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Salt Lake Author Eyes City Council Seat Again

A Salt Lake City therapist, author and activist is hoping the second time will be the charm when it comes to her bid for District 1’s city council seat.


Dr. Leslie Reynolds-Benns ran for the office in 2006 after Equality Utah board member Boyer Jarvis asked her to run against incumbent Carlton Christiansen. His request, she said, came at an unusual time: after the funeral of local civil rights leader Alberta Henry, who was one of Reynolds-Benns’ friends. When Benns mentioned that she wanted to join then-Mayor Rocky Anderson’s newly-formed Human Rights Commission, she said Jarvis insisted she run for council instead.

“I started walking [campaigning door to door] that night,” Reynolds-Benns told QSaltLake (then Salt Lake Metro) at the time.

But despite all her walking, and her outspoken support for immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Reynolds-Benns lost to Christiansen three years ago. At the time, she said, she thought that was the end of her attempts at a political career.

And then came the Common Ground Initiative, California’s Proposition 8 and Salt Lake City’s emergence as a hotbed of gay and transgender rights activism.

“What got me [to run again] this year was the poor reception of the Common Ground Initiative at the legislature. That just had me on fire,” she said.

So now, Reynolds-Benns is one of three candidates courting the voters of District 1. Her campaign efforts were ostensibly helped in the last day of August by an endorsement from Equality Utah, which named her and opponent Christensen as recommended candidates in the Sept. 14 primary. After walking the neighborhoods in her district, which extends from North Temple north to the Davis County line and from 9th West to the city’s western boundary, Reynolds-Benns said the district’s attitude has changed a lot since 2006.

“This is a whole new district I’m walking in now,” she said. “People are happy to see me, people are open to talk about Carlton who have supported him in past. I think they feel disappointed. They feel betrayed because he ran for Senate last year and was defeated, so they feel he had higher aspiration that weren’t fulfilled.”

Although Reynolds-Benns’ own political aspirations weren’t fulfilled in 2006, she has nonetheless kept busy since then. In the last three years she has run an anti-litter campaign in her district when residents complained that people were depositing their trash on the streets. At first, she said she just picked up some of the trash herself. But when she became the chairperson of  the Westpointe Community Council, she applied for grants to purchase large stone garbage cans for distribution throughout the area, upon which she placed posters in English and Spanish encouraging people to use them. She also began a four-page bilingual community newsletter, instituted the district’s Annual Night Out Against Crime, and served as an ad-hoc member of the Mayor’s gang forum.

“I was a newcomer and they didn’t know how innovative and committed I am,” she said. “If I take something on, I do it completely. I produce results and I get them, I really do.”

When asked to name her top priorities, Reynolds-Benns mentioned keeping children out of gangs; helping the residents in her district become financially literate; and stopping prostitution on Redwood Road by establishing a program to help drug-addicted prostitutes get treatment.

She also stated her support for redeveloping the neighborhoods of North Temple — work that should take place, she said, before the development of the so-called “Northwest Quadrant,” the area west of the airport. She is particularly critical of Christensen for supporting a plan to develop the Northwest Quadrant over plans to revitalize North Temple.

“For more than ten years, since the North Temple TRAX light rail was first planned, the incumbent councilman has shown no leadership, and now the city must play catch-up with a tight schedule to get this project completed,” Reynolds-Benns wrote on her campaign Web site. “We must take care of our existing neighborhoods before we leapfrog to our next development and leave our current community behind.”

And, of course, Reynolds-Benns is passionate about rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. A PFLAG mother with a gay daughter, she is also a member of the Human Rights Council, a national gay rights group and has advertised to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. If elected, she said she will support Mayor Ralph Becker’s gay and transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.

“I’m thrilled that he’s initiating that,” she said. “I continue to be amazed. Until [Equality Utah’s] Common Ground Initiative came out I didn’t realize people could be fired from their jobs for being gay. I didn’t realize that until the [citywide mutual commitments] registry came out and people were afraid they’d be fired if they registered [as domestic partners]. We live with a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell here in Salt Lake which just amazes me. It hurts my heart.”

“I just want them to have full civil rights, and they deserve the full rights of marriage,” she continued. “I’m married to an African-American man, and I know what he went through. I can even talk about women’s suffrage, what we went through. We went through the same thing with the same opposition. And now the gays and lesbians are going through it; the same thing with the same opposition! I don’t see why people don’t get the point!”

Reynolds-Benns said she is hopeful other PFLAG parents and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of her district will volunteer to work for her campaign and to walk with her through District 1’s neighborhoods, especially now that she has Equality Utah’s approval.

Whether she goes on after the September primary, and whether or not she wins a place on the City Council, Reynolds-Benns said she will happily continue to serve the citizens of her district.

“A lot of these things I’ll continue to do. I won’t drop them,” she said. “Though I’d certainly like to be elected, too!”

Visit Leslie Reynolds-Benns’ campaign Web site at electlesliebenns.com.

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