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Sandy ‘awakening': The underdog who unseated the 24-year mayor

After surprise upset, Kurt Bradburn looks to ‘rebalance’ Sandy government

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SANDY — Marie Bradburn said when her husband first floated the idea of running for Sandy mayor — against the city's longest-serving chief in history — she wasn't exactly receptive.

"At first I said, 'No! No one will take you seriously. That guy's been there forever,'" she recalled.

"She said I didn't look like a mayor," Kurt Bradburn said, chuckling.

The idea came to him in 2014, when he joined hundreds of other Sandy residents to protest a development off Highland Drive and 9000 South that would bring high-density housing. Despite their efforts, the project was approved.

"We'd go to these meetings, but we just felt like we were being dismissed at every turn," Kurt Bradburn said. "The developer got every concession they asked for."

"After talking with our neighbors who felt the same way, I just decided, 'You know what, we don't have to put up with this,'" he continued. "This is why we have elections."

Over the next year and a half or so, momentum for the campaign started to build, Marie Bradburn said, and by the time her husband announced his candidacy in January, she was fully on board.

More than two years later, Bradburn at the age of 35 would beat six-term Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, 74, with 58 percent of the vote to Dolan's 42 percent — despite the 24-year incumbent mayor outspending Bradburn 10 to 1, with $300,000 in campaign cash to Bradburn's $30,000.

"It was very surreal," Marie Bradburn said of her husband's win. "It took awhile to sink in."

Sandy's 'awakening'

Preparing a snack for their four children — ages 9, 7, 5 and 2 — at their modest Sandy home on a recent Monday after the election, the Bradburns reflected on why voters favored a young state attorney over a longtime mayor.

Newly elected Mayor of Sandy Kurt Bradburn and his wife, Marie, get a few snacks for their four kids:  Jack, 9, Sam, 7, Nora, 5, and Will, 2, in Sandy, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

Newly elected Mayor of Sandy Kurt Bradburn and his wife, Marie, get a few snacks for their four kids: Jack, 9, Sam, 7, Nora, 5, and Will, 2, in Sandy, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Perhaps the campaign sign wrap on his old Range Rover turned some heads as he drove around town. Perhaps voters appreciated his on-the-ground approach, personally knocking on doors and waving from the side of the road.

But most of all, perhaps voters were charmed by an underdog taking on a powerful, 24-year entrenched administration, tired of year after year of the status quo, and frustrated with a surge of high-density development.

"The campaign — it became so much more than Kurt," Marie Bradburn said as she sliced an apple for their kids crowded around the kitchen table. "Like it was much bigger than my husband versus the incumbent. It kind of became almost this awakening of a city that's been asleep for a long time."

Along the campaign trail, she said she and her husband would get emails from voters saying, "I swore off voting years ago, but I voted this year because of you," and "You've gotten me excited about local politics again."

Bradburn said it's as if her husband's campaign gave hope to those so frustrated with the current political climate — both locally and nationally — that they'd become complacent.

"I think we reminded people of the democratic process — reminded them that you can change things if you want to," she said.

"I think it restored their faith in the system again," Kurt Bradburn said.


Bradburn comes from a modest background, no stranger to hardship.

He grew up near San Francisco, the second youngest of four siblings. He didn't come from wealth — his father was a police officer and his mother worked at a local school district. At one point, his parents ended up filing for bankruptcy, leaving them unable to own a home so they were often moving from rental to rental, he said.

Because he skipped first grade, Bradburn graduated from high school at the age of 16. But that was also the same year his father died of a heart attack, leaving his mother to support him and his siblings.

Newly elected Mayor of Sandy Kurt Bradburn answers questions during an interview at his Sandy home, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

Newly elected Mayor of Sandy Kurt Bradburn answers questions during an interview at his Sandy home, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"It was a traumatic thing for me," he said. "I was the oldest one still at home, so it makes you grow up quick. I had to forego a lot of things that most 16 year olds get to do."

Bradburn said he had a couple of offers to play basketball for some small, Division II colleges, but he ended up turning the offers down to stay and help his mother support the family. He would spend the next several years helping her clean houses while he also played basketball at a local junior college.

"That was sort of the end of my basketball career," Bradburn said, smiling.

Years later, while Bradburn was serving an LDS mission in Chile, his mother moved to Utah, where several of his siblings were attending college. He's since lived in Sandy for 16 years.

Looking back, Bradburn said he's proud of his upbringing, working hard to pay his student loans as he attended college at Brigham Young University and completed law school at Ohio State University.

"I learned sacrifice at a young age," he said. "It's just been that way my whole life. Whatever I've wanted, I've had to work for it."

Bradburn attributes his campaign's success to that same mentality.

"You really can make anything happen if you put your mind to it and work hard," he said. "This was really 10 months of us working our tails off to make it happen."


After decades of a "hyperfocus" on development, Bradburn said he hopes to bring a "refreshing" new perspective to Sandy.

The mayor-elect considers himself a "moderate" Republican who values fiscal responsibility but also strongly believes in civil rights and other social issues.

He said he hopes to bring more "transparency" and "responsiveness" to the city government while refocusing priorities around economic development, open space and neighborhoods.

"I want to have a long-term view of what we want the health and strength of our city to be," he said. "It's not going to be overcrowded, burdened residential neighborhoods where no one can see anything but concrete jungles all around them."

Bradburn said he'll also be looking to "rebalance" the city financially, noting that for years Sandy's general fund has been padded with money from fee increases to utility bills rather than Dolan and City Council members signing off on a property tax hike.

"Our property taxes have been kept low artificially for a very long time," Bradburn said. "So in (Dolan's) defense, the only way to keep Sandy afloat was to keep cramming more and more people and more and more businesses in Sandy."

"At some point, we're going to have to look at rebalancing our revenue stream," he said, adding that he may need to have a conversation with Sandy residents on raising property taxes sometime in the future.

"I know that's like shocking for a Republican to say," he said, but he added that a budget that relies so heavily on businesses could prove to be unstable in harder economic times.

"I'm comfortable with having a conversation with my residents about raising taxes at some point," he said. "I don't want to keep them low and have the only alternative as cramming stuff in wherever we can because it's the only way we can stay afloat. That's not what I'm about."

Development has a role in Sandy, Bradburn said, but "it can't be the only thing we do well because eventually, it's going to drive people away," he said. "There's got to be balance in life, and right now I feel like we're very out of whack."

The mayor-elect also said he's got a "laundry list" of initiatives, from making City Council meetings more accessible through livestreams, to a website where residents can track complaints.

Bradburn also said he plans to create a historic preservation committee to give city officials more ideas about how to preserve neighborhoods.

"There are so many ways I want to get involved to make Sandy leaner, more efficient, more responsive and open," he said.