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Mendenhall Leads In SLC’s Mayoral Primary; 109 Votes Separate Dabakis, Escamilla For 2nd Place

Nicole Nixon
Erin Mendenhall speaks to reporters at a campaign event on Aug. 13, 2019.

Updated 12:15 a.m. MDT 8/14/19: Salt Lake City’s mayoral primary was too close to call Tuesday night with just over 700 votes separating three candidates.

The primary will narrow a crowded field of eight contenders down to two, who will advance to the general election on Nov. 5.


City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall led the pack of mayoral candidates with 23.7% of the votes counted Tuesday night.  Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis followed with 21.56% while state Sen. Luz Escamilla trailed with 21.19% — just 109 votes behind Dabakis.


“It’s exciting,” Mendenhall said at her election night party Tuesday night. “We still have a lot of votes left to count, but we’re optimistic,” she said.


By 11:30 p.m., Mendenhall emailed a message to supporters that said she is "confident that we will advance to the general election in November."


Mendenhall attributed her success to her campaign, which she described as a “best of, Barack Obama, voter-targeted, sophisticated” operation. 

“We were not running a marketing campaign, we were talking to the voters we needed to talk to. I’m going to keep doing that. I know how to do this kind of work,” she said. 


Dabakis was also optimistic about his chances of remaining in the No. 2 spot and continuing on to the general election.


“Nobody’s going to remember who came in first and who came in second,” he said. “It’s a whole new horse race.”


Dabakis pointed to his sizeable war chest of more than $170,000 to help him through the general election if his position holds. He hopes to stay in the race to debate the issues, which he said was tough to do in such a crowded candidate field.


“We were on a stage with eight or nine people, so now I think we’ll be able to air out the serious issues,” he said.


Escamilla did not concede defeat Tuesday night and said she had expected a thin margin in the primary.


“All we can do is wait and hope our final efforts were enough to see us through the primary and into the general” she said in a press release.


Escamilla said the close race “speaks volumes of the campaign — our campaign, and the fact that we have great candidates, too.” 


Current mayor Jackie Biskupski made an appearance at Escamilla’s election night party. 


While Biskupski did not make a formal endorsement in the mayoral primary, she said she wanted to wish Escamilla well on Tuesday night. 


The mayor said the city’s next leader should be “somebody who’s really going to look out for everyone and keep building a city for everyone, like I’ve been trying to do.”


“We have to have somebody who deeply cares about our core values,” Biskupski said. “As a city, we stand alone sometimes on our core values.”


While the general election lineup is unclear, the two winners could emerge by the end of the week. 


Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she will continue to tally last-minute mail-in and provisional ballots in the coming days. She plans to update the results again on Thursday afternoon, followed by an additional update on Friday.


The final primary certification will take place Aug. 27.


David Garbett, former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, finished in fourth place on Tuesday night with 15.76% of the tallied votes. Businessman and philanthropist David Ibarra garnered 8.38%, while former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold had 6.91%. 

Rainer Huck pulled in 1.63%, while Richard Goldberger trailed the pack with 0.86%.

Jenny Goldsberry contributed to this report.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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