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Unofficial results show Biskupski headed to Salt Lake City mayor's office

SALT LAKE CITY — It appears Utah's capital city will have a new mayor.

Jackie Biskupski leads Mayor Ralph Becker by 4.4 percent — 52.2 percent to 47.8 percent — in the Salt Lake City mayoral race when unofficial results were released about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"Fifty-two," someone shouted at Biskupski's election night party, then chants of "Jackie, Jackie, Jackie" erupted as the initial results came in.

"We've kept ahead the whole time. We've maintained our lead. I think we will finish strong," Biskupski said.

She grabbed her young son, Archie, who asked her if she'd won.

"Not yet, but we will," she said, hugging him.

Becker was absent when the preliminary results were released, but as the second round of results were made public, he addressed his supporters with a level of cautious optimism.

"There are still thousands of votes to be counted, and we will in all likelihood not know the results tonight; there are just too many outstanding votes," he said. "I remain hopeful that I will have the opportunity to continue serving as mayor."

But Becker also acknowledged the possibility that he may no longer be mayor of Salt Lake City come January.

"If a way to measure success in a job is to look at whether the place you are leaving is better off than when you started, then I can leave this job if I need to feeling very successful," he said.

Because this year’s election is being conducted mostly by mail, votes were not reported by precinct, and election officials said it's unclear how Tuesday night’s results could change before they are finalized by canvassers Nov. 17.

Salt Lake County Elections Director Rozan Mitchell said thousands of ballots throughout the county will still be uncounted Tuesday night.

Out of more than 71,000 registered voters in Salt Lake City, about 33,000 votes were counted at about 10 p.m., putting voter turnout at about 47 percent.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen anticipates a 60 percent turnout for Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City Recorder Cindi Mansell said she will have a better idea Wednesday morning how many outstanding ballots still need to be counted.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the mayor's race was "too close to call" as of Tuesday night.

There were boos and a few angry words from Biskupski's supporters when she announced about 10:30 p.m. that Becker was not conceding the race, "so we have to wait until Nov. 17."

Those changed to cheers when she said, "we will maintain this lead until the end."

The race, Biskupski said, was about the people.

"In a couple of weeks, I'm confident we will have a chance to talk about how historic this is, the importance of electing people because they care, not because they are politicians," she said. "I knew taking this on would not be easy. … There are people who would not vote for me because I am a woman; there were people who would not vote for me because I'm openly gay; and there were people who would not vote for me because I'm a single mom."

"We will win, and we will have our voices be heard," Biskupski assured the crowd. "It's time for city government to change. It's time for us to know we can make a difference," she said, urging supporters to "stand with me and stay strong" until the final canvass.

Biskupski said there is "no doubt that Mayor Becker has changed our city, and he has done many good things, and we can be proud of those good things. And there is no doubt that Mayor Becker has left his mark for a very, very long time."

She said she helped and supported him, and thanked him for his accomplishments.

Becker, however, said he worried about the toll the heated mayor's race has had on Salt Lake City.

"Both the primary and general election campaigns were tense and challenging for me personally and my family, but for the residents of this great city of ours, I fear that this hard-fought battle of these past several months has caused an unfortunate and unnecessary divide in this city, and to that end I want to do everything I can to help this city heal," he said.

Biskupski told reporters she had not heard from Becker and said she didn't expect to hear from him until the canvass.

"It's statistically very difficult for him to overcome this lead that we've maintained, not just tonight, but over that last several weeks. So we'll see what happens," she said.

Asked how she felt about the mayor not conceding, Biskupski said, "I get it. I mean, he wants this. He's clinging onto it. I get that. So let's just see."

Before the initial results were announced, Biskupski mingled with several hundred people gathered at Kimi's Chop and Oyster House in Sugar House, including former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.

About 100 supporters gathered for Becker at Club 50 West, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, an outspoken supporter of Biskupski, deemed the preliminary results an early victory, calling Tuesday a "momentous and historic day in Utah history."

"(Biskupski's) historic election as the first lesbian mayor of a city in Utah brings home the point that Salt Lake is a very special place," Dabakis said. "A place where diversity is embraced and where people are judged by their ability and the content of their character."

McAdams, who appeared in one of Becker's TV ads questioning Biskupski's ability to lead Salt Lake City, said he will be happy to work with whoever becomes mayor of Salt Lake City.

"I've enjoyed working with (Becker), and we've had a strong partnership, so I'd love for that to continue, but if the voters send me someone else to work with, then we'll work together for the benefit of the public," he said.

Becker and Biskupski — once colleagues in the Utah Legislature — have led long, expensive and at times bitter campaigns since advancing from a crowded, five-candidate primary election in August.

Becker faced an uphill climb after lagging 15 percent behind Biskupski in the primary, but poll numbers reported within days of Tuesday's election showed the two rivals locked in a statistical tie.

It's been Becker's call to build upon Salt Lake City's momentum and to let him "finish the job" versus Biskupski's demands for change and a more "collaborative leader" as they have battled for votes.

They have competed in more than a dozen debates, clashing over issues including the prison relocation, mass transit, campaign finance reform, the Mountain Accord and economic development.

Becker's bid for a third term is a historically rare pursuit in Salt Lake City. It's been 31 years since a Salt Lake City mayor has won a third term. Wilson, first elected in 1976, was the last to win three elections.

In Becker's eight years, he carried Utah's capital city through the Great Recession and to new economic heights. Hallmarks of his administration include the high-tech Public Safety Building, protected bike lanes, solar-powered parking meters downtown and the up-and-coming Broadway-style theater on Main Street.

Before her bid for mayor, Biskupski made history when she was elected as the first openly gay member of the Utah House of Representatives, where she served from 1999 to 2011. For the past eight years she has served as a top administrator for Sheriff Winder.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche


Twitter: KatieMcKellar1