SALT LAKE CITY — The 2019 Salt Lake City mayor's race is expected to be a crowded one. But now it won't include the mayor herself.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski on Monday — just weeks after she announced her bid for re-election — withdrew from the race, citing a "private" and "serious and complex family situation," as well as duties to her office in the remaining nine months of her term.
"My commitment to my family and my role as mayor must be my top priorities over being a candidate," Biskupski said Monday.
Biskupski and her wife, Betty Iverson, held hands when they appeared for a news conference outside the mayor's office. Biskupski, at times choking back tears, said the decision was "hard for me" and "very emotional."
Biskupski did not offer details on the situation facing her family but said, "Recently my wife Betty and I have been faced with a serious and complex family situation that requires our attention."
"As parents, we have and will always put the needs of our children first," Biskupski said. "With that as our compass, we have made a decision for our family which will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. As this is a private issue involving our children, that is all I want to say on the matter and I appreciate your respect of our privacy.
"For this reason, I have come to the difficult decision to withdraw from the 2019 Salt Lake City mayor’s race," she said.
Public court records show Iverson is involved in a child custody dispute. Biskupski did not respond to an inquiry asking whether the case had anything to do with her decision not to run. Her spokesman, Matthew Rojas, told the Deseret News that the mayor would not say anything further regarding her decision as it relates to her family.
Biskupski made national headlines when she won election in 2015, becoming Salt Lake City's first openly gay mayor. She ran on a platform of change and as a champion for social justice. As she prepared to take office, Biskupski got engaged to and later married Iverson, and they joined their families. Biskupski's adoptive son, Archie, and Iverson's adoptive son, Jack, became brothers.
End to political career
Biskupski said she hopes she's remembered for creating "big shifts so there was more equity for opportunity," whether that's through the overhaul of homeless services, more affordable housing, or better transportation options.
Asked if she would consider another run for office in the future, Biskupski said, "No, this is long term."
"At the end of the day, this is where I wanted to end my political career," she said. "For me, after this, it's about being a mother to my kids."
Biskuspki's surprise announcement comes after a hectic first term for the mayor, who felt the brunt of backlash from several controversies — at times clashing with the Salt Lake City Council and other county and state leaders.
Those included the siting of the homeless resource centers at the end of her first year in office; standoffs with state leaders, including former House Speaker Greg Hughes, over shutting down Rio Grande Street to clean up the area around the downtown homeless shelter; and most recently, an ongoing battle with Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders over the creation of the controversial Utah Inland Port Authority, a fight that has also divided the mayor and the City Council.
Just last week, Biskupski declared war against the state by filing a lawsuit challenging the creation of the port authority, calling it a "gross state overreach."
Asked if she had any regrets, Biskupski said, "I sure wish I could have stopped that dang port."
But Biskupski indicated her withdrawal won't impact that lawsuit.
"We will ensure that our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s takeover of our land use and taxing authority to build the inland port moves through the courts," she said.
There were times when the City Council and Biskupski joined arms. The council has, for the most part, adopted Biskupski's proposed budgets, supporting the mayor's recent proposal to enact a sales tax hike to pay for streets, transit, public safety and affordable housing.
But a September Utah Policy poll gave early indications that Biskupski faced a steep climb to win re-election, finding 56 percent of Salt Lake residents thought Biskupski did not deserve a second term as mayor.
When the Deseret News asked Monday whether any other factors including polling had gone into her decision to drop out, Biskupski did not answer the question and abruptly ended the news conference.
'She's done a good job'
Ted Wilson, a supporter of the mayor who said he lives down the street from Biskupski and Iverson, applauded her for "putting family first."
"I think Jackie thought she could win the race — it would have been an uphill fight and she's got a lot of competitors, but I think she thought she could win," Wilson said. "I think she's been a great mayor. She's done a good job, stepped up on so many things, so I appreciate her work and wish her the very, very best."
Looking ahead to her remaining months in office, Biskupski said the city will "undergo tremendous change, as many of the programs and policies we have been fighting for the last three years will be realized and implemented."
She pointed to new city-sponsored bus service beginning soon, the opening of the new homeless resource centers this summer, and the start of a multiyear plan to repair streets as major projects that will need her full attention.
She also noted that Salt Lake City will host the United Nations Civil Society Conference, the largest international gathering Utah has seen since the 2002 Olympics, as well as the city's efforts to launch new housing programs.
Biskupski, in announcing her withdrawal, pointed to her accomplishments in office, and said, "We have ensured that whomever takes this office next will stand in a better position to further move our city toward greater resilience, and equal opportunity."
The mayor said she will spend her "remaining time in office implementing all we have created." But when the election gears up, she also said she will play a part.
"Salt Lake City deserves a candidate for mayor focused on the issues that matter and the policies that will change lives for the better," she said. "I fully intend to be a part of this debate. To challenge those that seek this office, to demonstrate their ability to prioritize the people most in need and to develop policies which will help them achieve their potential."
She added: "I want my mayor to be someone we can believe in and who will continue to fight for us."
Her withdrawal from the race is "not the time for goodbye," Biskupski said. "Rather, to every expert who has helped drive the change we’ve seen over the last three years I want to say thank you — for the hard work you’ve done and for all we will do together in the next nine months," she said, thanking her staff.
"One of the most rewarding parts of my career has been the opportunity to mentor and serve with women," Biskupski added. "The advice I have often given them is to give your full self to the things that inspire you. My decision today is to live up to this advice and give myself fully to my family and this job I love.”