Three Moab governance positions are up for election in 2021: the position of mayor and two positions on the Moab City Council. Current mayor Emily Niehaus and council members Karen Guzman-Newton and Mike Duncan are not running for re-election.
Six people declared candidacy for the two city council positions: Anthony Charles, Randall Fox, Josie Kovash, Mike McCurdy, Jason Taylor, and Luke Wojciechowski. Randall Fox withdrew from the race on October 7.
Seven people declared candidacy for mayor: Sherri Costanza, Aaron Davies, Kent Green, Norm Knapp, Joette Langianese, Stephen Stocks, and Bill Winfield. Knapp withdrew from the race on September 22.
The elected officials will join current city council members Rani Derasary, Kalen Jones, and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd. All positions are for four years and are elected nonpartisan positions. The current mayor and council terms end in December. Candidates elected this year will begin in January 2022.
These short profiles will go through each candidate’s background in Moab, why they’re running, and what issues they care most about. There’s a diverse mix of candidates and a diverse mix of solutions they want to find for Moab, especially concerning the affordable housing crisis, being more transparent and inclusive in city hall, and the impacts of tourism.
We asked each candidate five questions: what is your background in Moab; why are you running; what issues are you most passionate about and what, if anything, would you like to see change; what makes you an ideal candidate; and what is your experience with local government.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and written up as short profiles. Each candidate spoke to our reporter for different amounts of time, which is why the profiles vary in length. Some candidates kept their answers short, others long. You’ll find each profile in alphabetical order by last name.
Keep in mind, our reporter isn’t voting in this election—she lives outside of city limits.
This election is nonpartisan, meaning candidates are running without political party labels. In this election, Moab is participating in ranked-choice voting . Mail-in ballots will be sent to voters the week of October 11, and are due back by November 1. Election day is November 2. On Election Day, you can hand-deliver your mail-in ballot to the official dropbox or vote in person at City Hall (217 E. Center Street, Moab).
The Democratic Party of Grand County has publicly endorsed Joette Langianese for Mayor and Josie Kovash and Luke Wojciechowski for City Council.
City Council Candidates
Anthony Charles was born and raised in Moab—his family helped settle the area, he said. He’s a massage therapist but is currently pursuing hobbies and taking care of his children due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charles says that he is running for city council because “I’ve seen too many bad decisions be made.”
“It’s bad decisions and poorly executed decisions, and [the city] has been that way for decades,” said Charles.
He says that he has three major proposals for the city: a 10 to 12% tax on “anything that has anything to do with tourism” to be used to fund a regional basic universal income. Second, he said that wants to “plant as many trees as humanly possible.”
Thirdly, Charles said that he would prioritize reducing UTV noise, an issue on which he has been publicly vocal as he lives along the route to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, a major destination for 4×4 enthusiasts. Noise from increased vehicle traffic, including off-road vehicles like UTVs, has been the subject of major contention in the Moab community in recent years.
His suggestion to reduce noise on Sand Flats Road is to build a new road that will lead to Hell’s Revenge, a popular UTV route.
Charles said that growing up in Moab gives him “a different view of this town than a lot of people.”
“Moab needs a local voice in the local government,” he said.
Charles said that he has been regularly attending city and county meetings for the past year and speaks up in the “citizens to be heard” portions.
Josie Kovash grew up in southwestern Colorado and lives in Moab with her husband and 15-month-old daughter. Kovash previously worked with Outward Bound and as music director for KZMU. She currently works at local restaurant 98 Center.
Kovash says that she is running for city council because recently she’s found it harder to live in Moab.
“I can either complain about these things, or I can think about leaving, or I can step up and offer my service to try to push things in a direction that I think is more healthy and sustainable,” said Kovash.
Kovash said that she feels locals increasingly can’t enjoy their homes because of tourism’s impact, particularly UTV noise. Kovash has been outspoken on this issue, producing, along with her father, Jon Kovash, a 2020 special aired on KZMU Radio called “Dispatch from the Undisputed Motorhead Capitol of the West,” in which the two interview Moab residents fed up with traffic noise.
“I also don’t want to get short-sighted on longer-term issues of sustainability and livability in this valley,” she said. “Having a baby daughter makes me think about the long-term future a lot more.”
“We as a community really need to be thinking about climate resiliency,” said Kovash, “and making sure that our resources are still healthy and plentiful and as flexible as they can be in a changing climate.”
Kovash is on the county planning commission. She has also served on the boards of the Resiliency Hub and Moonflower Co-op.
“I’m very used to steep learning curves, and hitting the ground running,” she said. “I think that, just on a practical level, is a good skill to have going into the city government.”
McCurdy was born in Salt Lake and moved with his family to Moab when he was a day old. He is a “lifer,” he says—he only left Moab to go to college.
McCurdy said that he is running for city council because he believes there needs to be more focus on locals, he said.
“I know we focus on tourism heavily because that’s our economy,” he said. “But someone has to bear the brunt of what tourism causes—so my focus is on the locals that actually live here.”
His platform focuses on three things: “Number one is going to be housing. Infrastructure is number two. And who’s going to pay for it, a.k.a. taxes, is number three,” he said.
Since housing is only getting worse, he said, “we really need to focus on that right now.”
He knows everyone in town, he said, and respects everyone’s opinions, which makes him an ideal candidate.
“I literally am that gray area that talks to everyone,” McCurdy said. “There are some people that only focus on their group and not everyone in town. I think I’m a little better at that than everyone else.”
McCurdy says that he regularly attends Moab City Council meetings. He used to have disdain for the local government, but he said he decided to do something about it by running for City Council, instead of just complaining.
“I’m an open book,” he said. “If anyone, in any direction, from any party, really wants to talk, I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk.”
Taylor first moved to Moab in 1994 to be a river guide. He moved to Moab full time in 1997 and has worked for the tourism industry for 24 years. Taylor works for the Moab Adventure Center/Western River Expeditions and, with his wife, owns Canyonlands Jeep and Car Rentals.
Taylor says that he felt running for city council was the logical next step for his involvement in local government.
“I’ve volunteered on quite a few boards,” he said. “I’ve served on the Travel Council, I’m currently serving on the Grand County Emergency Medical Services board, I’ve served on the airport board, and I’m on the [Grand County] Motorized Trails Committee. So I’ve got a really good feel for how the county operates, how the city operates, and I kind of felt it was my time to try to be on the council and work towards that.”
Affordable housing is high on his agenda, he said.
“The decisions that we make within the next two or three years are going to affect Moab 20 years from now, said Taylor, “so I think it’s really important that we get a grasp or a vision as to where we’re going as a town.”
He emphasized that he supports tourism since that’s what Moab’s economy is based on.
“I’m pro-tourism because it’s what we have,” said Taylor. “We don’t have economic diversity, and we need to work towards … creating a more diverse workforce. But in that time, we need to not destroy what we have because it puts the people that we’re trying to find houses for out of work.”
“I’ve probably watched every county and city council meeting for the last couple of years because I’m genuinely interested in what’s going on,” he said. “I know that what happens at these meetings is gonna affect our quality of life for better or worse in this town.”
Wojciechowski has been living in Moab for the past five years. He works at Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center as the deputy executive director, and he has volunteered for a few different community programs such as the Mutual Self Help Housing Program.
Wojciechowski is running for city council because he wants to ensure the community’s voices are heard fairly, he said.
“In my day to day experiences in my job and my various roles in the community, I’ve noticed a huge segment of Moab that doesn’t really have the capacity to be a part of the conversation of the future direction we’re all going toward … We really rarely get to hear from the parts of the community that may have to work multiple jobs to support their families or simply don’t have the time or resources to attend public hearings or submit public comments.”
Representation is the main issue he wants to focus on, he said.
Wojciechowski believes there is no such thing as an ideal candidate, he said—it takes “a diverse group of people to adequately represent a town as diverse as Moab.” Leaders should be competent and confident while also being always willing to learn and ask questions, he said.
He’s been on the city planning commission for two years, which has given him experience in procedure, policy, and city code, he said, and his work on the commission especially focused on ways to address Moab’s housing crisis.
“I also like to see candidates who simply have a pulse on the real everyday struggles of Moab’s working class, because they themselves are part of it,” he said.
Costanza has lived in Moab for 12 years, and her husband was born and raised in Moab. Her family stays active in the community, she said, especially because her kids are Grand County School District students—her oldest daughter protested the school district in 2015, asking the district to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Costanza is running for mayor because she’s invested in the community, she said, and because she wants to see more community involvement in City Hall.
“I have two more kids to put through this community,” she said. “The consensus of the Moab community is that we really need to work on a balance between industry and the collective local happiness and quality of life.”
“I’m a fierce advocate [for balance],” she said. “I fight for what I believe in.”
The balancing act is the issue she’s most focused on, she said, but she’s ready to take whatever problems, “seen or unforeseen,” step-by-step.
What makes her an ideal candidate is that she lives and works here, so she’s invested in the community, she said. Her experience in local government is that she keeps up with the community, and makes an effort to pay attention to relevant topics.
“I’m for the community,” she said. “I’m running for us to get more involvement.”
Davies moved to Castle Valley in 2004. He currently works as a realtor, but he earned a degree in political science from the University of Utah.
“I believe I can be helpful in helping develop relationships,” he said. “I can help bring us together in ways so we can solve our problems together, and try to find ways to come to agreements.”
“Clearly, we have some issues about what the city is spending money on that became evident in the recent push to raise taxes,” he said. “As a realtor, I see the housing issue and I saw a lot more of the back end. I think we need to make better efforts at getting more housing that people can afford.”
He said that what makes him an ideal candidate is that he can approach issues with reason.
“I have found that I’m able to take a good look at all the sides, learn about the issues, then make a decision that I believe is going to be a benefit for most of the community,” he said.
Davies has served on the town council in Castle Valley.
“We just gotta get back to being more kind,” Davies said. “It seems trite, but if we could just speak to each other with kindness, I think not only will we enjoy being here, but we will solve our problems. I’d like to see that we all can get an increased ability to show empathy and compassion for others, even when we disagree.”
Green has been a resident for 56 years—he graduated from high school in Monticello, he said, and his wife’s family has been in Moab for seven generations. Green served as the Grand County Deputy Sheriff, retiring in 2006 after over 20 years of service. His wife, Cricket Green, is the current chair of the Grand County Republican Party.
Green said that he is running for mayor because he wants to be able to serve the community. “I’m not saying that nobody else can,” he said. “I just have a passion for working for humanity, because I just love Moab that much.”
“And, obviously, we’re growing, and I want to be a part of that,” Green added.
Moab isn’t what it used to be, he said, mostly because of the influx of visitors to the city. Green says that he sees the city’s popularity as both an issue of concern and as an opportunity.
“I want to be a part of that process to help alleviate pressure, but also grow,” he said. “We’re basically surrounded by public land, so [Moab] belongs to everybody. That’s why we get the amount of visitors that we do.”
“I just want to be able to work with everybody, because I think it can be done,” Green said. “So I’m very approachable, on any issue.”
He regularly attends Moab City Council meetings, he said, and always wants to know what’s going on in the community—but he wouldn’t call himself a politician.
“I’m just an average person like everybody else who loves our community, and wants to help it,” he said.
Langianese moved to Moab in 1997 from San Francisco. She worked as the chief compliance officer for Allen Memorial Hospital (now the Moab Regional Hospital) from 1997 to 2006. She was elected to serve on the Grand County Council for two terms, from 2001 to 2008. Currently, she’s the executive director for Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, a nonprofit organization that promotes exploration and stewardship of the area’s national parks. She is also the chair of the board of the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District.
Langianese says that she is running for mayor because she feels like she has the leadership to guide Moab, she said.
“It feels like Moab’s going through a change right now,” Langianese said. “I have quite a bit of experience in facilitating meetings, which is a big role that the mayor plays. I just feel like my experience in leadership is something that’s needed in the community.”
As mayor, she said, her job would be to guide the council in their decision-making process. She said that in that role, she will prioritize issues as decided by the elected council.
“What I really feel is important right now is that our citizens still feel like they are a part of the community,” Langianese said. “I want to make sure that our community feels heard and citizens are able to tell us what their needs are.”
She believes her experience on the Grand County Council and working “behind the scenes” on various community issues has well prepared her for the role as mayor.
“I’ll be able to jump into the job on the first day,” she said. “I’m looking forward to talking to people and finding out what they would like to see from the mayor and from the city government.”
Stephen Stocks was raised in Moab and said his family has been here for six generations. He attended the University of Utah and currently works as a lawyer in Moab.
Stocks says that he is running for mayor because he believes he can unite different groups. In his work as an attorney, he’s talked with “every different type of person imaginable,” he said.
“I’m able to talk to everybody in the whole wide world, and try to get everybody on the same page,” Stocks said. “I like everyone to have a seat at the table, regardless of their background.
“A lot of times, the loudest voice you can hear is from the people that have money,” Stocks said. “I don’t care if somebody has money or if they don’t, if they want their voice to be heard, I’ll help them.”
Giving everyone an equal chance to be heard is what he would prioritize as mayor, Stocks said. Ensuring that all voices are heard on issues like infrastructure and budgeting is “monumentally important,” he said, and the mayor has to be a primary communicator on such polarizing topics.
“Budgeting is really important,” Stocks said, “and actual solutions for affordable housing.”
“For somebody like me to be able to come in and to look at the issues and give them the time and the respect they deserve is definitely helpful,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be as professional as I can in life and treat everybody with respect and dignity.”
Stocks was the chairperson for the Grand County Change of Form of Government Study Committee.
“I really would encourage people to read up on everybody, and make sure they’re informed [before voting],” Stocks added.
Bill Winfield said that he was born in Grand Junction and raised near Gateway, Colorado, on a cattle ranch. His family was often in Moab and now he runs a construction company in the city.
Winfield is running for mayor because he believes there needs to be more transparency at City Hall, he said. He said that housing should be the city’s top priority.
“That’s the number one thing, I believe,” he said. “We have got to have a solution for housing,”
“We can’t say that it’s going to be down the road somewhere any longer,” Winfield said. “We needed it last year. We needed it yesterday. We have to have some immediate solutions.”
Winfield emphasized that none of the other candidates have the background in development and building that he does. As the owner of a construction company, he regularly works with contractors and lawyers.
“I run a construction company that has never filed for bankruptcy,” said Winfield. “I have a successful company in this town, and I have a reputation.”
Winfield has plenty of experience getting construction projects through city and county government in the last six years, he said.
“I’m involved in government all over this city, as far as being able to try and work. I have an excellent reputation in every one of the buildings,” Winfield said. He added that he’s ready to work with the state, as well.
“I’m just passionate about getting housing for Moab,” he said. “and that’s got to be the focus of whoever takes that office … there are all kinds of ways to increase housing in this town, and there has got to be something done fairly quickly for people living in their cars and in their vans.”