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Who will be Salt Lake City's next mayor? Here are the candidates and their take on issues

Need help voting? Read up on candidates ahead of ballots hitting Salt Lake City mailboxes this week

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City voters will begin casting their votes in the jam-packed mayoral race as soon as next week as ballots begin to hit mailboxes Tuesday — but they've got some tough decisions to make.

The field of eight mayoral candidates features many with nearly identical stances on issues, so if voters haven't paid attention so far leading up to the Aug. 13 primary, casting a vote could be tricky.

To help voters make an informed choice, the Deseret News has compiled a list of the candidates, their backgrounds and their answers to questions regarding hot-button issues in Salt Lake City.

The two candidates with the most votes out of the Aug. 13 primary will advance on to the November election when they'll duel it out to become the next mayor of Utah's capital city after Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's term ends this year.

Here are the candidates, listed in alphabetical order, and their responses:

Jim Dabakis

Jim Dabakis
Jim Dabakis
Dabakis for Mayor

Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis, 65, has lived in Salt Lake City for 45 years, currently in the lower Avenues. He served in the Utah Senate for six years. As an openly gay man, Dabakis is known as an outspoken LGBT advocate. He co-founded Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center. He touts 30 years of business experience, including time as an art dealer in Russia.

Top priority: "Bringing people together. Salt Lake City cannot solve the big issues of our time unless the mayor is open to respect and communication with the new governor, the Legislature, the City Council, the county, the important institutions of our city — and most of all, with the people."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Much of our pollution comes from tailpipes. Utah Transit Authority must be no fare — if we do that ridership will boom. We could see a decrease in cars by 30%! Immediately! Fewer cars, fewer expensive roads needed and lots less pollution. This takes leadership! Working with partners, I can do it!"

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"Our city must remain a place where people from all income levels can live. As our city booms, we must not gentrify to where only wealthy people can live here. The balance is keeping the charm of our neighborhoods while also providing housing that secures the mosaic of our city."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"We must not give up! It will take a village to address this issue. The mayor must be eager to solve the problem. The mayor must schmooze the grand coalition of the Legislature, neighborhoods, the state, the county and our astonishing philanthropic communities to make sure they are all working together."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"We need to fix potholes, time lights and work out congestion problems, but we need to do so much more! No city resident should be more than 10 minutes away from public transportation. Pairing the city’s transportation master plan with neighborhood input, we focus on the transportation needs of each area."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"There should not be a huge inland port on city land without the express consent of the people and the elected officials of Salt Lake City. Anything other than that is a travesty. Yes, there should be a lawsuit to make sure the city is dominant in the governance of this land."

Luz Escamilla

Luz Escamilla
Luz Escamilla
Escamilla for Mayor

Sen. Luz Escamilla, 41, has lived in the Rose Park neighborhood for over 20 years. She's served in the Utah State Senate for 11 years. She's worked for Zions Bank for 13 years, where she's currently the vice president of community development. She aims to champion minority voices as a west-side resident who first came to Utah 20 years ago as an international student from Mexico.

Top priority: "Sustainability. I see solving every big issue facing Salt Lake City through a lens of sustainability."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"We must focus on active transportation that includes greater mass transit ridership, alternative modes of transportation and making our neighborhoods more walkable. We must focus on our building efficiency standards and identify ways to have older buildings renovated to reduce emissions, beginning with city-owned buildings."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"We need public-private partnerships and a working relationship with the state and the county to effectively address affordable housing. This will be necessary for the next mayor to make progress on this and other large-scale issues. I have the record, experience and reputation as a bridge builder to do this."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"We must make our resource centers more robust, increase the number of beds available, and develop active outreach and wrap-around services to assist those individuals who refuse to enter shelters due to trauma. We must collect adequate data from shelters, resource centers and service providers to track outcomes and progress."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"The city's 2017 Transportation Master Plan is a great start, and I will continue to see the plan is fully implemented. That involves partnering with UDOT, UTA, Salt Lake County and the state to ensure plans are comprehensive and well funded, moving toward alternative modes of transportation."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"I was opposed to the state takeover, and I am critical of the lack of process and transparency. I voted against both bills authorizing its creation. I believe it's important to remain engaged and have the working relationships to best advocate for the best possible outcome for our city."

David Garbett

David Garbett
David Garbett
Garbett for Mayor

David Garbett, 40, has lived in Salt Lake City for 11 years, currently in Sugar House. He worked as an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental nonprofit. He served as executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, which advocates for Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande area. He currently works as a special projects leader for Garbett Homes, a company owned by his father.

Top priority: "Addressing our terrible air quality."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Fill the air-quality-leadership vacuum that keeps us from getting clean air by 1) creating a road map to clean air with willing partners; 2) (obtaining) 100% renewable energy by 2023; 3) relocating largest polluters: refinery and power plant; and 4) Going after polluters with a new wing of the city attorney’s office."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"1) Reform zoning for greater flexibility so we provide homes in a broader price range, including options for young families and empty nesters; 2) lower property taxes by eliminating water use fee; and 3) address the infighting between the mayor and City Council on how to allocate money for deeply affordable housing."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"1) Ensure adequate beds so we don’t leave people unsheltered during our homeless-system transition; 2) create an impact measurement team to ensure we have good data and are helping and not hurting, and 3) work with partners on a goal of 25% reduction in shelter stays and ending unsheltered homelessness."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"We need to prepare for growth by providing more options for people to get around town. I would work to implement existing city plans that provide for increased public transit options and safer streets for pedestrians and bicycles. We must also fix our deteriorating roads."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"I’m against it. It will hurt air quality and it creates unfair tax advantages. I would continue the lawsuit and I support nonviolent protests. In addition … I would engage with the state Legislature. Part of this legislative engagement should include offering non-port alternatives; I have proposed two."

Richard Goldberger

Richard Goldberger
Richard Goldberger
Richard Goldberger

Richard Goldberger, 75, has lived in Salt Lake City for 55 years, currently downtown. He edited the Salt Flats News, a paper that stopped circulating in 1975, five years after it debuted, when its new owner stopped publishing it. Goldberger lists his current occupation as managing editor at Federated News Agency and a consultant. He describes himself as a "common-sense-crat" and proclaims his hatred for politicians.

Top priority: "Taking the office of the mayor to all neighborhoods by a big bus office."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Establish a Salt Lake City Pollution Police Department with an accompanying hotline. Order tune-up to spec all Salt Lake City transport and not transport machinery."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"Housing vouchers issue to qualified, well-vetted people who are poor in the pocket. With the private sector, ensure private residence pass compliance for safety and comfort first. Order flash inspections of the city 'slumtels' on State Street and Main."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"Declare a city emergency. Get a temporary triage assistance, full-service campus set up. Have massive outreach Salt Lake City area with a reporting hotline. I will not allow illegal camping within the city limits … Period! I would also establish a fast triage assistance center to be established in Library Square, seven days a week."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"Free Fare (across) all UTA. Free scooters and bikes. Staggered hours to avoid rush to get out of city. Set up three working groups with UTA on extending (TRAX lines)."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"Stop litigation. (I) desire the port to be sited in Wendover, Utah — lots of space and a giant under-used airport. Creation of a wonderful nature conservancy and parkway. Also site the Utah Export Expo, a permanent Utah products trade fair here."

Rainer Huck

Rainer Huck
Rainer Huck
Rainer Huck

Rainer Huck, 73, has lived in Salt Lake City for 70 years, currently in Sugar House. Huck moved to Utah from Germany as a child. He's a retired electrical engineer, real estate investor and a public lands access advocate. He once unsuccessfully ran for Salt Lake City mayor in 2007 and ran for election in the Utah House of Representatives in 2014 as a libertarian candidate.

Top priority: "Stopping police killings and violations of civil rights."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Driverless electric cars will solve air quality, traffic and parking problems without any expenditure of taxpayer money. All further investments in mass transit will be a waste. We need to rely on tomorrow's technologies, not those of the past century."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"Much of the cost of housing is due to government regulation and bureaucracy. For example, I had to pay $1,000 for a permit to put solar on my house and it took three months to get a permit. I would reduce the cost and delays associated with permits."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"My plan is for a homeless campus in the northwest quadrant that would accommodate 5,000 and supply all the needs of homeless including indoor and outdoor housing and camping, food service, and a medical clinic. I will do this for $3,000 per person, not the $86,000 per person the current three shelters cost."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"The technological innovation of driverless electric cars will solve all these problems. The system will work (like) Uber or Lyft but there will be no drivers, which will result in lower cost. This system will be much superior to mass transit as riders will be picked up at their door."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"I would stop the lawsuit immediately. As this issue does not affect the working people of Salt Lake City, I consider it to be irrelevant."

David Ibarra

David Ibarra
David Ibarra
Ibarra for Mayor

David Ibarra, 67, has lived in downtown Salt Lake City for 20 years. He calls himself a "lifelong progressive" and is a prominent local entrepreneur as the founder of several companies. Ibarra grew up in poverty as a son of a Mexican immigrant farmer. He spent nearly 14 years of his childhood in the Utah foster care system before he started his first business at age 28.

Top priority: "Affordable housing is the key solution to homeless, transportation and improving air quality by having people live where they work and recreate, reducing mobile emissions."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Reduce mobile emissions by building affordable housing so people can live close to where they work and recreate. Restore incentives for electric cars and solar panels. My administration will create a concrete plan for achieving our short- and long-term goals – beginning with 100 percent renewable and clean energy by 2030."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"Support the current 'Growing SLC Housing Plan.' Introduce form-based zoning approach. High density in city center, creating micro-units with no parking stalls to achieve low-rent units. Add module prefab homes concept to housing plan. Introduce converting single-family homes into affordable shared living spaces concepts and much more."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"Upon the opening of the new resource centers, our city and state must quickly assess their effectiveness in reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness and sleeping on our streets. I will have the political will and humane consciousness to act swiftly to address the shelter resistant population in need."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"While people talk about transportation in terms of convenience or efficiency or as a driver for economic development, mobility is about more than that; it’s about choices, connections, and community. As mayor, I will incentivize emerging technologies such as an autonomous rideshare system, moving people from city grid to grid."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"I support the lawsuit. I oppose the inland port unless it can be built with a zero-negative-impact on our environment. If built, Salt Lake City must receive its fair share of all taxes generated by the inland port. I honor the right to peaceful protest. The recent protest was not peaceful."

Erin Mendenhall

Erin Mendenhall
Erin Mendenhall
Mendenhall for Mayor

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, 39, has lived in Salt Lake City for 22 years, currently in the 9th and 9th area with her husband and three children. She has served two terms on the council. Mendenhall got her start in politics through air quality advocacy, co-founding Breathe Utah, an air quality advocacy group. She currently serves as the chairwoman of the Utah Air Quality Board.

Top priority: "Fix our crumbling infrastructure while improving the quality of the air we breathe."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"Air quality is the lens through which I view every issue. (I would) negotiate with Rocky Mountain Power next year to get to all-renewable energy faster. Expand bus routes and move the bus system to an all-electric fleet. Expand electric vehicle charging. Expand the dirty snowblower trade-in program."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"Every resident of Salt Lake City deserves a safe, affordable home, but our housing market has become unsustainable and unaffordable. I’m proud of the $21 million in public-private partnerships I enabled on the council, though we also need more low-income loans and to protect existing affordable housing from demolition."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"I won’t turn my back on our neighbors, whether they have a home or not. We have to both help people who’ve lost their homes and help keep people in their homes. First priority is a temporary emergency solution for this winter — working with the county and state. We shouldn’t shoulder this challenge alone."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"The city’s roads are terrible, so I helped double the number of road crews fixing our streets. To pay for more, I’ll stop returning millions of dollars in impact fees to developers, aggressively apply for federal grants, and tap more county funds. I’ll also expand bus routes and move to an all-electric fleet to curb pollution."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"There is no port in the world right now clean enough to earn my support. I support the lawsuit, but we can’t put all our eggs in one basket, and anger is not a strategy. That’s why I negotiated a better deal for us. I will make sure the city gets the best possible outcome."

Stan Penfold

Stan Penfold
Stan Penfold
Penfold for Mayor

Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, 62, has lived in Salt Lake City for 38 years, currently in the lower Avenues. He served two terms on the council as the city's first openly gay elected official. He formerly served as executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation. Penfold got his start in politics in neighborhood activism, and previously served as chairman of the Greater Avenues Community Council.

Top priority: "No Fare for Clean Air is my top priority, making public transit free and accessible to all Salt Lake City residents."

Q: What specifically would you do to help improve air quality in Salt Lake City?

"My top priority is 'No Fare for Clean Air.' I want to provide no-cost Utah Transit Authority Hive Passes to any resident that wants one. It's a policy that reduces tailpipe emissions, combats congestion on our roads, and is an equity issue for our lower-income residents."

Q: What would you do to improve access to housing — including affordable housing — as Salt Lake City continues to grow in this hot housing market?

"I believe we need to look at all types of housing, not just mega apartments. Infill areas are prime for higher density units like duplexes, six-plexes, etc. They provide affordable housing without having a dramatic impact on parking or neighborhood character."

Q: As Utah shifts into its new homelessness system once the three new homeless resource centers open, what would you do as mayor to address homelessness in Salt Lake City?

"Housing First is a priority for me. We need to house people, then surround them with the services necessary to keep them in stable housing."

Q: What would you do to improve transportation in Salt Lake City?

"My first step would be eliminating the fare barrier to using public transit. Then, we need to expand services and frequency of service. Building infrastructure that makes it easier to use public transportation is something I'm committed to. Day cares, schools, and basic accommodations within a five-minute walk of a transit hub is critical."

Q: Explain your stance on the Utah Inland Port Authority.

"As currently proposed, the port is an environmental disaster. We need to hit the reset button, create a transparent process, and ensure all voices are brought to the table. When people don't feel like their voice is being heard, we see protests like those seen recently. My vision is for a net-zero port."

Correction: An earlier version of this story inadvertently left out the word "pollution" in Richard Goldberger's answer regarding air quality. Goldberger said if he's elected mayor, he would aim to establish a Salt Lake City Pollution Police Department to address air quality in Salt Lake City.