How much will Biskupski’s endorsement impact the Salt Lake City mayoral race?

Jackie Biskupski

Monday outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, as expected, officially endorsed mayoral candidate Luz Escamilla, a sitting Democratic state senator.

Endorsements are always iffy things.

One never really knows how much help — or in some cases, hurt — they can bring to a candidate.

Escamilla’s opponent in November’s final election is Salt Lake Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall. Both are Democrats — the city has not elected a Republican mayor in 50 years — although the race is officially nonpartisan.

Mendenhall’s endorsements are listed here on her campaign site. Escamilla’s are here.

Mendenhall was never going to get Biskupski’s endorsement — the two women exchanged bitter public words several months ago when Biskupski criticized Mendenhall’s advocacy for changes in the state Legislature’s creation of an inland port in the city’s northwest area, out by the international airport.

A long history between the two on this issue. The short of it: When Biskupski a year ago refused to engage with the Legislature’s creation of the inland port over strong objections, Mendenhall, then council chair, stepped up and dealt with GOP legislative leaders, trying to make the deal — disliked by all city bosses — better.

So, Mendenhall and the mayor have been on the outs ever since and weren’t exactly buddies before.

Biskupski is not popular among city voters, and she spent upwards of $50,000 from her campaign account this spring on polling/consulting before she announced that she wouldn’t seek a second term, and would retire the end of this year.

The mayor’s endorsement of Escamilla could have a downside because of Biskupski’s unpopularity.

But Escamilla couldn’t really turn it down. Word would have gotten out and Biskupski’s supporters — while not as many as the mayor would like — would have held it against Escamilla.

More important to Escamilla, during Monday’s announcement, may be the folks standing around the mayor and senator — a smattering of LGBTQ advocates, who also endorsed Escamilla at the same time.

For months now it was unclear where the city’s significant gay voter support would go this election.

Biskupski is openly gay — the city’s first such mayor. And while she has not governed in a political manner as such — you don’t fix roads or deliver water in a “gay” agenda — she clearly has been a welcoming face for the gay equal rights movement — not only in Utah but across the nation.

At the same time, the mayor clearly has not gotten along well with the mostly white, conservative Republican male leaders in the Legislature — the inland port being the real breaking point between the sides. (GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, a white male Mormon Republican, thought he had a working solution on the inland port controversy with Biskupski before she suddenly declined to meet with him anymore and stopped talking to him on the issue.)

A review of Biskupski’s 2015 campaign donations — her first run for that office — clearly shows financial support from many gay activists, gay supporters, and businesses and associations which often stand with LGBTQ rights.

Will some of those individuals and groups now come with financial support and votes to Escamilla?

The primary election numbers game is fascinating.

Mendenhall came in first with 9,046 votes, Escamilla second with 8,015.

But if you add up the next four vote-getters — who were eliminated in the primary — there are 19,343 votes that went to the primary losers.

One mayoral candidate, David Ibarra, who didn’t make it out of the August primary, has endorsed Mendenhall.

Ibarra got 3,046 primary votes.

Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis finished third in the primary — and he had previously slightly criticized Escamilla.

Dabakis expected (and several polls showed) to be a top-to finisher in the primary. His loss was a shock and really shook up the race.

Where will he, and his 7,531 primary votes, go?

If you know Dabakis, you know he will milk his endorsement (if, in fact, he gives it) for all it’s worth.

There’s some bad personal blood between him and Escamilla. There were only five Democratic state senators after the general election three years ago, meaning four got to be in leadership, one didn’t.

A bloc of Democratic senators basically split up the leadership posts –and Dabakis was excluded from leadership.

Dabakis loved being in leadership, because as such he sat on important decision-making bodies, like the Executive Appropriations Committee which sets the final budget and the Legislative Management Committee, which runs the Legislative branch of government.

Escamilla was part of that bloc that excluded Dabakis, and he didn’t forget it.

Dabakis recently made an extensive post on social media where he said he will stay politically active, although not run for office. He promised to set up some kind of “media” reporting effort and to give money to causes and candidates he believes in.

Mayoral candidates can accept campaign donations from individuals or businesses of not more than $3,560. So endorsements by popular losing candidates can be more important than actual cash-giving they can make — unless they can convince some of their donors to now give to one of the mayoral finalists.

How much influence will Dabakis, Ibarra or the other primary losers have over their voters or their financial supporters who gave to their campaigns before their August defeat?

Since the mid-1990s, the winner of the mayoral primary went on to victory in the final election.

But can endorsements now coming down the pike flip that history for Escamilla, who finished just 1,031 votes behind Mendenhall in the primary with just over 19,000 votes now in play?

We have just a month before the November final election, and mail-in ballots will go out Oct. 15 to the 80,000 registered voters in the city.