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A postdoctoral scientist at the U engages in local politics – and urges other young professionals to do likewise.

By Daniel Mendoza

Attracting and retaining talented young professionals is a significant concern for most cities, but Salt Lake City in particular. The issue loomed large in the 2015 Mayoral Candidates Forum in Salt Lake City, which took place at the 50 West Club on Aug. 6.

Attendees grilled the candidates on alternative transportation services Uber and Lyft, on increased hours and expansion of public transit and on expanding partnerships with Google and other technology companies. They asked about the development of Salt Lake City’s West Side and concerns about the homeless population and illegal drugs, particularly in the Pioneer Park area.

The event was sponsored by the Society of Young Professionals of Salt Lake City. I serve on the executive board of the society and I am a postdoctoral fellow at the U. In the weeks preceding the forum, we encouraged young professionals to submit questions for the candidates and selected a dozen for the live forum. Glen Mills, chief political correspondent for ABC 4 Utah emceed the event. Candidates were given two minutes to answer each question. All five candidates attended: Mayor Ralph Becker, Rep. Jackie Biskupski, community activist George Chapman, University of Utah political science professor and city council member Luke Garrott and businessman Dave Robinson.

Questions that brought significant discussion and dissent concerned political action committees, campaign finance, and the influence of wealthy donors. Due to the increased debate, Mills allotted all candidates an additional one minute round of rebuttals. Topics ranged from maximum campaign contributions to roll-over accounts from previous campaigns and billboard advertising.

After the pre-selected questions, we opened the floor for audience members to ask questions. One asked the candidates how they plan to solve fraud issues in the state, which is of particular concern in Utah where online scams and marketing fraud are more prevalent than any other state in the nation. The candidates all answered that while the problem is larger in scale than the city, they plan to devote city resources to target it at the local level. An additional question touched on the common theme of how to make Salt Lake more inclusive to young professionals who have recently moved to the area. All candidates agreed that while this is a work in progress, the University of Utah and multiple startup companies in the area have a large role to play in recruitment and retention.

This event exposed a largely underrepresented population in politics to the mayoral candidates in an open forum. Utah’s young population is proportionately larger than other states, and millennials currently compose one third of the state’s population. This was also the final event all candidates participated in before primary elections take place on Aug. 11. The municipal election will take place on Nov. 3.

To learn more about The Society of Young Professionals Salt Lake City, visit


Daniel Mendoza is a Global Change and Sustainability postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

*Pictured (l-r): Glen Mills, Daniel Mendoza, Mayor Ralph Becker, Jackie Biskupski, George Chapman, Luke Garrott, Dave Robinson. Photo credit: Bryant Aardema.