Salt Lake City Elects Utah’s First Lesbian Mayor

Salt Lake City voters elected Jackie Biskupski as Utah’s first openly gay mayor and only the second female top executive in the capital city, according to the unofficial election-night count.

Those vote tallies had Biskupski with 52.19 percent to two-term Mayor Ralph Becker’s 47.81 percent — less than a 5 percentage-point spread. No additional results will be released until the Nov. 17 canvass.

Becker did not concede Tuesday night but did compliment Biskupski on a hard-fought campaign.

“I commend her, and really I’ve felt this way, she’s run a very, very strong campaign. And the votes that have been counted so far show her in the lead, and it’s a reflection of the campaign she’s run, and I commend her for that,” the mayor said. “Beyond that, I think we’re going to have to wait and see what the final votes are.”

As of Tuesday evening, the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office had received mail-in ballots from 48.4 percent of registered Salt Lake City voters. That record most likely will go higher, said County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, when all ballots are collected.

“I feel great,” Biskupski said. “We maintained that lead we had, and we’re going to finish strong, I know it.”

Biskupski expects to be victorious, she said, even though the results are preliminary.

“It’s about all these people in this room. Look at the people in this room,” Biskupski said of the crowd of about 200 people gathered at Kimi’s Chop House restaurant in Sugar House. “This is a diverse group of people from all over the city. This is about having a voice again.”

Utah Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, also an openly gay politician, said the election was history in the making.

“Generations of LGBT people could’ve only dreamed of this,” he said. “Jackie is now an iconic gay leader. This is a great moment for Salt Lake City — we’re not the stereotype people across the country think we are.”

But Becker’s camp was holding out hope, according to campaign manager Matt Lyon.

“Look, we came from a primary that was really far behind. We’re now within 1,500 votes,” he said, noting that more ballots remain to be counted. “We think it’s going to be a close election.”

Biskupski, a former state legislator, was apparently able to hold on to a lead in the fall campaign despite a vigorous effort by the two-term mayor, who spent more than $863,000 and garnered a passel of endorsements from top Democrats — and Republicans, such as former Gov. Mike Leavitt and former Sen. Bob Bennett — as well as five Salt Lake City Council members. He also used his incumbency to call news conferences celebrating events related to community gardens, the 28th anniversary of the redevelopment agency in Sugar House and other things.

But Biskupski’s grass-roots campaign focused on change at City Hall and kept its momentum by painting her as the people’s candidate who would listen to constituents. In the Aug. 11 primary, Biskupski captured 46 percent to Becker’s 31 percent. Three other candidates garnered a total of 19 percent.

She spent more than $536,000 and had help from a political action committee affiliated with Reagan Outdoor Advertising that put up more than a dozen billboards supporting her candidacy.

Reagan donated its billboards outside campaign contribution caps through a political action committee, and billboards became one of the few issues where Becker got traction against his opponent.

Biskupski, who for the past eight years has been a top adviser for Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, got the backing of organized labor, including the Salt Lake Police Association.

The most noteworthy event in the campaign came in June, when Becker forced the resignation of popular police Chief Chris Burbank. That action came after three female officers filed notice of claim with Salt Lake City, signaling their intent to sue over sexual harassment from former Deputy Chief Rick Findlay. The allegations were substantiated by January 2014. Burbank put Findlay on administrative leave, and the former deputy chief was allowed to retire with full benefits in June 2014.