Ogden's mayoral race heats up with new contender

Wednesday , June 10, 2015 - 7:23 AM

OGDEN — A contender has come forward to challenge Mayor Mike Caldwell, a popular incumbent who is seeking a second term this November.

While Caldwell has managed to advance the city with such an even-handed consistency and forward-looking vision that most offer up praise rather than criticism, this political newcomer said he can offer a whole new perspective.

Sebastian Benitez, a 52-year-old immigrant from Paraguay who speaks five languages and owns his own business, said he respects and admires Caldwell but after significant prayer felt compelled to join the race.

“I want to give Ogden residents a different option,” Benitez said Monday evening.

Coming to the U.S. from a third-world country — with no English-speaking skills at the time — presented a formidable challenge, Benitez said. So running for higher office in the town he has grown to love should not be quite as hard, he figured.

Benitez and his wife, Alicia Benitez, have raised five sons here in Ogden, now ages 24, 21, 17, 15 and 6.

Soon after his arrival in Ogden 15 years ago, Benitez said his LDS stake president asked him to open a Spanish-speaking program in the Weber County Jail. He also served in the bishopric of one of Ogden’s Mormon wards and as a former bishop in Paraguay.

“Being from the outside, we look a different way and I have some ideas I want to share with the community,” Benitez said, adding that he first got inspired to run for mayor about two years ago.

“Some thought I was joking, my wife said I was crazy,” Benitez said. “But I’d like to do something for this community.”

Benitez said he plans to focus on improving neighborhoods.

The five languages he now speaks include Spanish, Guarani — the official language of Paraguay, Portuguese, Italian and English.

His company is called Intermountain Property Cleaning Services, and Benitez said he contracts with the city to keep a shine on some of its buildings.

Reached Tuesday by phone, Caldwell said he welcomes the competition.

“I look forward to the dialogue and debate. Its always healthier when you have a free exchange of ideas,” Caldwell said, adding that he “celebrates anyone who is willing to engage in the public process.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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