Ten candidates vying to fill vacancy on Salt Lake County Council

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks at the grand opening of the new Salt Lake Public Health Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — A businessman, an environmental activist and a recent congressional runner-up are among the 10 candidates vying to fill the Salt Lake County Council seat vacated by now-Mayor Jenny Wilson.

One of the Democratic hopefuls will be elected to the open spot on the council Feb. 23 in a special meeting of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s Central Committee.

Here’s a look at those who filed the paperwork by the deadline. The job opened up after Wilson left to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams after his election to Congress.

• Pamela Berry, a filmmaker and photographer, ran last year for the District 5 seat retained by incumbent Councilman Steve DeBry. Berry is an ambassador with the Murray Chamber of Commerce and legislative precinct chairwoman who wants to make a positive impact in the county, according to her online campaign profile.

• Josie Valdez, the former vice chairwoman for the Utah Democratic Party, says air quality, transportation, suicide and addiction are among her top priorities. Valdez previously ran for lieutenant governor and state Senate. She has volunteered with organizations supporting women, minorities and those with disabilities, among others. Valdez, who long worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration, says that if elected, she would put her expertise in economic development to work as the county plans for surging population growth.

• Nigel Swaby, a businessman and real estate agent, believes the most pressing issues in Salt Lake County include environmental quality, homelessness, criminal justice issues and jobs. He lives in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood and says he understands the challenges in the fast-growing part of the Salt Lake Valley. He is a columnist for the West View community newspaper and sits on the Fairpark Community Council.

• Paul Olsen, who worked on McAdams’ campaign last year, says campaign finance reform is his main priority, in part because he believes it could bring to fruition progressive goals like universal health care and more reliance on renewable energy. Olsen has a master’s degree from the University of Utah and says he would draw on his economics background if elected.

• Terry Marasco, an environmental lobbyist and educator, says economic growth must be balanced with people’s health and well-being. He is the former interim director of Utah Moms for Clean Air and has also tutored inmates at the Salt Lake Metro Jail. Marasco believes his experience at various community and activist organizations would help the County Council work with neighboring counties to solve problems they share.

• Jeff Merchant, owner and operator of several small assisted-living homes throughout Utah, is among the hopefuls. He says he is committed to focusing on such issues such as air quality, affordability and access to mental health services. "I have learned from my time in politics and business that the local level is often the place with the most capacity to affect the quality of people’s lives," Merchant said in a prepared statement. He is a former policy adviser for former U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and has practiced environmental law in Utah and Washington, D.C.

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• Shireen Ghorbani says that if elected, she would put working families first and promote criminal justice reform, advocating mental health care and addiction treatment services instead jail time. Ghorbani, the Democratic nominee for Congress who ultimately lost to U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, says education and the environment are also priorities. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she leads the Rape Recovery Center’s board.

• Darlene McDonald, a technology analyst for Oracle, says her work experience has helped her understand the importance of education in preparing students to compete in a global economy, according to her biography on the county Democrats’ website. She is the outreach director for the Women’s Democratic Club and is a mentor to underserved young women. McDonald says investments in technology, infrastructure and education are imperative to prepare for the 21st century. McDonald unsuccessfully ran last year for McAdams’ seat.

• Stone Fonua, a retired police officer who in 2008 challenged Matheson for Congress, said he would advocate for lower costs associated with health care, transportation and other services. Fonua ran against Matheson as a Republican.

• Steven Burge also is running for the seat, describing himself as a compassionate and experienced leader. If elected, he would draw on his background in government and business, he said in a statement. Burge has previously been a Carbon County commissioner, and health and safety officer for the Utah company Savage Services. He also is an attorney and instructor with Utah State University’s community extension initiative.

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