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After years of publicly defending the practice of plural marriage, a prominent Utah polygamist has decided to launch a mayoral campaign for one of the state's fastest-growing cities.
Joe Darger, who has three wives, lays out a vision for Herriman's future where there is religious liberty and "inclusion of all people in the political process."
"Unfortunately, polygamists have not been able to run for office. [They've] been asked to stay in the shadows," he said. "[But] until I'm locked up or they want to really tell me that I can't do it, then I'm going to keep doing it."
Darger says though it's an important issue, his bid for office will focus less on polygamy which he would have little say in as a city mayor and more on ensuring minority rights "as somebody who understands what it's like to be on the outside of the norm." It's not a publicity stunt, Darger said, and he fears potential bigotry against his candidacy.
As a builder and developer who's lived and worked in Herriman for the past 30 years, Darger hopes to use his experience to better balance the city's "explosive" residential and commercial expansion with a need for parks and recreation. By the close of filing Wednesday, three other candidates with different backgrounds but similar goals had entered the race. Meanwhile, hundreds of would-be mayors have filed bids throughout the state by Wednesday's deadline including 49 in Salt Lake County.
Every city in Salt Lake County save two Salt Lake City and Millcreek feature mayoral races this year.
The most packed race is in West Jordan, where first-term incumbent Mayor Kim Rolfe faces challenges from no fewer than five rivals, among them two city council members: Dirk Burton and Zach Jacob.
The city during recent years was thrust into public turmoil involving legal fights between city officials and a justice court judge. Before the dust settled, West Jordan saw the resignations of its city manager, assistant city manager, city attorney and three city council members one after being convicted in a hit-and-run accident.
West Valley City, the state's second largest, hasn't witnessed nearly so much internal political strife, but also has drawn a slew of candidates despite an incumbent mayor seeking re-election. Two council members Karen Lang and Tom Huynh are among four challenging first-term Mayor Ron Bigelow. The former longtime state lawmaker defeated Lang and Huynh four years ago.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan is seeking his seventh term but now faces three challengers, including newly filed rival Gary T. Forbush, who hopes his fourth time is the charm. "Let's let the voters decide if they want a career politician for four more years or want to give someone an opportunity to make an impact in the community," he said after filing Wednesday, joining two other previously declared candidates.
The departure of another veteran mayor, four-term JoAnn Seghini, has attracted a crowd of hopefuls in Midvale. Among these are Andrea Person, who owns a cleaning business and bought a house around the corner from where her parents live and where she grew up.
"The diversity in Midvale helped me love all people," Person said. Diversity is also a main theme of Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender person who filed for the mayor's spot after running unsuccessfully two years ago for the city council.
Incumbent mayors in Murray and Herriman, Cottonwood Heights and South Jordan also opened a door for would-be politicians.
In Herriman, Councilwoman Coralee Wessman-Moser faces Darger, and two others: David Watts and David Howe.
Howe, a faculty member at Western Governors University, jumped into the race, he says with a laugh, because of an "ill-conceived gas station."
The pumps were put in less than 30 feet from the nearest homes and three buildings down from his townhome complex which he feels presents "environmental and ecological challenges."
Howe brought a petition to the city to move the station and was disappointed by the dismissive reaction he got, spurring him to run so the voices of residents are heard.
Watts, meanwhile, wants to open the door to economic and residential development in Herriman what he calls the "biggest issue right now in the city." The human resources representative hopes to balance that growth with open space and parks. He previously ran and lost a bid for city council two years ago.
In Cottonwood Heights, Councilman Mike Peterson filed after the announcement by Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore that he wouldn't run. Also in the race are Edward Schwartz and Tim Hallbeck.
Hallbeck, who retired recently after a career developing software for Yahoo, Microsoft and FedEx, applauds Cullimore for getting the city "in really great shape," and hopes to continue along the same track, including projects already started to upgrade schools and develop a new state transportation center.
Schwartz doesn't agree. He says the city has been thwarted by Cullimore and is in need of new leadership that would promote a more transparent government.
"We need to divorce ourselves from his past," Schwartz said.
South Jordan Mayor Dave Alvord said four years is enough, prompting former state Rep. Rich Cunningham and Planning Commission member Mark Woolley to jump in. Dawn Ramsey threw her hat in Wednesday after having spent years volunteering and rising through the ranks of the PTA. Her top issue is the city's "unprecented growth," and she says "the decisions we make now will determine the city we have in five or 10 years."
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood looked like she might be unopposed in her bid for for a third term until the final day for candidate filing when City Councilmen Mark Kindred and Shane Siwik both filed candidacies.
Siwik says he has a "different vision" than the current administration.
"I just think there is more that can be done to bring back a sense of community" to South Salt Lake, he said.
Kindred said his goals are to create a more open, transparent and fiscally responsible administration that prioritizes "spending dollars as wisely as possible."
He added: "I think South Salt Lake can do a lot more to partner with its neighboring entities be that county, state or other municipalities to get services and things that we haven't gotten so we don't get the things that nobody wants and we start getting things that benefit us as a community."
Part of his reference was aimed at the planned new homeless resource center slated to come to the city over the fierce opposition of Wood and others.
Wood has said she did everything possible to keep the shelter out of the city, but the Legislature gave Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams authority to override local obstacles. "I've been spending a lot of time getting educated on the homeless resource centers and what's being proposed, so I'd just really like to continue with that fight and be the voice of our community," Wood said. Her focus, if re-elected, she added would be "education, safety, family and prosperity."
Troy Martinez, an insurance agent and political newcomer, made it a three-person race in Draper on Wednesday when he launched a bid to challenge incumbent Troy Walker. He said he was prompted, in part, because the mayor offered Draper as a potential site for a homeless shelter without first seeking input from residents.
"I know a lot of people who are frustrated by that," said Martinez, who hopes to improve transparency in the city government a priority similar to that already expressed by the other mayoral challenger, Councilwoman Michele Weeks.
Harry Lloyd Hansen graduates from Brigham Young University this month and plans to put his political science degree immediately to use with a campaign for Taylorsville mayor against one-term incumbent Larry Johnson and Councilwoman Kristie Steadman Overson. He wants more young folks to get involved in the process.
In Murray, as previously reported Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove will take on former four-term Mayor Dan Snarr, as well as two other challengers after incumbent Ted Eyre opted out of a re-election bid.
In Alta, as part of his "foray into politics," 10-year Alta resident Jon Fay will challenge City Councilman Harris Sondak, a University of Utah professor, to run for mayor of the small mountain town in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Incumbent Mayor Tom Pollard is not seeking re-election.
Fay, who moved to Alta from Vermont, said he tries to take "a moderate stance" on issues, and said he might be supportive of a push to build a downtown area and more trails.
"I could even see a little development happen," he said.
Reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this report.
Ed's Note: This story has been updated to correctly attribute comments to South Salt Lake City Councilman Mark Kindred, referring in part to the homeless shelter controversy. A previous version erroneously attributed the remarks to a different council member. A previous version of this story misquoted South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood's comments about homeless resource centers.