Salt Lake City’s mayoral race has been a refreshing class act

Originally published in the Deseret News.

There’s not much inspiration in politics these days. This year, Utahns witnessed a rare exception: the Salt Lake City mayor’s race. The race hit the mark of substance, civility and class. Both state Sen. Luz Escamilla and Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall campaigned in Utah’s capital city with grace, dignity and competence. We are all better for their leadership and example.

I watched the election night speech of Mendenhall, the current leader in the race. She not only congratulated Escamilla, but raised her hands above her head and led the applause. As she spoke of Escamilla’s honorable service, Mendenhall’s husband, who was standing behind his wife, nodded in agreement. The same level of respect and graciousness was reflected from the Escamilla campaign. This election-night conduct is not only honorable, but rare.

Civility and kindness started early in this race. I attended debate No. 2 out of 14 debates. As I often do, I took notes. As the debate started, I wrote on the top of my notepad, “Cold day, warm feeling inside.” This couplet captures the goodness I felt as I witnessed two incredible women, with a desire to serve, making their case to the voters with substance and dignity. They stuck to the issues, made distinctions in their views when necessary and always respected one another.

Two examples caught my attention at this debate. Escamilla set the tone early by starting the applause when her running mate was introduced. That’s class.

Later in the debate, when Escamilla coughed because of an irritation in her throat, Mendenhall grabbed an unopened water bottle nestled behind the lectern and walked over to Escamilla. She said, “Here, would you like some water?” It’s a simple gesture, but one that I would guess wouldn’t happen in 99 out of 100 campaigns.

Since Mendenhall currently leads in the vote count and every Utahn will likely learn a lot about her in coming weeks, I want to say a few words about Escamilla.

Most people know her as “Luz.” I serve on the Primary Children’s Hospital Board with her and have worked with her on Capitol Hill. When you talk to people about Luz they describe her using words like honorable, caring, refreshing, effective, elegant, amazing, committed and service-oriented. The daughter of two Mexican college professors, she’s used her intelligence and considerable negotiating skill to pass meaningful legislation on clean air, health care, after school programs and education.

In her election night speech, Mendenhall commented on what a powerful force for good Escamilla is in our community. Mendenhall said, “For a community that has long felt underrepresented in this city, Sen. Escamilla’s candidacy was especially poignant and important. We can’t forget that just because the campaigning part is over.”

I wholeheartedly agree. No matter the election outcome, Luz Escamilla will continue to be a powerful force for good in Salt Lake City, Utah and the nation. We owe her a debt of gratitude for her service.

Mendenhall made another important point during her election night speech. She said, “What warms my heart is all the girls who watched two women in Salt Lake City, our capital city, battle it out for the highest elected office in this city and thought nothing of it.” She then followed by saying, “Girls, come and get this. It is yours!”

Salt Lake City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall, flanked by her sons, Everett, 9, left, and Cash, 13, right, speaks to her supporters as initial poll results give her a lead over opponent state Sen. Luz Escamilla during an election night party at Publik Space in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Mendenhall’s comment speaks to the goodness and richness of the 2019 Salt Lake City mayoral race. This is something worth replicating — the two women part, the civility part, and the focus on the issues part. Utah would do well to elevate and broaden this experience, particularly as we head into a gubernatorial election year with an open governor’s seat.

We just witnessed two women, two mothers and two community leaders who gave of their time and talent to serve and who treated each other with dignity throughout the process.

Come get this Utah. Let’s make this ours!