Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Setting the Stage for Biskupski

bernick mugCongratulations to Jackie Biskupski, now officially the new Salt Lake City mayor.

The finished canvas has Biskupski beating Mayor Ralph Becker by 3.1 percentage points. She takes office Jan. 4.

She will be the second female Salt Lake City mayor and the first openly gay mayor in city history.

In these days of political correctness, one must be careful writing about gay and lesbian politicians.

But it is fair political analysis to discuss whether her sexual orientation helped or hurt Biskupski in this race; how it may affect her administration.

UtahPolicy pollster Dan Jones & Associates asked that very question before the election.

The poll found that a super-majority said Biskupski’s sexual orientation made no difference to them in the election.

And other answers found that being gay actually helped Biskupski among city voters.

Biskupski is not the first gay mayor of a state’s capital city, nor the first gay mayor of a major city.

(David Cicilline was elected mayor of Providence, R.I., in 2002, and Neil Giuliano was elected mayor of Tempe, AZ., in 1998.)

But she is making national news these days because she is the first gay mayor whose city is home to an international religion, the LDS Church, which recently also made national news by announcing a controversial religious policy for the children of same-sex couples.

Biskupski said one of her first official acts as mayor will be to meet with leaders of the Mormon Church to discuss any number of issues, including the new church policy that says children living with same-sex couples (parents) can’t receive a “naming” blessing at birth, can’t be baptized at age 8, and can’t serve an LDS mission at 18 unless they renounce their parents’ same-sex union and get an exemption from the church’s three-member governing body, the First Presidency.

It will be interesting to see who in the church leadership meets with Biskupski.

If LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson misses the meeting, or other members of the Quorum of the Twelve don’t attend, that will indicate just where the new mayor fits into the church’s opinion of her.

Ultimately, Biskupski’s mayoral tenure will not – certainly should not – be judged on her sexual orientation.

She won’t be Salt Lake’s “gay mayor” – at least I hope not.

She will just be the mayor.

At the same time, outside of the state she will be an interesting dynamic: In the home of the conservative, traditionally family-oriented LDS Church there is a gay mayor.


That has to be accounted for.

And it’s pretty cool, I must say.

Who doesn’t want to be known as a progressive, all-encompassing, welcoming city?

At the same time, for conservative, active Mormons living in the city, Biskupski’s election may be seen as just another event showing they are not welcomed themselves – or at least seen as further evidence that their home city is changing in ways they don’t like or appreciate.

In almost all other areas of Utah, Mormons make up the majority of city and county residents – active or inactive in their religion as may be.

But Jones’ polling shows that Mormons are not a majority within the boundaries of Salt Lake City.

One Jones poll done in the Biskupski/Becker race found that about 30 percent of the respondents (admittedly they are registered voters) said they are “very active” in the LDS Church, which means they likely carry a temple recommend and are allowed to take part in the church’s most sacred ceremonies.

The church does not share publicly membership rolls, nor where members live. U.S. Census data does not include religious affiliations. So polls are about the best evidence of religious, geographic breakouts.

The Becker/Biskupski race was not an especially bitter affair (although those intimately involved may disagree).

So among the voters themselves, Biskupski probably doesn’t have a lot of campaign healing to conduct.

But she may have some work ahead to convince the city’s conservative, Republican, Mormon residents that she will run an open, inclusive, listening administration.

Former City Mayor Rocky Anderson was probably more liberal than Biskupski.

Certainly Rocky was a more divisive leader – if not among city residents themselves, then to outside entities, like the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Biskupski served more than a decade in the Legislature – being the first openly gay member of the Utah House.

And she still has good relationships up on Capitol Hill.

It’s true that LDS Church leaders don’t bother much with city politics – they are busy running a global religion, a vast missionary program and dealing with the welfare of around 15 million Mormons across the globe.

But it’s also true Salt Lake City government is intertwined with the LDS Church in many ways – providing police and fire protection to church buildings, crowd and traffic control when tens of thousands of Mormons come downtown during the twice-yearly Church general conferences, and much, much more.

Just one example: Salt Lake City had an official moratorium on pedestrian bridges over city streets until the LDS Church asked for a second-story bridge between its two-block, $1-billion-plus City Creek development.

The city gave the exception over Main Street.

Now it will be interesting to see how Biskupski builds her personal bridges into Mormon Church HQ.