SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Salt Lake City councilwoman who rose to prominence fighting pollution appeared headed to victory Tuesday in the mayoral race against a state lawmaker aiming to become the capital's first Latina leader.
Democrat Erin Mendenhall spoke to supporters with totals showing her winning 59 percent of the votes cast with more ballots to be tallied. It is the city's first all-female race, which shows young women what's possible, she said.
"Girls, come and get this. It is yours," said Mendenhall.
Democrat Sen. Luz Escamilla, meanwhile, said her run so far has raised the profile for women of color in the conservative state.
"We're here, we're going to wait until every last vote is counted. We believe strongly that is important for us," said Escamilla, who has received about 41 percent of the votes counted.
Mendenhall didn't declare victory, and additional results are expected to be released on Thursday. Elections workers are tallying the latest by-mail ballots that take longer to verify and count. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she didn't know how many mail-in ballots remain, since voters had been dropping them off at polling places throughout Tuesday.
Escamilla, 41, has touted her decade of experience as a senator working with lawmakers in the GOP-dominated the state Legislature, and said she'd bring an important perspective coming from the city's traditionally working class west side.
She grew up in Mexico, came to Utah as a college student and became a citizen in 2004. Along with being the first ethnic-minority mayor, she'd also be the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in the role in more than three decades. The issue surfaced when former mayor Rocky Anderson raised concerns she could be deferential to the conservative Utah-based faith. It's headquartered in Salt Lake, but many residents don't agree with its leaders politically.
Escamilla called Anderson's criticism insulting and pointed to her progressive record at the Legislature.
Her opponent didn't capitalize on the dust-up, instead condemning "attacks on faith," and saying they had no place in politics. Mendenhall, 39, has argued her two terms on the council have given her a deep understanding of city government. She also points 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 won a crowded primary after deploying a strong get-out-the-vote effort, with Escamilla coming in second. Both have pledged to tackle issues like homelessness and affordable housing. They also both oppose a massive planned distribution hub known as the inland port that's drawn fierce protest for its potential environmental impact.
Escamilla has critiqued Mendenhall on the inland port, saying her votes on the city council helped make it possible. Mendenhall has pushed back, calling that criticism "revisionist history."
The winner will replace Jackie Biskupski, the city's first openly LGBTQ mayor. She decided not to run again, citing an unspecified family situation.