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UPDATE: Salt Lake City Mayor Biskupski Withdraws From Re-Election Bid, Citing Family Issues

Photo of Mayor.
Julia Ritchey
Mayor Jackie Biskupski held a press conference Monday to announce she would end her re-election campaign.

Updated 4:56 p.m. MDT 3/18/19

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski says a family situation led her to withdraw her bid for a second term, an abrupt reversal that leaves the mayoral race wide-open.

The mayor announced her decision in an emailed statement on Monday and later held a short press conference at City Hall, flanked by her wife, Betty Iverson, and members of her staff.

“Recently my wife Betty and I have been faced with a serious and complex family situation that requires our attention,” Biskupski said, reading from her statement. “As parents we have and will always put the needs of our children first.”

Biskupski said the issue was a private matter involving her children and would not elaborate further. The mayor and her wife have two adopted sons, ages 9 and 14.

“What I want is for this community to continue to support myself and my administration over the next nine months,” said Biskupski of her remaining term. “We certainly have a lot of work to do, and with a couple new initiatives that I want to get launched, it’s very important that we stand united.”

Asked whether polling or other factors played a role in her decision, Biskupski abruptly ended the press conference without acknowledging the reporter who asked the question.

The 53-year-old mayor had launched a re-election bid in early February in what was shaping into a competitive campaign. At least a half dozen candidates, all men, had announced plans to challenge Biskupski.

In her prepared remarks, Biskupski suggested she wanted to finish out her term by implementing programs she had started without the distraction of a campaign.

“There is no question in my mind, that my commitment to my family and my role as the Mayor of this great City must be my top priorities over being a candidate,” she said.

The news comes less than a week after the mayor stood in front of the City Hall to announce her plan to sue the state over its controversial inland port in northwest Salt Lake City, a lawsuit she pledged to continue. The mayor said it was one of the biggest disappointments of her time in office.

“I sure wish I could’ve stopped that dang port,” she laughed. “So I have a little work to do there.”

The inland port had become one of many controversies that had dogged the mayor as she weighed a second term. Repeated clashes with members of the Salt Lake City Council and state leaders over the port, Operation Rio Grande and the placement of new homeless shelters, were likely to remain issues during the mayoral race.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll from mid-January found Biskupski trailing former state senator Jim Dabakis by 26 percent to 14 percent, one of five male candidates that have lined up to challenge the mayor.

Dabakis praised the mayor on Twitter shortly after the news broke.

“Everyone remembers how much grace and aplomb she acted with as first lesbian LGBTQ legislator. Some pompous lawmakers refused to shake her hand. Thanks trailblazer Jackie,” he tweeted.

Biskupski was first elected as mayor in 2015, defeating former Mayor Ralph Becker. Before that, she served as the first gay lawmaker in the Utah Legislature for 13 years.

Biskupski said her decision will instead allow her to focus on what she considers highlights of her tenure, including affordable housing, transportation and clean energy projects. She pledged to move forward with at least two new initiatives around education and criminal justice before she leaves office.

“This is not the time for goodbye — rather, to every expert who has helped drive the change we’ve seen over the last three years I want to say thank you — for the hard work you’ve done and for all we will do together in the next nine months,” she wrote.

This story has been updated from a previous version with new details throughout.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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