Running the City: Part I

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Your Guide to the 2007 Mayoral Candidates, Part 1: Conversations with J. Preston Hughes and Robert Comstock.
by Zach Abend

Currently, nine people want to succeed Rocky Anderson as the next mayor of Salt Lake City. (One other candidate, Arnold Mathew Jones, has dropped out of contention.)

Most candidates have similar positions on issues like the environment, affirmative action and mass transit. Former city councilwoman Deeda Seed says that demographic changes of the last 20 years – primarily an influx of moderate and progressive voters from other states-can make touting conservative views in a citywide race in Salt Lake a recipe for failure. "This is a race that, barring some unforeseen circumstance, will be won by the candidate with the most progressive politics," says Seed. "The debate has moved to the progressive side." Seed says voters need to make sure their candidates "walk the walk," and aren't just saying what they think people want to hear.

Catalyst will run pieces on the candidates over the next few issues. The primary will be held on October 2, 2007 and the general election on November 6, 2007. This month, we focus on the candidacies of Robert Comstock and J. Preston Hughes.

Robert Comstock

mayoralcomstockRobert James Comstock believes you shouldn't have to be wealthy or a career politician to successfully run for public office. He laments the political apathy de rigueur among Americans today. His administration would champion the underserved and disadvantaged in our city.

A Democrat by affiliation and a middle school teacher by trade, Comstock holds education close to his heart. A goateed 53-year-old, he speaks passionately about helping the Salt Lake City School District close the achievement gap between white and Latino students by bolstering teachers and administrators with greater resources. Not surprisingly, he does not favor school vouchers because, "Our democracy is built on public education." Comstock continues, "Funding competition for public schools makes as much sense as [the medieval practice of] bleeding patients."

Comstock is committed to diversity and pledges to renew Rocky Anderson's executive orders mandating an affirmative action program in city hiring. He would also continue Mayor Anderson's executive order outlawing discrimination against city employees on the basis of race, creed or sexual orientation. In addition, Comstock does not believe the Salt Lake Police Department should be used to enforce immigration laws.

{quotes}Supporting local businesses is vital to Comstock. In his eyes, big box stores discourage competition and kill local businesses. {/quotes}"I am afraid of people who feel the need to promise tax breaks to corporations with no unions," says Comstock. If elected, Comstock would lessen the regulatory and tax burdens carried by small businesses. He believes that Salt Lake City's economy will continue to grow as long as our quality of life and natural environment are maintained.

One of Comstock's initiatives would be to look at ways to restore the homeless to productive lives. This would include providing secure parking for the cars of homeless families staying in shelters to prevent them from being stolen or vandalized. "These vehicles are the key to helping them become established in society again." Comstock would provide drug rehabilitation programs to the homeless free of cost and proposes employing Salt Lake's homeless and incarcerated populations to aid in the city's recycling efforts.

Comstock praises Mayor Anderson's efforts to raise awareness about global warming and pledges to build upon them. He believes recycling should be made as easy as possible for citizens and would offer incentives to encourage it. He believes the wetlands portion of the northwest quadrant should be protected in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers. Comstock is in favor of the continued expansion of mass transit and spoke of adding another east-west rail line to lessen our dependency on cars.

Comstock's long-shot candidacy is well worth watching. Former city councilwoman Deeda Seed agrees, "He is the salt of the earth. He will inject some real sincerity into the debate and add an element of thoughtfulness in the race."

To contact Robert Comstock: rcomstockhms@yahoo.com

J. Preston Hughes

mayoralhughesJ. Preston Hughes describes himself as a "uniter" and says, "A mayor should be a listener," someone who will heed the wishes of the city council and community rather than trade barbs with his opponents. Hughes exudes congeniality. And given that he is 65 years old and still going strong, Hughes may be onto something.

A colorectal surgeon by trade and a Republican by affiliation, Hughes emphasizes further development in the city. He would create a corridor of high-tech businesses near the International Business Center and connect it to downtown via TRAX. The people who invested and worked on developing the northwest quadrant should be allowed to build "businesses and golf courses and homes there," Hughes says. "I don't think Salt Lake City should have blocked development there."

Although Hughes would continue Rocky Anderson's policies of helping local businesses by lending them money, he is also a fan of big box development generally, and Wal-Mart specifically. "Wal-Mart's great," Hughes exclaimed. "They provide a huge sales tax revenue to the city." He did express concerns about Wal-Mart's failure to provide affordable health insurance for its employees.

{quotes align=right}The reduction of water use is important to Hughes. He wants to encourage Salt Lake residents to use arid planting schemes for their gardens. {/quotes}He is a proponent of offering financial incentives to induce water conservation. He spoke of using a system of dikes and levees to capture the water runoff from Mill Creek and City Creek for use by the city.

Hughes seemed cautious about whether to continue Mayor Anderson's executive orders mandating an affirmative action program in city hiring. "You don't want to hire someone who isn't qualified," Hughes said. "If it gets minorities who normally wouldn't be hired but are competent, then I favor it." He added, "I can't see myself making hiring decisions arbitrarily." Hughes would, however, unequivocally continue Mayor Anderson's executive order banning discrimination against city employees on the basis of race, creed or sexual orientation.

Hughes believes that immigration laws should not be enforced by the Salt Lake Police Department. "We don't need people being afraid of the police," he said. Nor would he require evidence of citizenship for immigrants to gain access to educational or medical services.

Hughes' sunny optimism, social conservatism, fondness for big picture ideas rather than specific details and preference to delegate authority are Reaganesque. These qualities will make him quite attractive to a segment of Salt Lake City voters.

J. Preston Hughes' Campaign Website: www.Jphughesmdformayor.com