My family and I support Jim Dabakis for Salt Lake City mayor, because he has the vision and ability to get things done. We have seen his vision and ability up close. And, Salt Lake City needs his vision and ability, to fix our air, housing, transportation and parks and to sustainably take our economy and quality of life to greater heights. Jim is the one to do it.
When Jim joined the Utah Senate in 2012, I had been in the Utah Legislature for 12 years as a conservative Republican from the reddest district in the state (St. George). “Jim Dabakis,” I thought. “Oh, boy. Here we go.” I was right. It was an extraordinary journey. But, I had no idea that it would be an extraordinarily good journey that would change me and the entire state.
The newly-minted senator asked me, “So, what do you think about the homos?” What?! Who asks a question like that in the Senate? Well, Jim Dabakis does. Smiling, he added, “Because I am one, you know.” How could I — and every other senator — keep from laughing and thinking the guy just might be OK.
Some people hear the humorous part of the story and conclude they know Jim. Not even close. Yes, it was funny. But, it was just his we-can-talk way to open a tough, important conversation, so that the real work of change can actually start.
Later, he followed up, “You know, a lot of your constituents in St. George are homos, too. Do you want to talk with them?”
I did. And Jim made sure the conversations were as good and productive as they could be, which allowed me to reflect and to move. That is Jim’s way. And I still haven’t seen anything like it! He is always building bridges, to actually get important things done.
Though the full story of Jim’s work on LGBTQ rights — which also became my work — is too long for this column, it is one of the greatest experiences of my life and, I believe, one of the great stories of Utah. Jim’s personal and political skills gave me space to run a bill to protect LGBTQ individuals in employment and housing, well before a majority of my constituents knew they supported it. Jim did the behind-the-scenes lifting on the bill until in 2015 a broad coalition supported the most protective LGBTQ non-discrimination law in any red state. Utah! It changed us.
I have always said that this bill was Jim’s bill with my name on it. When several Republicans and I were listed to speak at the largest bill signing ceremony of my 16 years in the Legislature, I couldn’t resist. I stood and congratulated the people on our accomplishment. Then, I said we needed to hear from the person who really was responsible for it, and I gave my time and the mic to my dear friend Jim. He was the visionary. He was the worker who had patiently ground through the painfully long and difficult conversations necessary to build the bridges and create the safe spaces that were needed to pass such a monumental piece of legislation.
As he enthusiastically spoke at the signing ceremony, (his arms bizarrely whirring around like a windmill in a tornado), I thought of our conversation from the prior week. We were standing on South Temple, very late at night, after a completely unproductive meeting. “I’m done, Jim,” I had said. “It’s not happening this year.”
I meant it. But, Jim wasn’t done. He couples his vision and charm with a hatred of failure and a tremendous ability to work. The next day, I was busy working on other bills that did have a chance of passing. I had moved on. Jim grabbed me and said, “We’re there. We’re moving forward.” He, not me, bridged the chasm between Utah’s bluest blues and reddest reds. Jim — progressive, loudmouth, showboat, and all the other things people want to throw out about the guy — Dabakis had pulled off the impossible political lift.
So, why do I want Jim to be mayor of blue Salt Lake City? Because Jim has walked (and crawled and eventually raced down) the path that the other candidates just talk about. Blue Salt Lake City (in red Utah) needs a mayor who can — and already has — delivered on the most politically vexing issue Utah has faced in a long time. If we want to do more than just talk about clean air, housing, and the other issues that challenge Utah’s Capital City, and which require the collaboration of blue Salt Lake City and red Utah, we need to elect the person who already has moved a political mountain. That is Jim Dabakis.
Steve Urquhart is a Salt Lake City resident. He served in the Utah Legislature from 2001-16. His wife, Sara Urquhart, is Jim Dabakis’ campaign manager.