On a recent Friday night, I met with Derek Kitchen, candidate for Salt Lake City’s City Council District 4 to knock on doors in his district. You probably remember Derek from the Kitchen v. Herbert (2013) case, which challenged Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. Derek, his now-husband, Moudi Sbeity, and two other couples paved the way for marriage equality in our notoriously conservative state. With his signature mustache, and his hand over his heart, Derek fought for the entire State of Utah, but now he’s fighting for District 4 where he lives and owns a small business. The issues near and dear to Derek’s heart are affordable housing, small & local business development, and sustainable energy, to name a few, but the common thread within all of those issues is Derek’s commitment to social justice.
After we finished knocking on doors I sat down with Derek at Taqueria 27 to talk about his campaign platform. For the sake of full-disclosure I want to let you know that Derek and I have been friends for a while, we met in 2009 at the Salt Lake Community College. Interviewing Derek the candidate doesn’t look all that different from dinners I’ve had with Derek my friend. He talked passionately about his commitment to bi-partisan solutions, explaining how he’s not going to get bogged down in politics to the detriment of his beloved city. Earlier that week he met with U.S. Representative Mia Love, and a work group within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Derek spoke affectionately about both meetings, and how he believes that even when it seems like you have nothing in common, you can come together for the sake of your city.
It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone talk about putting welfare over politics, but the high point in the night was listening to Derek talk about small business development. For Derek small business growth is as personal as it is political. Him and his partner, Moudi, own Laziz Foods, a middle eastern spreads company they started in 2012. Laziz has grown from humble beginnings at local farmer’s markets to grocery stores across the valley, with a possible cafe expansion in the future. Derek emphatically pointed out that:
“For every dollar you spend at a local business, three times more stays in our economy than if it were spent at a national chain. In fact, spending just 10% more to local businesses would keep approximately $1.3 billion in the Utah economy each year.”
And it’s not just the economics of small business that matter–Derek is committed to creating work and shopping environments that better serve marginalized people in District 4 (i.e. gender neutral bathrooms and farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits). He is deeply invested in small business, but at the heart of that investment is his commitment to equality. A prime example of this took place a few days after our meeting–Derek went out with the 4th Street Clinic mobile outreach team to witness firsthand the medical services they provide to people living in homelessness. He isn’t afraid to dive right and learn about the issues, and I know that no one will be left behind with Derek Kitchen as the District 4 councilman.
Our interview meandered from topic to topic as we noshed on guacamole. We covered everything from sustainability (Laziz is a certified Zero Waste business) to police brutality and rape kit backlogs. But the most profound thing Derek said all night was, “Just because something doesn’t affect me directly, or I don’t talk about it daily, doesn’t mean I can’t champion the cause. I’m always open to hearing about issues I may have missed.” Derek Kitchen is the real deal–a compassionate, fair-minded, social justice advocate with a grasp of the issues facing his community, and even better, a willingness to listen when he doesn’t understand.
I urge you to remember that local elections like council District 4 impact your day-to-day life in profound ways, and local elections really do hinge on a handful of votes. Only 3660 people voted in the District 4 primary (Derek received a staggering 36% of those votes). His challenger in the general election made it to the general election by a meager forty-eight votes. It truly matters when you do or don’t cast your ballot, so take the time to register, and remember that this year’s election is by mail. If you’re like me, and you support Derek, but don’t live in his area, consider volunteering with the campaign by reaching out online to his campaign manager, Mike Harmond. You’ll knock on some doors, meet new people, and spread the word about a great, trustworthy candidate for District 4.