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An inside look at Nadolski and Knuth: Ogden’s mayoral race

Provided by Taylor Knuth
A photo of 2023 mayoral candidate, Taylor Knuth.

Editors note: This story has been updated as of Oct. 3, 2023

Editors note: As of Oct. 6, 2023, a photo of The Signpost reporter Lucas Moore shaking hands with mayoral candidate Ben Nadolski was taken off of this story because we do not endorse either candidate

The 2023 Ogden City mayoral race is coming to a close, the leading candidates being Ben Nadolski and Taylor Knuth. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Knuth totaled 1,997 votes and Nadolski with 1,829 in the primary election.

The current mayor of Ogden, Mike Caldwell, dubbed the “biking mayor,” will not be seeking out a fourth term and will leave the position after 12 years.

According to KSL News, Caldwell pushed for economic development projects during his time as mayor, such as the Ogden Express bus system. Caldwell has also run into obstacles with the general public such as issues related to public land being granted to private investors.

Knuth, deputy director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council in the Department of Economic Development, has led a campaign to take on the position. According to Knuth, his team has about 11 individuals and all of them, with the exception of Sean Bishop are compensated for their help in running the campaign.

“The change I want to see is on the front porch, not sitting behind a pulpit in an echo chamber,” Knuth said.

Knuth is a first-generation college student who grew up around Clearfield with his mother and three sisters. Growing up in a low-income household, Knuth had struggles planning for the future and was focused on surviving.

“People like me who grew up and were raised how I was aren’t pushed to run for office, and our main initiative is to survive,” Knuth said.

Knuth described an early influence that pushed him towards success that took place in 7th grade at the Davis Community Learning Center. One of his adult mentors, Jana Coates, helped Knuth discover his love for arts and theater, which set him on a path for the future.

Ogden wasn’t a home for Knuth until he attended Weber State University in 2011 on a Dream Weber scholarship. Majoring in musical theater, Knuth was also influenced by his mentor, Catherine Zublin, a WSU theater professor and event moderator.

Due to her impact, Knuth and his husband, Sean Bishop, began the Zublin Award scholarship earlier this year. Knuth met his partner, got married, bought his first house and started his career in public service, all in Ogden.

“My eyes were opened up to some of the challenges people deal with in our community, and I’ve seen that when local government works for the least fortunate, it works for everyone,” Knuth said.

Knuth functions through a human-centered lens, saying there are ways a city can work with developers to add to their projects to enhance the qualities of life.

Being a member of the LGBTQ community, Knuth is facing opposition during his campaign and has logged off social media platforms due to homophobic rhetoric. Knuth fights to stay true to himself, feeling that he has more to offer with his experience and vision rather than his sexuality or ethnicity.

Knuth said he can and wants to achieve a reliable local government by focusing on stronger investments in clean air, affordable housing, addressing the sinking of the Great Salt Lake, public safety officers being out on the streets more often than in their vehicles and economic development that works for everyone in the community.

“As we develop the economy, we should have the expressed benefit in mind of the people who are already living here,” Knuth said.

According to Knuth, Ogden residents have come to him with visions of a more responsive government. The issue expressed by these residents is that respondents don’t get a response when they reach out to local government officials.

An example of this comes from Knuth’s own experience, regarding diversity and inclusivity in Ogden.

Ogden has a Municipal Equality Index score of 58 out of 100, which hasn’t changed for the last three to four years. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing human rights, cities receive MEI ratings according to their non-discrimination policies, leadership in LGBTQ equality, municipal services, employer-friendliness and law enforcement.

Upon viewing the index score in the past, Knuth called for a city council meeting to discuss improvements and make shifts to accomplish a better score that leads to embracing LGBTQ residents, but his request has not been acted upon.

Knuth said it is important for the younger population to be educated on what it means to vote in local governmental elections, using the lack of acknowledgment he has received from officials as an example.

“We have a fairly disengaged younger population, and some aren’t realizing that their voices can change any outcome in the democratic process, and this is reflected in local government,” Knuth said.

Ben Nadolski, supervisor of day-to-day operations for the Division of Wildlife Resources in northern Utah, is also leading a campaign for the position.

“Helping the people of a community thrive is a big priority of mine, and the campaign has been stressful, but I am more overwhelmed by the inspiration and fulfillment I receive from the people,” Nadolski said.

According to the Ogden City website, Nadolski has served as a policy analyst and legislative liaison for the Utah Department of Natural Resources in the past. Nadolski developed partnerships with individuals and communities to protect wildlife species and natural environments, being instrumental in the implementation of the Ogden River Restoration Project.

Nadolski grew up the youngest of five siblings in Phoenix, Arizona. Experiencing hard times as a child, Nadolski’s parents had a trajectory to work through financial struggles. Part of his childhood was watching that evolution take place for them as a family.

Nadolski’s mother began engaging in local community issues and politics when he was around the age of 12.

“I have memories of waking up for a glass of water in the middle of the warm nights in Phoenix and seeing my mother working with other people on things that mattered for our neighborhood and community,” Nadolski said.

Nadolski described his mother’s political approach as non-partisan and in favor of the people, leading him to draw some of her intentions into his own campaign.

Nadolski branched out to Utah in 1996 to play football for WSU. Nadolski also met his wife and graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice at WSU and felt motivated to get involved in the community.

Nadolski said that if you want to make an impact, you get to do it yourself in Ogden.

“There is a really inviting culture here, and we actually get to work on issues that arise rather than just letting them linger,” Nadolski said.

The issues Nadolski hears most within the community are infrastructure, particularly with roads and sidewalks, affordable housing and making sure local government is building transparently, along with zoning and planning.

Nadolski believes Ogden can build its community through economic development that is delivering on two high-priority needs of people, which are housing and infrastructure. This would entail housing at a reasonable price that people can own.

Utilizing the tools from the Redevelopment Agency of SLC to leverage what the people need is one way of pursuing this in Nadolski’s eyes. Rather than giving incentives to developers to bring projects here, Nadolski feels we can still have efficient projects and use those incentives to build the infrastructure or create the exact product for people to buy.

In terms of diversity and inclusion in Ogden, Nadolski said a universal human value everybody wants is an equality in communities for people to thrive.

“This is something we are all universally in support of, but also fight about, and I’d like to not focus on fighting but finding the people who are looking for equal opportunities and creating the conditions for them to thrive,” Nadolski said.

One example of equal opportunity Nadolski would like to implement is children from all neighborhoods, regardless of their background, having a chance to play in the recreational program he has been involved in, called Untamed.

“The kind of initiative I want to represent is to give more participation in youth recreation, finding those kids and making sure everybody from every neighborhood gets a chance,” Nadolski said.

Nadolski has also received opposition to his campaign but prefers to hold the perspective that politics are not for the faint of heart, believing that people will say or do hurtful things, and that’s just the way it is.

“You have to have a sense of self that is strong enough to endure what people will say and do because this is a lot bigger than just you and me,” Nadolski said.

The two candidates will continue to campaign until the general election on Nov. 21, giving the candidates time to seek out support and votes.

Mail voting ballots should arrive to registered voters on or around Oct. 30, according to the Ogden City website. For individuals interested in registering to vote, the Utah Voter Registration website has all the information and steps needed to register.

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Lucas Moore
Lucas Moore, News reporter

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    Christopher PhilionOct 5, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you for writing this article. It seems well balanced and comprehensize. Good work to the writer and editors involved.

    We need to get more college-aged students out to the polls. Their futures are at stake. I would love to see more coverage and events focused on registering young voters on campus.