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Salt Lake City mayor says she plans to bring ‘renewed energy’ into 2nd term

The mayor said homelessness remains the city’s top challenge, while crime, affordable housing and the Great Salt Lake all remain key issues

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks at a post-election press conference outside of the Salt Lake City-County Building on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. Mendenhall declared victory in last week’s election, receiving 58% of the unofficial vote.

Carter Williams, KSL.com

As Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall declared victory in last week’s election, she acknowledges plenty of challenges her staff must address over the next four years as Utah's capital city continues to push through growing pains.

While she stopped short of unveiling her plan for the next four years, the mayor said homelessness remains the city's "No. 1 challenge" heading into her second term, while crime, affordable housing and the struggling Great Salt Lake all remain key issues.

She said the city will continue to work with the state to handle some of those challenges, such as homelessness and affordable housing issues — key issues brought up by her challengers in this year's election. The city also plans to work closely with the state on the future of the Great Salt Lake, something Mendenhall called an "existential priority."

There are also some major city achievements she'd like to see completed during her second term. Helping Salt Lake City lock down its bid to host a future Winter Olympics is among those.

"I expect to see renewed energy and urgency from myself, but also from my staff in the mayor's office and from all of the department heads," she said, standing outside the front of the Salt Lake City-County Building on Monday. "Winning reelection really doesn't take the pressure off at all. In fact, it increases the pressure to deliver since this time we'll already be moving at full speed on inauguration day. There's no catch-up time."

A major turnout

Mendenhall has 58.5% of the vote, leading former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (34.5%) and community activist Michael Valentine (7%) by sizable margins. A little more than 44,000 residents cast votes this year, the most votes counted in the city's mayoral race since at least the 1990s — possibly a result of the city's population growth.

City officials will meet Dec. 5 to formally certify the election results, but Anderson also conceded the day after the election. Mendenhall reiterated that she believes the results show residents, overall, preferred focusing on the positive outlook and state collaboration her campaign championed throughout the election cycle.

"This election is proof that voters want a city government that allies with its partners instead of fighting with them, a city government that prioritizes results over politics and that trades ideas instead of insults," she said. "Together, really, is our only way forward."

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall takes a selfie with supporters after preliminary results show her in a strong lead at an election night watch party for her reelection campaign in the same office building that houses her campaign headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City on Nov. 21.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall takes a selfie with supporters after preliminary results show her in a strong lead at an election night watch party for her reelection campaign in the same office building that houses her campaign headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City on Nov. 21.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

What's not clear yet is how residents voted in different parts of the city. Salt Lake County election officials have yet to release precinct-level data, which could show whether some neighborhoods aligned more with Anderson and Valentine on issues they narrowed in on during their campaigns. These include the city's handling of homelessness and affordable housing, as well as overall transparency.

Anderson said on election night he was "surprised" with the results, because they didn't seem to reflect what he heard from residents during the campaign or from community meetings he attended. Mendenhall said she also plans to review the precinct data when it's available, to identify voter turnout trends that can improve future elections.

A preview of the next four years?

The mayor also said she plans to unveil more of her plan for the next four years during her inauguration address on Jan. 2 and her "State of the City" address later in January. However, some likely goals are already in motion.

Homelessness, for example, remains the city's top issue, especially as winter nears. Salt Lake City recently partnered with the state and other cities to create about 30 temporary shelters ahead of winter, and crack down on unsanctioned camping when beds are available. More than 150 people died while experiencing homelessness last year, according to the Fourth Street Clinic.

"Locking in a functional, funded strategy with state, county and municipal partners that funds the services that have been underfunded since before I became the mayor," Mendenhall said. "Locking that system in so that it isn't so reliant (on) the personalities who are in leadership at any given moment from the state down through municipal levels — we need that so desperately. We are beginning to lock that in, but we're not there yet."

She also said she hopes to work with the state and other groups to generate more money toward affordable housing in Salt Lake City, especially family-sized housing, in the near future. This would be on top of new funds the city directs to the issue, after spending at least $47 million in the past few years.

That comes on the heels of the Salt Lake City School District’s recommendation this month to close four elementary schools because of enrollment decline in recent years.

The closures are a possible indicator that housing prices are forcing families out of the city, as the city is still growing in population at a high clip.

Mendenhall said she wants her administration to go beyond addressing growing pains in the next four years. She said she believes hosting another Winter Olympics — something Salt Lake City is very much in contention to do — would be a "catalytic infusion" for the future of the city. The city is expected to learn next year if it will host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games.

Winning a bid could help the city move forward faster with infrastructure projects. Yet, even if Salt Lake City doesn't land the Winter Games, she said the city will move forward with its large-scale Green Loop and Main Street promenade projects in the next four years.

"Despite the challenges that we face, Salt Lakers are still enthusiastic about their city and they're supportive of the direction in which we're going," she said. "We are not afraid of our future. We're excited by it."