Jackie Biskupski named one of America’s ‘most interesting’ mayors

Politico Magazine has profiled Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski as one of their “most interesting” mayors.

Biskupski initially drew the magazine’s attention due to the fact she’s a lesbian mayor in heavily conservative (and Mormon) Utah, but the profile draws attention to her efforts to address Utah’s homeless problem.

Salt Lake City’s growing homeless problem, fueled by the opioid epidemic and a housing shortage, has roiled local politics. A thriving drug trade has grown around The Road Home, the city’s main downtown homeless shelter, near a revitalizing neighborhood and the Rio Grande train station. In her first year as mayor, Biskupski joined with the county sheriff to launch a crackdown on drug crime near the shelter that offered the addicted a choice: jail or treatment. About half of the defendants who chose treatment have stayed with it, early results show.


But a controversy over where to move the city’s homeless services has hurt Biskupski. She came to office as the community agreed to replace The Road Home with smaller homeless centers. Under Utah law, the job of finding the sites fell to the mayor. After a year of study, Biskupski chose four sites, and not-in-my-backyard opposition broke out, especially in the middle-class Sugar House neighborhood. Forced to back down in February, Biskupski, the City Council and the county government cut the number of centers from four to three, moved one of the remaining ones outside the city and set 2019 as the deadline to close The Road Home. Critics say the mayor’s decisions weren’t transparent and were sprung on the public. Biskupski says she tried to avoid a divisive debate and find a fair way to distribute the homeless centers around the city. “We did not want to pit neighborhoods against neighborhoods,” is how she often puts it.


In February, Biskupski delivered her long-awaited affordable housing plan, “Growing SLC.” She proposed requiring developments to include affordable units, changing city zoning to allow denser development in neighborhoods full of single-family homes, and buying hotels and apartment buildings to remake them as affordable housing complexes. Her ideas got a positive reception from the City Council and local advocates, though some are pushing for quicker progress. Biskupski calls her plan “bold but equitable.” That’s a good summary of how she would like to be seen herself.