In 2008, when Jani Iwamoto ousted Republican incumbent Mark Crockett from his Salt Lake County Council seat representing District 4, Democrats rejoiced.
They were still the minority party on the council. But being outnumbered 5 to 4 prevented the Republicans from overriding vetoes by Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon strictly on party votes, which they could have done if six of the nine council members had belonged to the GOP.
But with Iwamoto opting not to seek re-election Nov. 6, both parties are looking to the District 4 race as a crucial swing vote in shaping the council's composition. And they have lined up candidates with prominent names to vie for the position.
Republicans have turned to Missy Larsen, whose maiden name, Wilson, bears testimony to her political roots as daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, a longtime Democrat.
"We want that seat and feel we have the best candidate for it," said County Republican Party Chairwoman Julie Dole. "Missy is a terrific candidate. She's gung-ho and really involved in the community. If the people are watching, they'll see she's their best bet for representation."
To hold onto Iwamoto's seat, Democrats are pinning their hopes on Sam Granato, well-known for his family's food business (importing Italian and other Mediterranean delicacies) even before he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010 against Mike Lee.
"This is the district I grew up in, live in and have a business in," said Granato, contending those lifetime ties have provided him with support from independents and Republicans as well as Democrats. "They're like the wind at my back, encouraging me to be the voice for people who don't feel they have a voice because there's no balance in Utah government."
Larsen also sees herself as a symbol of balance, noting that Iwamoto was the only woman on the council and one of only two elected women at the county level. (County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is the other.)
"There is no female representation in county government at all unless I win this race," said Larsen, who does freelance work in public relations and marketing. "That's an important voice that needs to be heard."
County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Jaramillo is well aware of the importance of retaining the District 4 council seat and has been working hard to make sure that traditionally Democratic groups vote in November.
"I'm confident we'll take District 4," he said. "We have a great candidate with a great organization behind him. From what I've seen of their ability to reach voters and convey a message that resonates, they're right on target."
The biggest issue facing many District 4 residents involves the possible incorporation of Millcreek, also on the Nov. 6 ballot. District boundaries include all of the proposed city of 63,000, along with parts of Holladay and Cottonwood Heights.
A Holladay resident, Larsen is not taking a position on the incorporation question. "As a county representative, it's very important to stay unbiased," she said. "Either way that the election comes out, it will take a lot of work [to deal with the repercussions]. It will take some healing."
Granato, by contrast, lives within the proposed city but opposes incorporation.
"As a businessman, I know it takes money to add another layer of government. I like the level of county services I receive now," he said. But if incorporation passes, Granato added, "as the only one who lives in Millcreek, I can help bring the sides together."
While he believes county government can be streamlined, the Democrat doesn't favor a "cut, cut, cut approach." Republican Wilson said she would strive to "utilize best practices to connect people with opportunities," a skill she honed while dealing with county agencies on behalf of a nonprofit refugee group.
Districts 2 and 6 • Unless something shocking happens in the final month of the campaign, the Democrats appear to have little hope of unseating two Republican incumbents from two other district seats Michael Jensen in west-side District 2 and Max Burdick in District 6, covering the southeastern county.
Chief of the Unified Fire Authority, Jensen has been on the County Council since it came into existence in 2000. As a result, he also has represented the county on the Central Utah Project board, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and in lobbying the Legislature on local government matters.
"Because I'm there I'm able to get funding for transportation, water and human services … and to get issues passed for the west side and all of Salt Lake County," he said.
But his opponent, longtime Democratic legislator Brent Goodfellow, believes Jensen has spent too much time representing these various interests, missing too many County Council meetings.
He also thinks Jensen has a conflict of interest being in both the executive (as fire chief) and legislative (as a council member) branches of county government.
"Why don't we appoint him to be a judge so he can have all three branches," Goodfellow said.
In District 6, even Democratic chieftain Jaramillo expects his party's candidate, Paul Recanzone, the owner of a telecommunications consulting company, to have little chance of unseating Burdick, a four-year council veteran who is in real estate.
Burdick's campaign is emphasizing his "level-headed leadership, keeping needs first and wants later." Recanzone said he respects Burdick's willingness to cross party lines and vote with the Democratic minority on some issues but feels a Democrat will do a better job for county residents in respect to land-use issues.
"The county should do more to preserve open space," Recanzone said, adding he opposes SkiLink, the proposal to connect Solitude Mountain and Canyons resorts via a gondola.
Burdick rejected Recanzone's premise about land-use expertise, saying he had established a reputation during a dozen years on Sandy's planning commission "as a pretty tough commissioner, making developments be as good as they can be."
He added that he wants to continue his work on understanding the county's convention business and interacting with valley cities on delivering public-works services and other intergovernmental issues.
County Council races
District 2 • Brent Goodfellow (D) vs. Michael Jensen* (R)
District 4 • Sam Granato (D) vs. Republican Missy Larsen (R)
District 6 • Max Burdick* (R) vs. Paul Recanzone (D)
Tuesday is the deadline to register by mail for the Nov. 6 general election.
After that, and through Oct. 22, unregistered people who want to vote Nov. 6 must sign up online at www.vote.utah.gov or in person at the Salt Lake County Clerk's office, Room 1100 of the County Government Center's South Building, 2001 S. State St.
Registrants must have a current Utah driver license or a state identification card, said Clerk Sherrie Swensen.
She encouraged people who have moved since they last voted to update their addresses soon at the clerk's office.
The clerk's office also is hiring additional poll workers for Nov. 6, particularly people who can speak Spanish as well as English.
Swensen said applicants for the paid positions should fill out forms at http://clerk.slco.org/elections/votingInfo/votePollWorker.html.
More information on registering or being a poll worker is available at 385-468-8683.