Michael Valentine isn’t your typical mayoral candidate.
He’s a filmmaker and local theater enthusiast, a long-time Salt Lake community activist, the owner of a cider shop and a student at the University of Utah, studying Film & Media Arts.
“I never wanted to really go into politics,” Valentine said. “I think of it more like jury duty, where you go and do your time and then get out and go on with your life.”
At 35 years old, he started his mayoral campaign following the demolition of the Utah Pantages Theater in 2022. The city valued the century-old theater at $4 million, but sold it for zero dollars to a Texas-based housing developer to build an apartment complex, reported The Salt Lake Tribune. In an effort to save the historic theater, Valentine chained himself to the front doors.
He made his motives for running for mayor clear, stating he does not want a political career but rather to focus on issues facing the community.
“I’m not using this as a stepping-stone to run for senator or president,” he said. “I’m not really doing it to get any money.”
If elected, he plans to refuse his mayoral salary and tackle numerous issues, outlined on his Instagram. They include working towards a universal basic income, defunding/abolishing police, decriminalizing drugs and eradicating homelessness through affordable housing.
Citing his own experience living out of his car, he claims the city’s current efforts to help the housing and homelessness crisis aren’t enough. He’s made his own plan to tackle the issue, such as making abatements and anti-homeless architecture illegal.
“I think homelessness is the most important issue,” Valentine said, noting that 159 homeless people died in Utah last year.
Despite lacking political experience, Valentine participated against former Mayor Rocky Anderson and current Mayor Erin Mendenhall at the mayoral debate in October, hosted by KUER, PBS and The Salt Lake Tribune.
Along with his campaign and own activism, he also works and supports student activists, specifically Mecha de U of U.
Valentine voiced support for the student group on Instagram and attended its sit-in at the A. Ray Olpin Student Union on Nov. 19. He also attended a die-in protest in support of Palestine at the Utah State Capitol building on the same day, where he applauded the work of the activists there and criticized his opponents, according to his Instagram.
“I don’t see Rocky Anderson here anywhere,” he said speaking at the rally. “I don’t see Erin Mendenhall here. I don’t see the city council anywhere here.”
Amidst his campaign, he explained that he had tried to get other students to run for public office like he was.
“I think students really have an interesting perspective in terms of leadership,” he said. “I’d like to see a lot of students run for every office that’s open, just because most of the change usually happens on universities.”
He added Mecha’s activism was inspiring, referencing their campus rally for Palestine on Oct. 20.
“Students change the world and young voices need to get out and make sure they’re heard,” he said.
While he recognized the work of student activists, he also acknowledged the burden of possibly becoming mayor.
“If I get elected I’ll have to put my school studies on hold,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s realistic to be a mayor and a student.”
Election Day is Nov. 21, and only 23% of active registered voters in Salt Lake County have submitted their ballots, according to Deseret News. The Salt Lake City mayoral race will be determined by ranked choice voting, in which voters will pick who they want for mayor as well as rank their preference of the three candidates. If no candidate earns a majority of first-preference votes, then the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated and a second tally begins.
There are numerous spots in the Salt Lake Community to vote, but U students can submit ballots at Trolley Square, River’s Bend Senior Center or the SLCO Government Center.
“The mayor is a huge responsibility,” Valentine said. “… I’d just focus on the city and the community.”