Bob Bernick’s notebook: Dabakis may open the door for a Republican in Salt Lake City

With the “no surprise to anyone” announcement this week that retiring Utah Sen. Jim Dabakis will run next year for Salt Lake City mayor, the early race make-up provides a real opportunity for a moderate, reasonable Republican to make the final ballot.

First off, when I say Dabakis is “retiring,” I don’t mean the old fashion use of the term: Someone who is humble and soft-spoken, who doesn’t put himself forward.

Dabakis is anything but that.

I mean he didn’t run again for his Salt Lake City-based Senate seat; he’s leaving the body voluntarily.

One would be hard put to find any politician who is more self-promoting and media hungry than Dabakis.

It was great sport watching Dabakis needle and rib the majority Republicans.

tribute to Dabakis in City Weekly calls him the Capitol’s best “performer.”

When the small Senate minority caucus kept Dabakis out of leadership two years ago, the majority Senate Republicans were grateful – no Dabakis on the Legislative Management Committee or on the Executive Appropriations Committee – where every time he asked to be recognized by the Republican chair you knew some stinging comments were coming.

Now Dabakis joins the early challengers to fellow Democratic Mayor Jackie Biskupski – whom Dabakis supported until just a few months ago when he broke with her as he set up his own challenge for the top city post.

Other Democrats in the officially non-partisan mayor’s race are local businessman David Ibarra and former City Councilman Stan Penfold.

Biskupski is the city’s first openly gay mayor. Penfold was the city’s first openly gay councilmember. And Dabakis is the an openly member of the Legislature.

So in 2019, the city’s considerable gay community will have at least three members seeking the same top office.

While certainly not a single voting bloc, the city’s gay community, for the most part, supported Biskupski as she narrowly defeated two-term incumbent Ralph Becker three years ago.

Biskupski has proven a controversial chief executive, and a recent poll inside the city shows most city voters say it’s time for someone else to lead the state’s largest municipality.

While she has not formally announced a re-election bid, it is generally assumed she will run for a second term.

Ibarra is a local businessman/philanthropist. One may put him in the general classification as Becker – a moderate-to-liberal establishment-type guy.

Certainly, Biskupski and Dabakis fall into the progressive, more-left mode.

And, thus, comes the opening for a moderate Republican to join the field.

Now, the city has not elected a Republican since Jake Garn way back in the early 1970s, when the mayor’s post was part of a five-member City Commission.

Ted Wilson started the Democrat’s dominance in the non-partisan job in 1976 – and every mayor since has been a well recognized Democrat, even if the ballot lists only a candidate’s name and not his or her party affiliation.

There is a “jungle” primary in August, with all candidates on the ballot, and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election.

About a third of city voters are Republicans – if that many. The rest are Democrats and independents.

So a good GOP candidate has a shot at getting out of the primary election – as the more liberal candidates split the progressive/Democratic vote — and on to the final ballot.

Those who have done so in the last 40 years have lost to the Democrat on the final ballot.

And one wouldn’t expect a partisan upset in 2019.

But the point is, a Republican getting on the final mayoral ballot is a good chance to make a name for one’s self, show the press and public that you have some gravitas, some good ideas, and can acquit yourself well.

Maybe you set yourself up for a partisan race for Salt Lake County mayor a year later, in 2020, or a run for the U.S. House in District 2.

Maybe even a run for governor.

The point is, a good, moderate GOP candidate in the 2019 Salt Lake City mayor’s race can get some recognition.

Little chance of actually winning the post, true.

But a good chance of making some waves in Utah politics.

And done properly, that can be a fine career move in a state that is very red outside of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.