SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Salt Lake City will make history in more than one way with its projected incoming city council. For the first time, the majority of the council will be people of color and LGBTQ+. Not only will this council be the most diverse in terms of race and sexuality, they will also be the youngest group the city’s ever had. Four out of seven of them also speak Spanish.
The four councilmembers of color will be:
- Victoria Petro-Eschler (District 1), who is Latina American
- Alejandro Puy (District 2), who is Latino American
- Ana Valdemoros (District 4), who is Latina American
- Darin Mano (District 5), who is Asian American
After winning the election for District 1, Petro-Eschler was appointed by the Salt Lake City Council on November 9th to fill the seat vacated by James Rogers in October. She is the executive director of Salty Crickets Composers Collective, a nonprofit promoting classical music education. She also served on the City’s Historic Landmark Commission.
Puy is a queer Latino immigrant, who said he put himself through college by working multiple jobs in policy research and advocacy. He and his friend started a local consulting firm that employs dozens of people every year.
Valdemoros was originally selected by the City Council in January 2019 to serve the remaining term in place of Derek Kitchen, after he was elected to the Utah State Senate. Later that year in November, she was elected by residents to serve a four-year term. Since then, she was selected by her Redevelopment Agency (RDA) peers to serve as their chair.
Mano was selected by the City Council in January 2020 to serve the remaining term in place of Erin Mendenhall, after she was elected as Salt Lake City’s mayor. He is the principal and founder of the architecture firm, Raw Design Studio. He speaks Japanese and is actively involved with the local Asian American community.
“It’s such a pleasant surprise and I’m really proud of the new councilmembers that we have on our team,” said Valdemoros. “It has been a dream come true that came faster than I thought.”
“I think for a long time, Salt Lake City had representatives that value diversity. But it’s different to have representatives that *ARE diverse and have those lived experiences,” said Mano.
“I think it shows the city is electric, evolving, and growing with how the city is changing too. So it is a great privilege to be representing a part of this Salt Lake City that is very diverse. I’m looking forward to that,” said Puy. “Being a person that has an intersectionality of identities myself, I think it gives a good insight about how to connect with the people who live here, many of them not being voters.”
Valdemoros made history two years ago, as the first person of color elected to the Salt Lake City council. Now, she’ll be part of history again, serving alongside three other councilmembers of color. Two of them will serve the city’s most diverse districts.
“I was hoping that once I was elected that I would also inspire others to come to the table, to throw their hat in the ring and provide their perspective as we make decisions in the municipality,” she said.
“The reason why I think that’s important is because Salt Lake City has always been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community and for communities of color. Now we are not just a place where people feel safe to live, but we’re a place that people feel safe to stand up and lead,” said Mano.
“Growing up, I felt that this part of me [being gay] was less desirable or less accepted. So I felt like maybe I would never be able to serve in public office because of that,” said Wharton. “To have a place like Salt Lake City where I’m not only accepted, but people trust me to lead and make important decisions on their behalf is just profoundly fulfilling.”
Fowler said she hopes the new and diverse faces coming to the city council will encourage more constituents to voice their needs and engage with their elected officials.
“I think we have to remember that representation matters. People need to be able to look up and say, ‘Wait. That person looks like me,'” said Fowler.
Wharton said the work towards diversity, equity, and inclusion is just beginning. The new council hopes that one day, it will be commonplace for legislative bodies to look like the communities they serve.
“Representation is so important. But it’s the first steps. Just because we have elected LGBTQ+ people doesn’t mean that we’ve made it any more than having had a Black president means that we’re living in this post-racial society,” said Wharton. “The people that we need to hear from the most are the people that most afraid to come down to city hall. I hope this is a turning point for that.”