Salt Lake City mayoral contenders Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler have sparred over a number of issues on the 2007 campaign trail: the environment, education, public safety and so on. But a new topic shook up one of their final debates Tuesday night.
How about a "gayborhood?"
In a live debate hosted by The Salt Lake Tribune and KUTV Channel 2 one week before Election Day, the candidates were asked if they would support a "gayborhood" taking root in the Marmalade district that boasts gay-owned businesses, according to a recent issue of Q Salt Lake magazine, which caters to a lesbian and gay audience.
"I haven't read the article," said Buhler, a two-term city councilman. "We have a lot of people in our community who are very diverse . . .. This is a very welcoming community."
He said he would lend the same support to small businesses in the area that entrepreneurs receive elsewhere in the city.
But the question outed some differences between Becker and Buhler on gay rights.
Becker - who said he wouldn't "stand in the way" of any master-plan application turned in for a "gayborhood" - touted his blueprint for universal human rights and plan for a domestic partnership registry. He wants to extend retirement benefits to city employees' domestic partners. That's why he's endorsed by the state's gay legislators and Equality Utah, concluded the Utah House minority leader.
Buhler said he wouldn't create a registry and wondered if it would just be "window dressing."
"I'm reluctant to get us into things that are not the city's business," he said.
But they agreed on how to approach chain stores. Although Mayor Rocky Anderson hopes to ban formula stores from moving into the city's quaint neighborhood shopping districts - 9th and 9th, 15th and 15th and Broadway (300 South) - both Becker and Buhler said they oppose a ban.
Becker said he would make sure economic-development incentives didn't unfairly favor national chains over local businesses.
"We've got to make sure we have a level playing field," he said.
Buhler said a ban would be "counterproductive to our neighborhoods." And he bragged about helping to revamp the city's small-business loan program. The city can give local businesses a boost without banning chains, he argued.
They both said they support the $192 million public-safety facilities bond that will be on Tuesday's ballot. But Becker questioned whether the city could have planned better to avoid asking taxpayers for such a huge amount all at once.
Buhler said he hoped to trim the amount spent on a new police headquarters and three other buildings if the bond is approved.
They traded a few barbs over education. Becker wants to add an education advocate to the mayor's office. Buhler said education could best be served by building the city's tax base so it can funnel more money into schools.
"One of the ways I want to help education is keeping Ralph in the Legislature" where he could work on channeling more funding to Utah schools, Buhler quipped. He also called adding an education "bureaucrat" to city government the "wrong idea."
Becker put down Buhler for voting against the city's youth program, Youth City, and supporting private-school vouchers. Buhler said what he had supported as a legislator was only tax incentives that "empowered" school boards. Calling those "vouchers" is like "comparing a fly swatter to a nuclear bomb," he said.
Both Becker and Buhler said they oppose the state-approved voucher program that is up for a voter referendum next week.