Ogden mayoral, council candidates square off in Thursday debate

Saturday , October 17, 2015 - 11:02 AM5 comments

OGDEN — Candidates seeking two city council seats and Ogden’s mayoral slot faced off Thursday in a public forum sponsored by the Ogden Trolley District, a nonprofit organization that represents the densely populated 80 blocks that make up east-central Ogden.

Held in a restored mansion at 2604 Jefferson Ave., the gathering gave the audience of about 70 attendees a glimpse of how these six individuals might govern if elected.

Of the six contenders, Mayor Mike Caldwell was the only incumbent present. When asked what he would do differently if elected to a second term, Caldwell touted his track record and said he would continue in the same vein — only faster.

“I don’t expect it to be dramatically different other than the pace and acceleration of what we’re doing in stabilizing the downtown and neighborhoods,” Caldwell said, noting that in the five years before he took office, Ogden City issued about 220 residential building permits for its downtown core.

“We’ll have over 700 new housing units in that downtown core area come online in the next two years,” Caldwell said.

He also pointed to the once-stalled Ogden River Project to illustrate his ability to move things forward.

“It was mothballed, a dirt lot that sat vacant for eight years,” Caldwell said. “We brought people together . . . local partners, R & O Construction and others came in and stabilized that project.” Now 153 units are ready to open, he added. His administration also has efforts underway to replace neglected, substandard housing in east-central neighborhoods one structure at a time.

However, Caldwell’s challenger — Paraguayan immigrant and businessman Sebastian Benitez — would make changes on different fronts to improve quality of life in east-central Ogden and beyond.

“I understand that Ogden has two cities — one city is Shadow Valley and downtown, and the other city is east-central where nobody cares,” Benitez said.

For starters, Benitez said he would shrink certain paychecks.

“The mayor’s salary does not make sense and I would change that,” Benitez said. “We have to make enough money to live and take care of our families — but not too much.”

Benitez also stressed Ogden’s need to boost home ownership, clean up the city’s parks and neighborhoods, and hire more Hispanic police officers to deal with gangs and cartel drug dealers.

Ogden’s At-Large Council Race

John Ogden, who is vying with Luis Lopez for Ogden’s At-Large council seat, agreed with Benitez on the need for more minority police officers and fewer illegal drug deals.

“Sebastian mentioned the drugs on our streets. It’s an underlying thing that people don’t want to talk about,” Ogden said. “But I think most people here can probably raise their hand and say ‘I’ve had someone in my family who was affected by drugs in one way or another.’”

Ogden, a U.S. Army veteran and small business owner who works for the Department of Defense at Hill Air Force Base, recommended putting more badges on the street.

“And hire more Hispanic and black police officers so they can communicate with the people,” Ogden said. “If it’s a Hispanic officer talking to a Hispanic, I think they’ll open up more.”

Lopez agreed on the need for more officers.

“I met with our police chief and the president of our police association, and they explaiend to me how difficult it is being short-staffed,” Lopez said. “The reason is that they go to other areas where they can get paid more,” a problem that city officials recently pledged to address by bringing back the police pay steps that had been suspended several years ago.

Lopez, who heads Weber State University’s Community Education Center, also stressed the need to bring Hispanic and African-American community leaders together with police and city representatives to talk about crime and safety issues.

Ogden’s District 4 council race

Daniel Gladwell, an accountant for the U.S. Air Force, competes with Ben Nadolski for Ogden’s District 4 council seat. Nadolski works as a policy analyst for Utah’s Department of Natural Resources.

“I’m interested not only in natural resources but policy issues — and how we can make policy and legislative decisions that make sense on the ground,” Nadolski said, underscoring the need to invest in Ogden’s neighborhoods. “The Trolley District serves as a model for investing in neighborhoods, and I’d like to do that citywide.”

Nadolski also praised Ogden’s vibrant downtown lunch crowd and said he’d work to encourage an equally vibrant night life.

Gladwell pointed out that streets and parks tend to fare better east of Harrison Boulevard and he’d like to see Lester Park and other amenities in east-central Ogden (the area bounded by 20th and 30th Streets and Harrison Boulevard west to Washington Boulevard) receive more attention.

We need to make sure these places are clean, nice and welcoming,” Gladwell said. “And then people will want to go out and meet each other, and we can build a community.”

More information about Ogden’s election can be found at ogdencity.com.

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

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