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Salt Lake Democrats Pick Jenny Wilson To Replace McAdams As County Mayor

Nicole Nixon / KUER
Newly-elected Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, center, poses with leaders of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson will lead Utah’s most populous county as its first female Democratic mayor after she won a special election Saturday to replace now-Congressman Ben McAdams.

Wilson won with 55 percent support from members of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s Central Committee after two rounds of voting.


“I’m ready to go,” Wilson said after her election. She praised McAdams’ work as mayor and said she wanted to build on his success when she is sworn in on Tuesday.


“Ben did amazing things on homelessness. He was very committed to many, many critical issues,” she said.


But Wilson said after speaking with more than 400 Democrats who voted in Saturday’s special election, she was committed to creating an office of environmental action and would more aggressively tackle the valley’s air pollution problems.


Wilson is currently in her second six-year term as an at-large member of the county council.. She beat out three other candidates in a special election to replace former mayor Ben McAdams, who was elected to represent Utah’s 4th Congressional District in November.


Wilson won after two rounds of voting over former congressional candidate Shireen Ghorbani, county councilman Arlyn Bradshaw and retired police officer Stone Fanua.


No candidate captured 60 percent of votes in the first round, so the two top vote-getters, Wilson and Ghorbani, went to a second round, where Wilson emerged as the victor with a simple majority of 719 votes cast by committee members.


In her pitch to county Democrats, Wilson touted her decade of experience on the Salt Lake County Council and said the county needs a leader that will be “in the driver’s seat on policy.”


She pledged to be at the State Capitol the day after she is sworn in to lobby for county interests and fight against changes proposed by some Republican lawmakers to a voter-approved initiative expanding Medicaid.


Wilson’s victory came despite a critical email sent to some Democrats on Friday night. The message appeared to come from a fake account whose sender could not be independently verified. The email questioned Wilson’s commitment to the county, pointing to her unsuccessful runs for other offices, including U.S. Senate and Salt Lake City mayor.


Wilson, who called the email “disheartening,” dismissed the attack, quoting former First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous line: “When they go low, we go high.”


Ghorbani, who ran a grassroots campaign for Congress against GOP Rep. Chris Stewart last year, said she would not run for Wilson’s county council seat. Seen as a rising star in some progressive circles, Ghorbani pledged to remain active in Democratic politics, particularly on issues of health care and affordable housing.


The county council is “not a good fit for my life,” Ghorbani said while holding her young son, Desmond. “Maybe I’ll just be a public Democrat.”

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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