The Salt Lake City mayoral race is in its final few days as voters fill out their ballots before Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
So far, at least 23% of active registered voters in Salt Lake County have submitted their ballots, Salt Lake County Clerk Lannie Chapman told the Deseret News on Friday evening. Chapman said she hopes the number climbs to 30% or 35%, which would be a good turnout for an off-year municipal general election.
Voters are choosing between incumbent Mayor Erin Mendenhall, former mayor Rocky Anderson and community activist and business owner Michael Valentine.
Here’s what you need to know about the candidates.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall
Serving as the mayor of Salt Lake City since 2020, Mendenhall, a Democrat, made willingness to work with Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican who has endorsed her, and the Utah Legislature a prominent part of her campaign.
“When I ran for mayor, I promised to keep our seat at the table — to put aside my personal feelings when necessary in the name of rebuilding the burned bridges of our past and showing the state Legislature that we were more interested in progress than partisan politics,” she wrote in an opinion for the Deseret News.
Mendenhall said in a statement emailed to the Deseret News this election is “a choice between two very different tones. Do we want to continue moving Salt Lake City forward optimistically, with constructive relationships with the state’s elected leaders, or to go back to a time when our mayor picked partisan fights for which our residents and businesses paid the price? Salt Lake City has not only grown since then — it’s grown up.”
Mendenhall has sought a multi-jurisdictional approach to solving homelessness throughout her term, most recently announcing a sanctioned camping site, among the approaches to helping the unsheltered. The growth of encampments around Salt Lake City has drawn criticism from her opponents.
When challenged by Anderson on this issue during a debate in late October, she said his “impatience is indicative of someone who cares more about taking credit than getting it right” and that her team was building housing “quickly and safely.”
Mendenhall said in her statement that her commitment toward partnership is the reason behind the state “finally shouldering more of the responsibility for addressing the homelessness crisis,” noting investments in a city-supported legal campsite with climate-controlled pods and a tiny-home village.
Mendenhall also said that her leadership was tested through a historic set of challenges, including earthquakes, the pandemic, snowmelt flooding as well as the statewide homelessness crisis — and “Through it all we have adapted, innovated and delivered real results for our residents and businesses,” she said.
Her campaign reported spending more than $154,000 between Oct. 20 and Nov. 14, as KSL Newsradio reported. In the prior campaign finance filing period, her campaign spent over $110,000.
Former Mayor Ross C. ‘Rocky’ Anderson
After serving two terms as mayor from 2000 to 2008, Anderson is seeking a third term. He centered his campaign on differentiating himself from Mendenhall by focusing on the issue of homelessness.
“Last winter, the current mayor left hundreds of people to suffer in the freezing winter without any available shelter, resulting in numerous deaths and amputations from frostbite,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Deseret News.
At a press conference on Thursday, Anderson accused Mendenhall of not taking steps to address the rising number of homeless encampments and crime.
“Just like last winter, there are hundreds of unsheltered people in our city, who, because of the lack of leadership and effective action by this city’s mayor, have no alternative places to go,” he said.
“Tragically, we’re back to where we were last winter, with inadequate shelter for hundreds of unsheltered people. As a result, the quality of life for residents and businesses has also severely diminished,” Anderson said.
He proposed eliminating homeless encampments, which the current mayor also backs, but said that he recognizes the responsibility to provide alternative housing, something he says Mendenhall has fallen short on. “That’s not only a constitutional principle; it’s common sense and compassionate,” he said.
As for campaign finances, Anderson reported spending more than $166,000 over the past two filing periods.
If elected, Valentine would be the third-youngest mayor in Salt Lake City history at the age of 35. He sees himself as a voice for the new generation. Valentine, an independent, said he hopes to unite voters regardless of the political divide.
“I am not a political party leader, I am the leader of all our people here in Salt Lake City,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Deseret News.
Alongside Anderson, Valentine, who said he was formerly homeless, also criticized the homeless camp abatements under Mendenhall during the October debate.
“They’re unjust, immoral, they’re unconstitutional, they violate homeless people’s constitutional human rights,” he said.
Unlike the other two candidates, who back abating homeless camps, Valentine said he believes “people have the right to exist in a public space if they have nowhere else to go,” and the city shouldn’t spend millions on policing the homeless.
KSL Newsradio reported that Valentine’s campaign expenses were lower than the other campaigns, with his campaign spending money on campaign signs, emails and events.
What do voters need to know about casting their ballot?
This year’s Salt Lake City mayoral election will feature ranked choice voting for the first time, where voters have the option to select multiple candidates and rank them according to preference.
Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Monday, Nov. 20, to be counted. On Tuesday, voters can choose from 25 drop box locations in Salt Lake County or visit 20 in-person voting centers, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Further information about voting in Salt Lake County can be found on the Salt Lake County clerk’s website.