This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Mayor Ralph Becker cast himself as a visionary leader, while Jackie Biskupski described herself as a hands-on administrator who gets things done.
With Tuesday's Election Day finish line in sight, Becker and Biskupski squared off Wednesday evening in their final debate before 150 people at the Salt Lake City Main Library. The mayoral race has been a hard-fought, bitter and expensive campaign waged by two Democrats who were once colleagues in the state Legislature.
Despite the tension in what looks to be a close race, the pair were civil, but they threw some barbs. Becker said his challenger has little in the way of constructive plans. For her part, Biskupski said the mayor has missed opportunities to address city issues.
As he has throughout the campaign, Becker pointed to a new vibrancy in Salt Lake City that he says he has fostered since the Great Recession by keeping taxes down while promoting a business-friendly environment. "By any measure," the mayor said, "Salt Lake City has a strong economy compared with other cities."
But his challenger said not enough is being done to attract new business to Salt Lake City. She pointed to new talent at the University of Utah leaving for other locales to start new businesses, as well as high-tech businesses moving away. She also noted that the city's economic development team has been left wanting after a spate of departures. "We need a strong team in City Hall," she said.
One of the most controversial aspects of the campaign has been the termination of police Chief Chris Burbank in June. It came one year after the chief placed on administrative leave a deputy chief who had been accused of sexual harassment of three female officers.
The allegations were sustained in January 2014. Becker said he waited to take action because Burbank had promised to make appropriate changes and root out sexual harassment in the police department.
"He agreed to work and improve the climate," the mayor said of Burbank. "I finally felt, after one year, he wasn't taking appropriate action."
Biskupski, however, pointed out that the mayor didn't move until the trio filed a claim with the city of their intent to sue.
"Had we addressed this immediately and upfront, we wouldn't be in this place," she said of the lawsuit and subsequent settlement agreement.
Since before the August primary election, Becker has criticized Biskupski for "Elect Jackie" billboards put up by Reagan Outdoor Advertising. The mayor has a long history of fighting billboards. On Wednesday, he excoriated Biskupski for supporting them and Reagan, which he did not name outright.
"Jackie has benefited enormously from billboards in the campaign," he said.
In rebuttal, Biskupski said that when she was in the Legislature, she sponsored billboard legislation that Democrats, including Becker, supported. Reagan's support of her campaign, she said, "comes from a lack of communication between that industry and the [Becker] administration."
Biskupski hit Becker hard for not allowing voters to decide whether they wanted to spend $120 million on the Eccles Theater, which is under construction on Main Street.
"If we had a funding stream of $120 million, the public should have input," she said. "The public will continue to pay for this funding stream."
But the mayor said the funding mechanism a bond to pay for the ground beneath the Vivint Smart Home Arena (formerly EnergySolutions Arena) would not increase taxes. In addition, he said, the theater would spur the arts and economic growth.
"The people of this community will be thrilled" when it is completed, Becker said.
Another staple of the mayoral campaign has been transportation. The issue encompasses clean air, the economy and lifestyles.
Becker pointed to his accomplishments, including the HIVE reduced-cost transit pass, increased bike lanes, city fleet conversion to natural gas and a no-idling ordinance. He also championed the Sugar House streetcar line but did not mention it in the debate.
But the mayor said Biskupski's proposal for Salt Lake City to launch its own bus line, or partner with the University Utah for one, would be a colossal and costly mistake.
The challenger, however, pointed to Park City and Logan, which run their own limited bus lines, as examples of systems that can augment the Utah Transit Authority.
"We can talk about UTA all we want," she said regarding the dearth of bus lines in some areas of the city. "We need a transit master plan, and we have to create our own system."
Biskupski also chided the mayor for not doing enough for the west side.
"For the past eight years, we have done nothing to build a strong economy there," she said. "There is no doubt we haven't done job creation, provided a transit system or are providing every child the opportunity to be successful academically."
Becker agreed that the west side has gotten short shrift traditionally. But under his administration, he said, things are beginning to change. The mayor pointed to the new TRAX line on North Temple and the upgrades along that boulevard. He also made note of a the new Glendale Library as well as community learning centers in Glendale and Rose Park. Not least, he said, the Jordan River Parkway that connects to the old railroad tracks at about 900 South and 900 West is setting the stage for a new era there.
"It's just the beginning," he said. "It will improve dramatically if we continue to focus" our efforts there.
In closing statements, Becker said he is a collaborator with a good track record and progressive programs that he wants to continue for the next four years as mayor.
By contrast, Biskupski said she is a hands-on manager who recognizes the hard work ahead on issues such as homelessness, housing, transit and the elderly. As mayor, she said, she would engage the public and dedicate herself to those issues.
The Salt Lake Tribune-sponsored debate was moderated by Jennifer Napier-Pearce and streamed live on sltrib.com. It also was broadcast on KCPW.
Election Day is Tuesday. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Monday or turned in to some polling stations by the end of business on Tuesday.