Dabakis Takes a Giant Step Toward Running for Salt Lake City Mayor

First it was likely he’d run.

Then it didn’t look like it.

Now state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, the former state chair of the Utah Democratic Party, has all but announced his candidacy for non-partisan Salt Lake City mayor’s race this year.

You can read Dabakis’ latest musings on his possible (likely?) mayoral run here, on his blog, which went up Monday morning.

Two-term Mayor Ralph Becker, also a Democrat, has already said he’s going for a third, four-year term.

And current City Councilman Luke Garrott, a University of Utah political science professor who is also a Democrat, is in the race, too.

So is former Democratic legislator Jackie Biskupski.

And there could be others before the June 8 filing deadline. The non-partisan primary is Aug. 11, the final election Nov. 3.

If Dabakis gets in, it would certainly be the first time that two openly-gay candidates vied for the seat – Dabakis is currently the only openly gay member of the Legislature

And Biskupski held that honor a decade ago.

Just recently the U.S. Census Bureau – which asked sexual preference on its 2010 Census for the first time – announced that Salt Lake City was the 7th most-gay major city in the country per capita.

And a gay publication, The Advocate, ranked Salt Lake City as the gayest city in America in 2012, using different criteria.

So why not have two legitimate gay candidates for the Salt Lake City’s mayorship?

Dabakis writes: “It would be a tremendous honor to serve as the mayor of Salt Lake City! I am going to decide very soon if I should spend the next six-and-a-half months running for mayor. It would be a tough race.”

Dabakis won re-election in 2014, spending $92,665 and raising $129,714. By far most of those donations came in small, personal checks.

So he clearly can raise a bunch of money – as he did for the state Democratic Party while he was chairman – leaving that post last spring.

Plus, it is a common rumor that Dabakis is a millionaire, having made a bundle of cash – of all things – as a broker of modern Russian art.

City campaign limits will allow Dabakis to give only $7,500 from his Senate campaign account (which has $35,000 in it at last report) or from each of the several political action committees he’s started. However, he cannot use those groups to fund or operate any part of a mayoral campaign, including polling and research. Plus, he will have to file a number of disclosures to prove he is not mixing funds from those organizations into his mayoral campaign.

He can, however, give an unlimited amount from his personal funds – as can any candidate under long-standing U.S. Supreme Court rulings. In his blog post, Dabakis vows he would start the race with $100,000 in his war chest from day one.

City reports show that Becker spent $242,981 in his 2011 re-election cycle.

Dabakis is known for being a rhetorical wizard, hitting Republicans hard while at the same time fostering some close personally relationships with members across the aisle.

There are only five Democrats in the 29-member Senate. And the minority caucus has four official leadership positions – leader, whip, assistant whip and the caucus manager.

Dabakis is the caucus manager, the lowest of the minority elected leaders.

But his influence goes well beyond that – he helped Sens. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Stuart Adams, R-Layton, craft the much-lauded SB296 – the new statewide anti-discrimination for gays and lesbians in employment and housing and religious liberties in housing and employment.

Dabakis was not the sponsor, but he was included in the various GOP-organized press conferences, and spoke at them, as the bill/accomplishment moved forward during the just-completed session.

It was a major gay rights victory – and recognized as such nationally — and Dabakis no doubt feels politically embolden by it.

How that will transfer to a race for mayor, and the fact that unless Biskupski gets out of the contest the two will split the gay/lesbian vote in some manner, remains to be seen.

In any case, Becker must be considered the odds-on favorite at this point.

The mayor has had few political setbacks and has just announced a fix to one of those – the much-disliked, high-tech street parking kiosks and ticket billing system.

Prison relocation is likely to become a big issue during the campaign. Becker is catching some heat right now for a provision slipped into the prison relocation bill during the last day of the 2015 session allowing whichever city ends up hosting the new facility to raise sales taxes. That's something Becker has wanted to do for a number of years, but could not get legislative approval. Critics call the measure a "sweetener" designed to get Becker to back off his opposition to the prison. Becker's campaign stresses the Mayor is opposed to moving the prison in Salt Lake City.