If either of the candidates should know about the county budget, Mark Crockett should because he was a county councilman for four years. —SL County mayor Peter Corroon
SALT LAKE CITY — The race for Salt Lake County mayor has come down to a battle for undecided voters as the candidates push forward in a tight race toward Election Day.
Republican Mark Crockett and Democrat Ben McAdams are seeking the post Peter Corroon has manned for the past eight years.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted in September for the Deseret News and KSL showed Crockett leading by 3 points. But with both candidates locked within the 5 percent margin of error and 21 percent of voters yet to make up their minds, it's anyone's race.
Crockett fought his way through a tightly contested GOP primary against West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, being declared the winner after two weeks of waiting for mail-in ballots to be counted and verified.
McAdams was named the Democratic candidate at convention, securing the spot over fellow state Sen. Ross Romero.
On a single day in October, the candidates each were out with supporters, walking through neighborhoods and sharing their respective visions with voters.
Crockett in Taylorsville
Crockett and more than a dozen supporters were out walking house to house Oct. 13 in Taylorsville. The candidate was full of jokes and questions as he got to know voters, recruiting them to volunteer come January if he's able to prevail against McAdams.
"We're going to need help from a lot of people in the community to help us redesign programs and volunteer in the service organizations," he said. "We're looking for good people, even if it's only an hour a week."
At least one resident who spoke with Crockett said she hopes he calls her to help next year.
Aimee McConkie, a Millcreek resident, was a member of her community council during Crockett's time on the Salt Lake County Council. McConkie has been with the Crockett campaign since the beginning, and she joined the candidate's precinct walk to tell voters what kind of a leader she sees in Crockett.
"It was an amazing thing to be able to empower people on the front lines and to look at, 'What are the people facing?'" she said. "I saw how Mark Crockett ignited those thoughts and ideas in peoples' minds, to go and lead and work in their community."
Crockett said he is focusing on human services and the county's budget as he talks to voters.
"That's what I've always tried to talk about. They're the defining issues," Crockett said. "They're (the reasons) why I got into the race."
Human services are the "unique role in county government," Crockett said, adding that Salt Lake County needs to step up assistance for mental health and drug treatment programs, jails, assistance for refugees and support for at-risk youth. Improving human services will strengthen the community as well as the budget, he said.
Crockett gave the example of mentally ill individuals who are repeatedly sent to hospital emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails rather than treatment programs as a shortcoming of the county's current human services.
"That doesn't seem to be solving the underlying problem," Crockett said. "If we can help direct them into a better, less expensive mental health treatment … then they can be productive people in the community at a lower cost than we spend today."
Crockett also is troubled by the nearly $2 billion he says the county has borrowed under the Corroon administration.
The Republican's criticisms sparked response from the mayor, with Corroon calling Crockett's claims "misleading" and a "campaign of fear." The county's debt is actually closer to $508 million, Corroon said, which includes $74 million toward state roads that the county agreed to shoulder as the state neared its bonding capacity.
He said Crockett has included other debts from light rail and roads in his estimates.
"He's including other government entities' budgets and debts in our budget, which is incorrect," Corroon said. "If either of the candidates should know about the county budget, Mark Crockett should because he was a county councilman for four years."
Nationwide, Salt Lake County has one of the lowest amounts of outstanding debt, Corroon added. Salt Lake is one of 30 counties in the nation to boast a AAA bond rating.
The county also has not raised taxes in 12 years, with the exception of voter-approved bond spending and judgements against the county, Corroon added.
Still, Crockett asserts he can save the county $40 million annually by evaluating and cutting operating costs. If spending is not cut, he says the county is on its way to future tax increases.
McAdams, on the other hand, says Corroon and the Salt Lake County Council have the county's budget and human services on the right track. He's met with the county's financial advisers and, upon review of budget records, said he agrees the budget is sound.
In human services, McAdams said he would continue in the current administration's footsteps, including the incarceration alternatives presented in the Criminal Justice Advisory Council Master Plan that the council unanimously approved in August.
McAdams in Sandy
More than 30 McAdams supporters turned out on the same day to knock on doors in Sandy. The campaign brought a careful battle plan, using phone calls to locate undecided voters in the area and mapping out those households, regardless of party.
Word is spreading, and a smiling McAdams heard potential voters say "I see your name everywhere" and "my neighbor said you're the one to vote for" during the outing.
Linda Morgan, a Sandy resident, met McAdams at an LDS Democrats service project earlier this year. Since then, Morgan has been talking to her neighbors about the man she said understands the county's diverse and complex makeup.
"Ben is unusually qualified for that," she said. "He has such a record of working across party lines and with different people. He has the respect of the city mayors in both parties, and I think that says something in this very divided political climate."
Morgan said she wants to support McAdams on more than just Election Day.
"For me, it isn't enough just to vote," she said. "Your one vote is just one vote. You can make a lot of difference by talking to your neighbors and letting them know what's out there."
McAdams has been criticized by his opponent for focusing on education, which Crockett says isn't a county responsibility. But the Democrat said that's what voters are asking about.
"If it's important to the people of Salt Lake County, then it's important to me," McAdams said. "I think the county has a direct role in education. We've talked about community learning centers, after-school programs, preschool programs. … If it falls within my direct control, then I'll do it, and if it doesn't, then I'll talk to the people who can."
McAdams says voters tell him they are concerned about maintaining a quality education system in light of county growth, especially in terms of class sizes, qualified teachers and positive learning environments.
While Crockett said he agrees education should be part of the county's conversation, he doesn't believe Salt Lake County should expand its role or spending. Instead, he proposes contributing by not competing for scarce tax dollars and making available county programs for at-risk youth.
McAdams has been a member of the Utah State Senate since 2009 and has worked as a consultant managing relationships between Salt Lake City and local businesses, cities and municipalities. He presents himself as the candidate willing to listen to all sides and work across party lines, a trait he says sets him apart from his opponent and better qualifies him for the job.
"You can look at our track records and see we have stark differences in how we approach problem-solving," McAdams said.
Two different approaches
A corporate consultant and former member of the Salt Lake County Council, Crockett said he is campaigning for an executive job, not a legislative role. He spent several years as a corporate consultant "fixing companies" and is the venture-backed CEO of his own Utah-based business.
"We need to rethink the way we spend our money at the county," Crockett said. "Helping large organizations fix their budgets and improve their services is what I've done with my career. … I think my experience and career in this would be pretty helpful right now."
Crockett hopes to apply the model of cutting operating costs that he employed as a consultant to the county's affairs. Reducing operating costs by 5 percent could stave off tax increases, he said.
Both men have a background in corporate law.
The McAdams campaign has been working for months to paint the county orange. The Democrat has generated a highly visible campaign, backed by a slew of Republican mayors. McAdams said the nine GOP endorsements speak to the number of Salt Lake County voters who prioritize issues over party.
Crockett responded to the endorsements by saying many of those mayors have told him they would be happy working with a Crockett administration. He has received formal endorsements from Gov. Gary Herbert and Josh Romney, son of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
McAdams suggested that anyone questioning whether the "Republicans for Ben Committee" is fully on board should ask them.
The candidates have maintained a rigorous debate schedule during the past month, with one debate remaining at the University of Utah on Tuesday, a week before Election Day.
On specific issues, McAdams and Crockett agree on a commitment to keep taxes low, pursue clean air initiatives, increase government efficiency and support municipal services.
They have disagreed on what public transit options to pursue, with Crockett arguing that roads and buses should not be forgotten in possible expansion plans and McAdams emphasizing mass transit options.
From the beginning, McAdams has spoken out against SkiLink, a proposal for a gondola to connect the Canyons and Solitude resorts. Crockett has been slowly retreating from the idea, at first arguing the project be considered and later labeling himself undecided on the issue.
Crockett has traditionally couched his support of parks, recreation and the arts, saying such expenditures should be carefully prioritized and state and local assistance considered. McAdams has said the county's support in these areas increases quality of life.
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Occupation: Managing director of Vici Capital Partners
Education: BYU, bachelor's degree; Stanford, law degreeComment on this story
Political experience: Salt Lake County Council, 2005-08
Family: Judy; two children
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Occupation: Senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker; teaches securities law at the University of Utah
Education: University of Utah, bachelor's degree; Columbia, law degree
Political experience: Utah State Senate, 2009-present
Family: Julie; four children
Residence: Salt Lake City