AP NEWS

Pollution-fighting councilwoman wins Salt Lake mayor race

November 7, 2019 GMT
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Salt Lake City Councilwoman and Democratic mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall greets supporters during an election night party in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Mendenhall was running against Democrat state Sen. Luz Escamilla, (Spenser Heaps/The Deseret News via AP)
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Salt Lake City Councilwoman and Democratic mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall greets supporters during an election night party in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Mendenhall was running against Democrat state Sen. Luz Escamilla, (Spenser Heaps/The Deseret News via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Salt Lake City councilwoman who rose to prominence fighting pollution clinched a win in the mayoral race Wednesday with the concession of her opponent, a state lawmaker who was aiming to be the Utah capital’s first Latina mayor.

Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla conceded the race in a phone call to fellow Democrat Erin Mendenhall and wished her the “best of luck as our city’s next mayor,” she said in a statement.

Mendenhall took a commanding early lead with nearly 59% of the vote Tuesday, but Escamilla, 41, had vowed to stay in the race until the count was complete.

That changed with the release of new details on the number of uncounted mail-in ballots. The figures were lower than expected and made it impossible for her to overtake Mendenhall’s lead, she said.

Still, Escamilla has said she’s proud that her run helped raise the profile for Utah women of color as well as residents of the city’s historically working-class west side. Escamilla, who came to Utah as a college student, would also have been the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in more than 30 years to serve as mayor of the city that’s a liberal island in the conservative state.

The race was also the city’s first all-female mayoral general election, which showed young women they belong in the halls of power, Mendenhall, 39, has said.

She thanked her opponent on Wednesday, calling her a “true champion for Salt Lake City” and saying she looked forward to working with her in the future. Escamilla will stay on as a state senator.

During the campaign, Mendenhall argued her two terms on the council gave her a deep understanding of city government. She also pointed to her record as an activist for clean air in a valley where weather conditions can cause pollution to become trapped and temporarily make the city’s air the dirtiest in the country.

She replaces Jackie Biskupski, the city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor. She decided not to run again, citing an unspecified family situation.