SALT LAKE CITY — Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis, the top vote getter of the Salt Lake City mayoral candidates who failed to advance through the primary, weighed in on the race Thursday — but rather than endorsing a candidate, he threw grenades.
Dabakis said in a statement emailed and posted on social media that he has known and worked with Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall and Sen. Luz Escamilla for “many years” and he likes them both, but “there is a huge issue” that’s stopping him from voting for Mendenhall.
“The quiet truth is, Salt Lake City’s elected officials are mostly responsible for throwing open the barn door to the pollution pumping, corporate governing, millions-in-tax largesse--Inland Port,” Dabakis wrote. “BEFORE the state’s treachery on the Inland Port, our City leaders messed up. Bigly.”
Dabakis then launches into a lengthy criticism of Mendenhall, who was chairwoman of the council last year, other City Council members and Mayor Jackie Biskupski, mirroring the same criticisms House Speaker Greg Hughes leveled last spring, accusing the city of being “hypocritical” for fighting the Utah Inland Port Authority legislation after agreeing to a 40-year development agreement with northwest quadrant landowners, Rio Tinto Kennecott and NWQ LLC, for about 4,000 acres of what is now the port authority’s 16,000-acre jurisdiction.
“In my opinion, the agreements Salt Lake City made with landowners/developers will go down as one of the worst agreements in the state’s history,” Dabakis said.
Dabakis lambasts the development agreement for locking in current city laws for the 40-year term of the agreement, allowing up to 70% of the project area’s tax increment to be used for reimbursement to developers, and giving away “control” of the project area to developers, among other criticisms.
It’s the same project area that’s recently come under fire from anti-port activists, who have protested the city’s recent finalization of a $28 million future tax reimbursement to developers.
Mendenhall in a written statement Thursday called Dabakis’ criticisms “revisionist history at its worst.”
In my opinion, the agreements Salt Lake City made with landowners/developers will go down as one of the worst agreements in the state’s history.
–Former state Sen. Jim Dabakis
“The inland port situation has always been about the reality of the influence, power and willingness of the state government to override city authority,” Mendenhall said. “I understand why Sen. Dabakis and others are circling the wagons over their failure to protect Salt Lake City in the state Legislature during the inland port negotiations, but trafficking this mythology to protect their own reputations is incredibly disrespectful to Salt Lake City voters.
Last year, in response to Hughes’ criticisms of the agreement, city leaders including Biskupski came to the defense of the agreement, saying the contract and the state’s “takeover” by creating the Utah Inland Port Authority are not “remotely the same.”
Lara Fritts, the city’s economic development director at the time, said the agreement was not filled with giveaways to developers and was a balanced agreement on a unique 4,000 acres of land that face steep development challenges.
“We wanted to make sure that we were standing the test of time as we looked at doing this development agreement, and we made sure (it) wasn’t something that was beyond what other cities have done,” Fritts told KSL at the time.
Dabakis, in an interview with KSL on Thursday, said he’s not endorsing any candidate yet, rather he’s seeking answers from Mendenhall on the issue.
“The fact is that the state did a very very bad thing, but they (city leaders) had already given up the farm by the time the state marched in and took the farm away,” Dabakis said.
However, Sen. Derek Kitchen, who was serving on the City Council at the time and has endorsed Mendenhall for mayor, raises questions about Dabakis’ criticisms.
“It’s surprising for me that Dabakis isn’t supporting Erin Mendenhall because he must not remember the backroom deal that he made with Greg Hughes on the inland port in June of 2018,” Kitchen told KSL.
Kitchen pointed to a joint news conference Dabakis and Hughes called together, issuing a list of “demands” to help break the gridlock between city leaders and state leaders in negotiations to fix the inland port’s legislation.
Kitchen said that news conference caught city leaders off guard, but he credited Mendenhall for stepping into negotiations with state leaders after Biskupski refused to engage any longer.
“It’s weird that Jim is not endorsing Erin when she went in and ironed out the compromise that he was demanding,” Kitchen said, adding that it’s also “weird to make an anti-endorsement.”