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Mayor-Elect Mendenhall On Priorities For SLC And 'A New Way To Do Politics'

Erin Mendenhall gestures in front of City Hall.
KUER file
Erin Mendenhall was elected as the next Mayor of Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City voters chose Erin Mendenhall as their new mayor last week. The two-term city councilwoman beat State Sen. Luz Escamilla with 58% of the vote. KUER’s Nicole Nixon sat down with the mayor-elect of Utah’s capital city to talk about the race, the transition, and where Mendenhall plans to start.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Nicole Nixon: You are working on a transition now. What will be the first thing you do when you take office?

Erin Mendenhall: I could tell you about 10 things I want to do on day one. On air quality, I'll be asking departments and divisions to look at their own emissions and consider air quality and pollution production in their operational decisions. Then to submit to the city council and to my office in the first 30 days some suggestions for ways that they as a department can reduce the emissions that they produce. That's just in-house.

Day one, I want to coordinate with Rocky Mountain Power to look at what's our timeline for negotiations will be on our franchise agreement, which of course, stipulates how soon renewable energy will be into Salt Lake City at 100%-net production

I also won't be asking for the letters of resignation, but sitting down with department and division directors, asking essentially, what's your big, bold idea? How can we go further together?

I want to sit down with the governor and the lieutenant governor and talk about inland port and legislative strategy there. There's more than the inland port, definitely, for us to talk about with the state.

By the time January 7th rolls along, we will be a couple months into all three homeless resource centers being up and running. Today, we're still in that transition with South Salt Lake opening. I think by the time January rolls here, we'll be able to see that landscape more clearly — what our gaps are. Where do we need to come together? Are the motel vouchers enough? Is there enough affordable housing?

NN: You and your opponent, Luz Escamilla, had very similar platforms as far as issues like air quality, affordable housing and renewable energy. What was it that pushed you to victory?

EM: In talking to people at their doors over the last month, I heard over and over again, really across the city, an appreciation for a candidate who has city experience and who can walk in and start getting to work on these issues.

I think people want to see change on air quality. They want to see that their government is participating in the change in a meaningful way that also opens opportunities for them to participate.

I think that's what I brought uniquely to the campaign was a real path, a strategy, which I hope will (continue as a conversation with) the city, with our residents, with the businesses about, how do we go about this in the most efficient and effective way? I am so excited to get going. 

NN:This race highlighted some geographic and racial disparities in Salt Lake City. You've acknowledged that. How are you going to make Salt Lake City work for people of color and west siders who feel disenfranchised?

EM: I think that first part is acknowledging and being actually willing on a continuous basis to evaluate as a city, as a leader in the city: What implicit bias are we bringing to the conversation? What barriers are there that we are not acknowledging yet that are preventing us from having a more inclusive conversation? It's the responsibility and the opportunity for me as the next mayor to make sure that our city hall is reflective of the community that we serve.

I'm putting together my transition team right now and I think that is where it begins in earnest. Bringing those diverse voices to the table and then asking, who isn't here, who haven't we thought of, and why aren't they here? Reaching into the community and making sure that we're including them. 

I also hope to be working with Sen. Escamilla in the coming weeks. We do share a lot of the same desires and outcomes we hope for at the city level. She is a wonderful and honorable public servant, so I hope that she'll be a part of these conversations as well. 

NN: Anything in particular you want to work with her on?

EM: I think I'll leave that up to the conversation we haven't had yet. We have a lot of shared values and she's powerful. So we'll see what we can do together. 

NN: A lot of people have commented on the civil nature of this election and the kind way that you and Senator Escamilla treated each other and spoke about each other. Anything you want to say about the race as a whole, now that it's over?

EM: I am proud of the race that we ran. The morning after the primary, before I knew if it would be Sen. (Jim) Dabakis or Sen. Escamilla challenging me for the general, I called for a clean campaign that was about issues, that was about solutions for our residents. And I congratulate Sen. Escamilla for joining me in that.

I think we ran a pretty amazing race together that should be a model for future races in not just the city, but the state. 

I think a lot of people chalked it up to us both being women and I'm not quite sure if we should put too much stock into that because decency and civility doesn't know gender. I appreciate that we had that opportunity, uniquely, to be two women on the ballot for the first time in the general election here. I think we've shown a new way that you can do politics here in Salt Lake City.

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