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Phoenix Forward

Meet Cherie Wood: South Salt Lake City mayor

Mayor Cherie Wood inspects blueprints alongside several home builders

Mayor Cherie Wood

University of Phoenix graduate helps create “City on the Move”

In 2008, Bob Gray, the then-mayor of South Salt Lake City, Utah, sat down with his assistant mayor, Cherie Wood, and had a little chat. She expected him to talk about re-election, but instead, he threw a curve ball and told her she needed to run for the mayoral office because of her fantastic ideas and good operational skills. “I thought he was crazy,” she says today.

Today, Mayor Wood, who won the election in 2009 by a near landslide, is revitalizing a community plagued by high crime, neglected neighborhoods, industrial blight and a basic lack of character.

Since taking office, Wood has rebranded South Salt Lake from “City of Industry” to “City on the Move.” She hired the city’s first economic developer to help create green spaces and a more downtown feel. Crime rates have plummeted 23 percent in the past three years, thanks in part to a program that helps ensure landlords do more thorough screenings of renters. She received a grant to begin development of the first street car line in the city, and is working on establishing a community center and charter school. And the city’s “urban renewal project” — a 120-acre mix of retail and residential properties — is slated to begin in 2012.

“We’ve made so many changes,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting.”

The 38-year-old mayor, a married mother of three, is a lifelong resident of the community and has worked for the city since age 19. She started as a cashier, and then worked in utility billing, accounts payable, the city building department and in business licensing before becoming assistant mayor. She enrolled at University of Phoenix in 2002 because she felt she needed additional education for her changing roles. She received a Bachelor of Science in Business with concentrations in Management and in Administration from the University.

I know I'm making a difference for residents in this community.

When Wood decided to run for mayor in 2008, she and her campaign manager purchased a political-campaign-management book and worked together to devise an election strategy. Many city employees supported her, as did the firefighter and police unions. She listened to residents’ concerns. When people criticized her for being a woman who should be home raising her children, she drafted a letter to all registered women voters in South Salt Lake City.

“My opposition was saying I had young children at home and I should be at home with them,” she says. “But I have many years of experience in prioritizing my schedule and knew I could put my children first and still be a very effective mayor. I included my vision for a safer, cleaner, more beautiful South Salt Lake.”

Women in the community were inspired by her letter, she says, and appreciated that she reached out to them and shared her personal story.

Wood currently manages 275 employees and says they are her “number one asset” and are appreciated. She would like to run for a second term. “I know I’m making a difference for residents in this community,” she says.


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