In a continuation of Republicans on Capitol Hill welcoming Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall to office, the new mayor addressed the House and Senate GOP caucuses on Thursday at their invitation, receiving a warm welcome in both.
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert was the first to extend a hand to Mendenhall, a Democrat who won the office last November and was sworn in earlier in January.
He went to her Election Night celebration, probably the first governor to do so in some time.
In the House caucus, Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, and Mendenhall called each other friends, who were “tough” on issues, but willing to talk and work together.
The pair worked on modifications to the controversial inland port over the last several years, after then-Mayor Jackie Biskupski refused to meet with Herbert or GOP legislative leaders and instead sued the state in court over the port’s creation.
Mendenhall gave caucus members her personal cell phone number, saying they can call her with any concerns.
“I’m glad you are where you are,” Gibson told Mendenhall. While the mayorship is officially nonpartisan, we’ve elected only Democrats to the office for nearly 50 years.
The GOP Legislature has had off and on troubled relationships with several of the mayors, including Biskupski and former Mayor Rocky Anderson -- both of whom seemed to take political delight in tweaking the Republicans’ noses over a variety of issues -- the inland port just being the latest.
When Biskupski refused to talk to GOP state leaders, Mendenhall, then chair of the City Council, stepped in and negotiated a somewhat better deal for the city over the port -- although she still opposed overall how the state has structured the vast development west of the city’s International Airport.
She told caucus members that while little has been made of it, over the last several years the city has spent more than $30 million on affordable housing -- an issue Herbert and some lawmakers want to take up this session.
Mendenhall offered to work with the majority Republicans on that and several other issues, including air quality, the homeless, roads, transit and health care.
“We want to be more engaged with you,” she said.
The caucus applauded both when she was introduced and when she ended her presentation -- so at least she starts out trying to work with the Republican legislative majority.