For the first time in 20 years, Salt Lake City will have a mayoral race with no incumbent seeking re-election.
Mayor Palmer DePaulis announced Thursday that he won't seek re-election to another four-year term, allowing an open race for the first time since 1971, when then-City Water Commissioner Jake Garn won the open mayor's seat.Garn ran and won the U.S. Senate seat in 1974. Commissioners appointed fellow Commissioner Conrad Harrison as mayor. Political newcomer Ted Wilson defeated the incumbent Harrison in 1975.
In 1979 Wilson announced he wasn't seeking re-election. He was frustrated with the commission form of government. But then a scandal broke involving several commissioners - not involving Wilson. Citizens voted to change the form of government to a council-mayor form, and Wilson changed his mind, seeking re-election that year.
He won, and won again in 1983. In 1985, Wilson resigned, taking a teaching post at the University of Utah. Council members appointed one of their own - former coun-cilman Palmer DePaulis - to the post.
Several months later, the incumbent DePaulis beat Republican Merrill Cook in a special election, the winner serving out Wilson's term. DePaulis won his own four-year term in 1987 in a lackluster race against little-known Republican Ernest Dixon.
With DePaulis' announcement Thursday, businesswoman DeeDee Corradini and DePaulis' chief of staff Mike Zuhl, both Democrats like DePaulis, say they are running for mayor. Democratic state Rep. Dave Jones is also considering the race, sources say.
On the Republican side, state GOP chairman Richard Snelgrove isn't seeking re-election to his party post and is "likely in the race," GOP sources say. Snelgrove is out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Dave Buhler, executive director of the state Department of Commerce, is also likely to run, although he hasn't made a formal announcement yet, either. Buhler is a longtime Republican, working first for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, then for GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter.
The Salt Lake mayor's post is coveted by both political parties because it is the premier municipal job in the state. Officially, it's a non-partisan race. That is, candidates' names on the ballot don't appear under a party banner.
But that doesn't mean party politics aren't played. They are and in a big way.
It wasn't always so. In the old days of the city commission, power was held equally among five commissioners. Some were Democrats, some Republicans. Power fell out along personal lines, however, not political party lines.
That changed with the switch to a council-mayor form of government where the mayor became the main spokesman; the real executive power when compared to the part-time, understaffed council.
Starting with that first council-mayor race in 1979, partisan politics were clearly evident. The Democratic incumbent Wilson was challenged in the final election by well-known Republican Doug Bowers. Wilson beat him handily.
Wilson lost a 1982 U.S. Senate race against Hatch, but he still carried Salt Lake City solidly. He recalls then-GOP state chairman Chuck Akerlow telling him the Republicans weren't going to put up a tough candidate against him in 1985.
Big deal. After managing the 1982-83 floods well, Wilson was a very popular mayor and coasted to a victory against the only easy candidate he faced, Republican Sterling Webber.
DePaulis was tested immediately in his first mayoral race. Cook, independently wealthy, spent nearly $500,000 on the mayoral race, much of it his own money. But Cook lost badly.
In 1987, DePaulis, always a popular mayor, won an easy victory over political, GOP-newcomer Ernest Dixon.
So, Republicans haven't done well since the Garn years. No doubt they'll be hungry and working hard in this first open race in 20 years.
Historically, city voters don't get too excited over mayoral and council races. In 1983 - Wilson's easy re-election - only 24 percent of registered voters cast ballots. In the 1987 sleeper where DePaulis destroyed Dixon, only 21.3 percent voted.
But in the 1985 barn burner between DePaulis and Cook, 42 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Look for a similar high turnout this year, predicts Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones.