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As Salt Lake City swears in its most diverse council ever, activists say actions matter more than identity

 Salt Lake City Councilmember Alejandro Puy
Emily Means
Salt Lake City Councilmember Alejandro Puy was sworn into office Monday. He represents neighborhoods on the city’s west side.

Salt Lake City swore in its most diverse city council ever Monday.

The majority of its members identify as LGBTQ, and most of the council now are people of color.

Two of the newest members are people of color who represent the city’s west side — which is the most racially and ethnically diverse part of town.

After taking her oath of office, Councilmember Victoria Petro-Eschler said she believes the council’s new status as “majority-minority” will change outcomes for the city.

“Our world, in general, is at an inflection point in history, much like we were this time last century,” Petro-Eschler said. “The diversity of experience, of perspective, of vision is going to offer our city a path forward that this trying moment requires. Anyone who has experienced marginalization understands that relatively little, if anything, is ever easy to achieve.”

The other new councilmember who represents part of the west side of Salt Lake, Alejandro Puy, is a Latino immigrant. He said the city is “about the working-class people.”

“I think my own experience is an important experience to bring to the table,” Puy said. “To see a person that had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, to be able to pay for my own college education. I understand the struggles of many on the west side and in Salt Lake City.”

Puy said one of the issues that’s important to him and his constituents is affordable housing for families.

“There's a lot of one-bedroom apartments being built for rent, but there is [little] for ownership and for families,” he said. “And the families of the west side are very big.”

While the council’s diversity was celebrated at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, some community members are skeptical it will lead to tangible change.

Tēcuani McKee is a Salt Lake City resident and member of Justice For Bernardo, an advocacy group created after police shot and killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in May 2020.

“Ethnically and racially diverse doesn't mean anything if they sell out their communities to land developers and uphold fascist policies and enable the state-sanctioned execution of our children and Brown and Black men and women,” McKee said.

For Deja Gaston, with the Party for Socialism and Liberation Salt Lake, it comes down to action.

“They say that they’re more intimately related to the struggles of the community,” Gaston said. “One of the biggest things we want to see is them directly addressing the issues we’ve been campaigning for.”

She said she wants to see how they address the affordable housing crisis, environmental issues and reallocating police funding to social services.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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