Salt Lake City’s new city council is historic – in many ways.
For the first time, most of the members – four out of seven – are racial and ethnic minorities.
And for the first time, a majority – four more – are openly LGBTQ.
“It’s different to have a government that makes decisions to value diversity and to have a government that is itself diverse,” board member Darin Mano said. “I’m glad we are both now.”
Mano, who won a full term in this week’s election, is of Japanese descent and openly gay.
“I am delighted,” he said, “that we have a majority of these two groups that I represent.”
Alejandro Puy, who is Latino and gay, and Victoria Petro-Eschler, who is Latino, also claimed victory on Tuesday. And re-election was won by Amy Fowler and Chris Wharton, both LGTBQ.
Council member Ana Valdemoros was the first minority to win a city council race in the Utah capital, a feat she accomplished two years ago. Other Latinos or Hispanics, including Lee Martinez and Dennis Faris, have served on the board in appointed roles.
“When I won, I now thought I had the opportunity to encourage other minorities to stay engaged and participate in a race,” said Valdemoros, an Argentinian immigrant who represents the city center.
She credited other Hispanic politicians who prevailed in the Utah election. “They did it,” she said. “They opened my door and now I hope I have opened another door.”
Valdemoros called the election of three other people of color a “wish come true”.
The only member of the new board who is neither a minority nor LGBTQ is Dan Dugan, a retired engineer and naval officer, who represents the eastern neighborhoods.
“It’s historic and exciting,” said Fowler, the chairman of the board. “I think this new board is really a more accurate representation of Salt Lake City.”
Fowler, who won a second term in the district that includes Sugar House, said, “Representation matters. People need to see people who are like them and who have similar values that represent them. And I think that’s really something that can be such a good thing for the West Side in particular. “
Districts 1 and 2 on the west side are the most diverse areas in the city, and they first elected Latinos: Petro-Eschler in District 1, centered around Rose Park, and Puy in District 2, which includes Glendale and Poplar Grove.
Puy is an Argentine immigrant who moved to Utah to study at Brigham Young University. He then left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became gay.
“It took me years to come to terms with my sexuality,” he said. “It inspired me to help other people who have been through what I have done. It made me sympathize. “
Puy, who is a Democratic political consultant, said the only time his background became an issue in his race, which included four other candidates, was when challengers pointed out that he was not born in the district and hadn’t attended school there like they did.
In a predominantly Latino neighborhood, he believed his first name, Alejandro, had helped him get votes.
“Our community is very diverse and our communities are struggling,” he said. “They need to have a bigger voice at the table.”
Petro-Eschler has ancestors from Panama, Cuba and Italy. She identifies as Latina, although she adds that doesn’t mean she loves her Italian grandparents any less.
“I hate when diversity is used as a quota,” she said, but sees the new diversity on the new council as a positive for the city.
“What this means to me is that we have voices and perspectives that have not had a place of importance that are going to be able to express themselves,” she said. “No one knows where the pitfalls of the system lie better than the marginalized. “
The 2020 census found that 21% of Salt Lake City are Latino, 5% are Asian, and 5% are people of two or more races. The city is 63% White, 3% Black, 2% Pacific Islander, and 1% Native American.
Although a little out of date, a 2015 Gallup poll found Salt Lake City to be 4.7% LGBTQ, the seventh highest for a U.S. metropolitan area.
Mano, who represents the Ballpark neighborhood, said Salt Lake City has long been a magnet for LGBTQ people who have been less accepted in rural or more conservative places.
“Salt Lake City has always been a safe haven,” he said, “and I think it’s great that our leadership now reflects that value.”
Achieving those minority majority marks is “a long time away,” said Wharton, who represents Capitol Hill, Marmalade and the Avenues. “I am really excited and honored to be part of such a diverse board.
“As an openly gay man and as someone who always wanted to be in public service but grew up fearful that it might not be possible, it means the world to me,” Wharton said. “I’m really proud of us and I’m really proud of the city.
Fowler said the accolades were “really exciting”, although she also found it encouraging that in recent campaigns the identity of the candidates has trumped their views on major issues such as housing and public safety.