It's coming up on election time in Salt Lake City — primaries are September 11th — and I'm still completely at a loss this year. Now, I'm hardly the political neophyte. I'm active in local politics and was publicist for a candidate running for the US House a while back. But this year is going to be tough for me...
The candidate pools for Mayor and for City Council District Four are — how shall I put it — uninspiring.
Now I stick by the comment I made over at Pete Ashdown's site a while back, that the caliber of candidates I see in Utah elections is — time and again — exceptional. In fact, except for the rarest of cases (Senator Chris Buttars, I'm looking at you) our elected representatives comport themselves with dignity and execute their duties with grace and skill. They are exemplars of citizen government. Now, I don't agree with all of their policies, but nor do I fear that Utah will soon become Louisiana or California. So, while I'm uninspired, I'm not exactly in sackcloth and ashes.
So what's my beef?
Let's take the Mayor's race. There are currently four viable candidates: Becker, Buhler, Christensen, and Wilson. Each are vying for office in a city whose liberal leanings have nothing on Berkeley California, but are still way left for Utah. Moreover, each must contend with Mayor Anderson's considerable (and contentious) legacy. Salt Lake City is — whether you like it or not — a profoundly different place than it was just eight years ago. And that's in large part due to Rocky's leadership and his leadership style. I don't envy the next mayor — who must rebuild the myriad bridges singed, burned, or completely incinerated by this administration… or who must attempt to own and enlarge upon the amazing greening of city government that Rocky fostered. The shoes left to fill are both large and uncomfortable.
Ralph Becker — Ralph has the political experience needed to navigate city government, and the planning and policy experience to do it well. But his politics are a little too progressive for me and he lacks the personal warmth that will make conveying his policy vision to the public and his allies/adversaries on the City Council, on the Hill, and in the County Government difficult. In short, he's a gifted policy wonk who comes off a little, um, cold.
Dave Buhler — Dave is running as the Mormon-friendly "anti-Rocky". I don't much care for his politics, but his approach seems genuine. He's a Big Money Republican… and I think that's because he truly believes in that approach. He'll do well with the Hill because he's one of them. And he's known to be a good administrator. I don't fear his politics because his vision for Salt Lake City will likely be tempered by the City Council and a heavy-hitting, vocal, and persuasive activist community.
Keith Christensen — Keith is warm and approachable and knows the issues. He has the administrative chops for the office and the connections to make rebuilding bridges, if not easy, at least manageable. He's also, inexplicably, the hand-picked successor to Mayor Anderson. On the other hand, he's Big Money's favorite. And whereas Dave's approach to Big Money seems to be genuine (if just a little doctrinaire), Keith's approach lacks that "fresh-laundered feeling". To be blunt, with Keith I feel like I'm being snookered — but it feels so good.
Jenny Wilson — Jenny comes across as an import with MADE IN TAIWAN stamped on her back side — which is odd, as she has deep roots in the city (her father was a beloved Salt Lake City mayor in his day).
Jenny recently returned to the valley after doing time in the hallowed halls of academia and cutting her teeth on the fringes of Big Name™ politics — followed by a short stint in the County Council. With such an impressive resume and all the fashionable slightly-left-of-center sound bites, you'd think she was the Second Coming (and looking at the polls, others certainly seem to think that, too). But she doesn't know the district, is a zero on the issues, doesn't have the substantive experience needed to be a solid mayor, and fails to impress when asked the simplest questions in forum after forum. She is a shell of a candidate just aching for someone else to pull the strings.
… So there you go. I'm stuck between Becker and Christensen. Not a terrible place. But I'd rather, well… I'd rather have someone I can actually root for — not just vote for.
For another's perspective, you should check-out the answers to Pete Ashdown's questionnaire given by Becker, Buhler, Christensen, and Wilson. In the end, Pete endorses Ralph Becker.
Of course, this isn't just a mayoral race.
Three City Council chairs are up for re-election, including District Four — which is my district. In that race there are five candidates: Brian Doughty, Carol Goode, Luke Garrott, Jack Gray, and the incumbent Nancy Saxton. Goode and Gray have both run previously (I believe several times, each, actually), but I've yet to see any campaign literature. So it's hard to judge them, except to say that they don't appear to be viable candidates.
I've been lucky enough to speak at-length with each of the other candidates. Yet, as with our mayoral candidates, I'm at a loss. Each have their strengths — but in this year's election, I'm finding it difficult to overlook any of their deficiencies.
Brian Doughty — Brian is a good-natured man with a solid head on his shoulders. He's running because it's a chance for him to make the world a little better. And I like that about him. But he has absolutely no experience and his grasp of the issues is tentative. If this were a smaller town's council seat in question, I'd vote for him in a heart-beat. But he's not prepared for the big time. Put him on a city board or a community council and he'll be ready to run in a couple years.
Luke Garrott — Luke is a seasoned political junky, and a professor of political science at the U. He's passionate about serving and he's got a grassroots resume that should serve him well. But Luke lacks the finesse that's so important in the collaborative environment of the City Council… and the sense of decorum/chairos that might otherwise render his bite a little more, well, useful. We all appreciate the political bulldog… but this one isn't housebroken.
Nancy Saxton — Nancy has been in office for eight years. She knows how the machine works and she drives with two hands on the wheel. She is a consummate administrator and a savvy public servant with pluck. But she's dead-wrong on issues that are important to me. And not just a little wrong… on the handful of issues that mean a great deal to me, I oppose her almost completely and fail to fathom the logic she's used to come to her decisions.
So who do I vote for? The newbie that might be really good in two years… the wonk who's bound to alienate the people he needs to work with… or the savvy incumbent whose recent policy initiatives make no sense? I guess it's time to take my first impressions and my first round of homework and dig a little deeper...
Who are you voting for?