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Salt Lake City councilwoman set to launch mayoral bid citing a track record of 'bold' leadership

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall is set to launch her campaign for mayor Sunday, entering a field of candidates now teeming with at least 10 hopefuls.

Mendenhall, after spending six years on the City Council and a handful of community councils, says it's her leadership experience that sets her apart from the other candidates.

"I know how to make hard decisions at the city, how to bring the community into that conversation, and how to take bold steps to get us where we need to as a city," Mendenhall told the Deseret News in an interview Saturday. "And I have a history of doing that."

Whether it was the controversy surrounding the siting of the homeless resource centers, the decision to raise sales taxes last year, or the fight over the Utah Inland Port Authority, Mendenhall has been in the thick of it all — and she says that shows what kind of leader she'd be as mayor.

"It's hard to site homeless resource centers. It's hard to raise taxes. It's hard to make impacts in the community. It's also wonderful to make impacts in the community, and I've had almost six years of experience working with the community to make the kind of changes we need to get to where we want to be," Mendenhall said.

Asked if those tough issues could hurt her campaign, Mendenhall said it's a "harder battle" to prove a track record without any evidence — but now she has the record to show "what kind of leader I am."

The most recent hot-button issue at City Hall has been the state-versus-city war over the Utah Inland Port Authority. After Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski halted negotiations when she said it became apparent the state had no intentions to return the city's municipal powers, Mendenhall as Council chairwoman stepped in to keep the city at the negotiating table.

"We had scorched earth with the state, and they were rolling ahead with an atrocious piece of legislation that I made a seat for the table for our residents," Mendenhall said. "That legislation still isn't perfect, but as long as there is a conversation about the inland port, I want a seat at that table."

The day before her campaign launch — slated for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, 1440 W. Goodwin Avenue — Mendenhall mingled with fellow Democrats on Saturday at the Salt Lake County Democratic Party convention at Butler Middle School.

Like other candidates, Mendenhall set up a booth with campaign signs to lobby for votes — joining a race that's already months in, even though the primary election is still about four months away. The filing period doesn't even close until June.

Up against other heavy hitters including current and former state lawmakers, Mendenhall points to her "hands-on experience that other candidates don't have."

As chairwoman of the state's Air Quality Board and co-founder of Breathe Utah, Mendenhall said air quality is the "lens" that guides all of her decision making.

"That's my bread and butter," she said.

She said her focus — through that air quality lens — will be on further expanding affordable housing and transportation while building a strong economy with an emphasis on the tech industry.

She said if she wins the mayoral seat, she'll push for Salt Lake City to step into the tech arena — an area she said Utah's capital has been missing out on because it doesn't have an "ecosystem to exist in Salt Lake City's economy."

"We've watched technology slip through our fingers," Mendenhall said. "We have an opportunity to not take from Silicon Slopes, but to catch and cultivate that talent here in Salt Lake City and create that lifespan of opportunity for the tech industry that is right now going everywhere else in the state but here."

Mendenhall also highlighted her role in helping to improve city streets after she helped push for voters approval of the $87 million bond to invest in city roads, as well as a proposal to put $21 million of city funds towards affordable housing efforts.

Other candidates include Sen. Luz Escamilla; former Sen. Jim Dabakis; former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold; Christian Harrison, former Downtown Community Council chairman; businessman David Ibarra; and David Garbett, former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition.

Aaron Johnson, a veteran; Richard Goldberger, a freelance journalist; and former Salt Lake City Council candidate Carol Rogozinski have also opened personal campaign committees.