freeway.  Under her administration, she vowed to bring an economic development plan that the city’s Latino community and other minorities could benefit from over the long term.

“It is not the recession that has made a wider gap in this community and divided us,” Biskupski said. “It is a lack of attention that this segment of our population and this side of our city has had over the last eight years.”

Six of the city’s major Latino-based organizations helped organize the debate.  With approximately 42,000 Latinos living in the city, they felt it was time the candidates addressed some of their concerns.

“The Latino community has never been directly engaged by our civic leaders. There have been pockets of engagement, but I think that more than ever today with all the national divisive rhetoric, Latinos are really kind of paying attention, and they want to be invited to the table,” said Alejandro Mora, Vice President of the Utah Coalition of La Raza.

Following the debate, the reviews from the audience were mixed. While some were encouraged to hear such a conversation in their community, others felt the dialogue only scratched the surface of the issues.

“I want a little more of the candidates’ personal views. I think there were a lot of talking points tonight. I think there were a lot if really good questions. I'm not sure I felt like they answered them very well,” said resident Billy Palmer.