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There was nothing happenstance about Ross Romero's Thursday-night campaign announcement at the Mediterranean Market & Deli near 3900 South State.

The highest-ranking Democrat in the Utah Senate wanted to launch his 2012 bid for Salt Lake County mayor not on the east side or west side or downtown, but "right in the middle" of the valley.

Message, and metaphor, received.

"I really want to be a candidate for the whole county," Romero said after the patio party chants of "Ross, Ross, Ross" subsided.

Supporters say that symbolism pulls double duty — it defines Romero's politics.

"He doesn't get tipped over one way or the other — he's balanced," said Cottonwood Heights' Kent Cameron, praising Romero's integrity. "When people see him and get to meet him and get to know him, they're going to like what they see."

As Utah's first Latino Senate Minority Leader, Romero pledged to be a bridge builder if elected next fall to succeed Mayor Peter Corroon, who is not running for a third term.

"He's the perfect candidate," beamed Josie Valdez, a Hispanic Caucus officer. "He will help improve the image of Latinos so we're not seen as uneducated, in the shadows, unprepared. This is our opportunity to shine."

Romero, who was raised in West Valley City before going to the University of Utah and completing a law degree at the University of Michigan, is a vice president at Zions Bank. He vowed to be a booster for schools, small businesses and the working families who rely on the county's services. "We need to continue that legacy."

At the same time, Romero conceded he is "new to this" and sensitive not to step on Corroon's toes during his last year in office. As such, he dubbed his mayoral foray a "listening conversation."

As the stereo rotated Simon and Garfunkel anthems with Elliott Smith introspection, a who's who of Democratic and Latino activists were on hand to lend their lips.

"He's been a progressive and pragmatic leader," said former Democratic Rep. Jackie Biskupski. "He'll bring his legislative contacts and legislative experience to the county."

Murray's Mark Swonson concurred, saying Romero would back school funding and diversity. "He's proven himself in the Senate," Swonson said. "He's open to suggestions and would have an open-door policy."

But outside of state politico circles, have enough voters heard of him? Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Lyon insists they will. He notes Ralph Becker's name recognition was 2 percent when he announced for Salt Lake City mayor. Romero, Lyon stressed, occupies a room well, is personable, and supports both economic development and protecting the canyons "which is important to county voters."

Romero is the first person to announce a mayoral run. Possible challengers include West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder (R), County Councilman Richard Snelgrove (R), former U.S. Senate hopeful Sam Granato (D), Utah Sen. Ben McAdams (D), County Recorder Gary Ott (R), and former County Councilman Mark Crockett (R).

Attendees predicted tea party favorite Snelgrove or Winder could prove formidable foes.

But Romero drew cheers — saying he is proud to be running as a partisan Democrat — while declaring he would put up the passion and qualifications of his party "against any Republican any day."

"It's critically important that the county government stays in Democratic hands," he rallied his vocal fans. "And based on my background, I will be well-suited to make sure that happens."

About Ross Romero

Married, two children

University of Utah undergraduate degree; University of Michigan law degree

Lawyer, vice president of specialty banking at Zions Bank

Utah Senate minority leader