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SLC mayoral candidates promise a reset on relationships with Utah’s Capitol Hill

Posted at 4:22 PM, Jul 15, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY -- At their only televised debate, the eight candidates for mayor each vied to stand out from the pack.

The forum, sponsored by the Pioneer Park Coalition, covered a variety of issues. Each candidate touted their air quality initiatives. Luz Escamilla promised equity and sustainability. Erin Mendenhall touted her experience as head of the state's air quality board and longtime advocacy work. Stan Penfold promised free transit fare, as did Jim Dabakis.

On homelessness, Rainer Huck announced he wanted to build a large-scale "homeless camp."

"I will build, as mayor, a homeless campus that will accommodate 5,000 people so they will have every service they need and won’t be on the streets and causing any discomfort to some of the people who don’t like to see that," he told the crowd.

Richard Goldberger raised eyebrows after the debate when he declared that homeless people were "feral."

"They’re semi-wild, they’re semi-civilized," he told reporters afterward. "Feral people. Yes, some of them are feral people."

Others vowed to keep pushing for the new homeless shelters being built to address the problem, or increase affordable housing options. David Ibarra supported the shelters, but said if it didn't work, the city needed to be prepared to pivot to other options.

The biggest discussion surrounded the inland port and the recent violence in protests. All the candidates oppose the port to varying degrees. Only Huck and Goldberger said they would not support Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's ongoing lawsuit over the port's taxing authority.

When it came to relations with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the candidates each promised a reset. David Garbett spoke about his work as an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which may be hated more than Salt Lake City.

"They don’t like you, they don’t agree with you and they think you won’t come to an agreement, but you have to keep working with them," he said.

Dabakis said he has worked behind the scenes during his time the legislature, ferrying many important pieces of legislation. But asked how he was building bridges when he's known for his Twitter grenades, Dabakis told FOX 13: "You will see I’m throwing grenades at people that deserve to have grenades thrown. They are not against Utah State senators, and not against our new governor and those that don’t need them. I’m going to stand up."

Escamilla noted her work in passing a number of bills as a Democrat in a Republican supermajority legislature, declaring she can "collaborate."

"I have never ever seen or able to participate, seen an agreement be made, when you insult the other side. Just doesn’t happen," Ibarra said, promising a better relationship.

Penfold, who touted his neighborhood activism, said Salt Lake City should stand up to the state.

"We behave a little bit like we’re victims to whatever the state is going to do. I think we need to shift that perspective. I expect to be at the table and at the door," he said.

Mendenhall said as a Salt Lake City Council member, she has negotiated with the state to get concessions on the port. She told reporters after the debate she expected that would continue as mayor.

"We have a history of electing people to be our mayor who I think hope are going to walk up on the Hill and punch the state in the face," she said. "And we wonder why we get so little as a Capital City? I know how to work, city government for the people and work with the county and state leadership."

Mail-in ballots will go out next week. The primary election is August 13.