Salt Lake County Commission candidate Margaret Peterson doesn't bowl you over when you first meet her.
The 51-year-old Republican doesn't crush your hand and talk loudly and wear up-to-the-minute fashions and makeup and get herself noticed above the clamor of the crowd by sheer presence. She takes a little more time - she's comfortable sitting down and talking through things, batting things around a bit, thinking about the question before she ventures an answer.Associates describe the longtime West Valley City councilwoman as curious, involved, non-confrontational and ambitious. She ran for West Valley City mayor in 1993 but lost in the primary.
"I need a challenge, some exciting thing to do," she said. "I'm just a fighter."
That attitude extends to her personal life. In 1981 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which bound her to a wheelchair for seven years and cost her a marriage. But after treatment with an experimental drug and "a lot of sheer determination," she got back on her feet, literally, and has been "chugging along as hard as anybody for 15 years."
Peterson doesn't have a particular ax to grind in seeking Commissioner Randy Horiuchi's seat (he has said he will not seek re-election), but expressed concern about some issues. She wants more controlled growth, with more long-range plan updates, frequent re-examination of zoning areas, and careful scrutiny of proposed developments.
"It's easy to approve a project that you don't really want," she said.
Armed with an MBA and urban planning certificate, Peterson favors business and residential development that enables residents to work and live in the same area. She favors changing county government to an executive/council form, dislikes strip malls, and wants more water-efficient landscaping of sidewalk park strips.
She says she's very much against raising taxes, though isn't afraid to do so if needed for certain projects and if voters approve. Six years ago she supported West Valley City's tax hike for more police officers, as well as a recently imposed citywide fee for new street lights.
Peterson says she can bring a fresh approach to county government, one that will lend itself to new ideas and reduce the constant infighting among county officials over the past few years.
"I have not talked to a single person who hasn't said, `We want a change,' " she said.
Peterson is especially anxious to get more residents involved in government through neighborhood groups that interact directly with county service departments. That may or may not be done through existing community councils.
She stumbles when asked what prominent Utahns have endorsed her campaign. Republican opponent David Marshall, the only other candidate to declare for Horiuchi's seat, has a fistful. She says she hasn't sought endorsements as something to list on a resume or campaign flier.
"If I can't stand on my own background and my own experience, I shouldn't be running. . . . I don't want a list of names."