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Jim is in.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, has announced his candidacy for Salt Lake City mayor, saying his high profile and popularity in the community puts him in position to win.
In a weekend blog post and Monday interview, Dabakis said he is running for mayor to create a "robust, energy-driven, competitive, lots of candidates working hard" kind of election. The former state Democratic Party chairman said he has a "vision for our Capital City" and wants more people to participate in the electoral process.
He joins former lawmaker Jackie Biskupski and current City Council Chairman Luke Garrott in challenging two-term Mayor Ralph Becker.
"A brawny discussion among a large number of candidates will be terrific!" he wrote on his blog, the Dabakis Factor. "Lots of input and a competitive race will bring participation to our Salt Lake neighborhoods. ... It's important that all the candidates be asked tough questions."
Earlier, Dabakis wondered aloud whether Biskupski or Garrott could marshal campaigns potent enough to defeat the mayor because their fundraising is a fraction of Becker's. According to the last report from the city recorder's office in February, Biskupski has raised $25,700, and Garrott has collected $7,591. Becker, by contrast, had amassed $314,916.
But in a statement on her website, Biskupski said she now has raised nearly $100,000.
"Sen. Dabakis has come to realize what I have known for some time: The people of Salt Lake City are ready for a new mayor," Biskupski's statement said. "I welcome Jim to this important and historical race."
Garrott, too, welcomed Dabakis' candidacy.
"It's a real statement on Ralph [Becker] that so many candidates are entering the field," Garrott said in a prepared statement. "When a mayor neglects the issues of everyday residents, it opens the door for loud characters like Jim Dabakis who are always seeking the spotlight."
But Dabakis said he is well positioned to win the mayor's seat.
In a Tribune interview Monday, he said that a poll he commissioned recently showed he had an 81 percent name recognition among Salt Lake City voters.
"My favorability rating was higher than the mayor's," he said. "And my unfavorability was lower than the mayor's."
Biskupski, who announced her candidacy for mayor in January, has said Dabakis' entry into the race could split the voter base they share and pave the way for a third term for Becker. Biskupski and Dabakis are both openly gay.
She earlier described being "hurt" and "frustrated" by Dabakis talking about entering the race only days after standing by her side at a press conference criticizing Becker.
Monday, she acknowledged that, "as a result of Jim's candidacy we may make some strategic adjustments."
Biskupski has blasted Becker for endorsing a sales-tax increase linked to the relocation of the Utah State Prison, a theme Dabakis raised in his announcement.
Dabakis cites what he calls Salt Lake City's "murky participation in a backroom" deal in the Legislature "to authorize a link between Salt Lake getting the unwanted prison and legislative permission to hike taxes for Salt Lakers to pay for the ghastly new prison."
The last-minute sweetener allows any city where a new prison is located to impose a half-cent sales-tax increase. Of the candidate cities, Salt Lake City seems to be the only one likely to consider such a tax hike other possible locations have small populations, few visitors and few sales to tax.
"Without a grand competitive campaign, important questions might go unasked," Dabakis said. "We live in America, elections should not be coronations."
But Becker has repeatedly denied that he cut a deal with lawmakers to include the sales-tax provision. He added, however, he didn't try to dissuade them from adding it.
Becker's campaign spokesman Matt Lyon said Monday that Dabakis didn't consider the tax hike an issue until he decided to run for mayor. The mayor is against a prison in Salt Lake City, Lyon said. But has supported a sales-tax hike to mitigate impacts on city resources from tourists and commuters.
"For us, we're going to run the same campaign program and strategy," Lyon said. "But Jim's candidacy makes the primary [election] more competitive for [Biskupski and Garrott].
Dabakis is an original co-founder of Equality Utah, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents, and the Utah Pride Center. He has served as a Utah senator since 2013. He was elected to the Senate by Democratic delegates in 2012, filling the vacancy left by Ben McAdams, who was elected mayor of Salt Lake County. Dabakis then won the general election in 2014.
That same year, Dabakis stepped down as chairman of the state Democratic Party, citing undisclosed health reasons.
Garrott raised the issue Monday in a prepared statement saying, "I hope his entry means that Jim's health has improved and I welcome him to the race." He also suggested that Dabakis has a short attention span, saying, "With the mayor's office a four year term, I hope Jim can stay interested in Salt Lake City or anything for that long."
In an interview Monday, Dabakis turned aside specific inquiries into his health. He noted, however, that his doctors have given him the green light. His health should not be an issue in the coming decade, he said, adding, "I want to keep a modicum of privacy."