Simons: Edmonton’s next top politician - 2013 mayoral campaign will be both a quest and test
City councilor Kerry Diotte announces that he will run for Mayor on May 16, 2013 in Edmonton.
Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Help Wanted: Mid-sized western city with major aspirations and plenteous potholes seeks new leader. Applicants must have high tolerance for long meetings, innumerable community events, and impenetrable budget documents. A passion for Edmonton, its people and its future, essential. (Recreational crack users or aggressive daytime biters need not apply.)
With Stephen Mandel’s official announcement this week that he will not be seeking a fourth term, the race to be Edmonton’s new mayor has begun in earnest.
This fall promises one of the most exciting and complex municipal election we’ve seen in years.
At least four councillors are considering a run for mayor, including Kerry Diotte, the councillor for Ward 11, who has already launched his campaign. Don Iveson has already said he won’t be running for council, leaving his Ward 10 seat open, whether or not he runs for mayor. And it’s expected he will.
If Karen Leibovici and perhaps Amarjeet Sohi follow Diotte into the fray, they’ll leave their own seats in wards 5 and 12 open.
On top of that, it’s likely neither Kim Krushell, from Ward 2 nor Jane Batty, in Ward 6, will run again.
That could mean that as a many as six out of 12 council seats, in addition to the mayor’s chair, will be open races this time out. In other words, we aren’t just going to get a new mayor. We’re going to get a very new council.
What qualities will that new person need?
First, the capacity to lead a potentially fractious council, filled with rookies. Being a mayor is akin to herding cats. Bobcats. You only get one vote on council. No matter how bold your vision or radical your agenda, if you can’t build alliances on council, if you can win consensus, you stall and sputter. Mandel’s best political trick as mayor was his capacity to build unexpected alliances that won him the votes he needed. His successor would do well to learn from that.
We need a mayor who will be a responsible custodian of public dollars. At this point, I don’t much care whether he or she supported or opposed the arena deal, or supported or opposed the redevelopment of the municipal airport lands. Both projects are potentially transformational for our city, but they’re also both potentially disastrous.
We need a mayor who does his or her utmost to make sure both initiatives live up to their promise and price tags.
We need a mayor who can lobby effectively for the city’s urban interests with the province, the federal government and the capital region, a mayor who can work and play well with others, but who isn’t afraid to play aggressively when the need arises.
We need a mayor who won’t spend like mad on pet vanity projects, but who will have the courage to invest public dollars when and where they’re required.
We need a mayor who will give us the courage to be a big city, and not a backwater, a mayor who will inspire us to be tolerant and creative and open, not selfish, parochial and pinched.
We need a mayor who won’t put ideology — left-wing or right-wing — ahead of common sense. We need a mayor who won’t be unduly beholden to the donors or interest groups that fund and support a candidacy — be they developers, unions, or activist groups. A mayor who can be her own woman. Or his own man.
And we need a mayor with the stamina, the commitment, the unflagging energy to put in the hard work and gruelling hours the job requires. A mayor who makes us the envy of other Canadian cities.
Is there a candidate out there, either on this current council or outside of it, up to the job? We have five months to poke and prod platforms, to ask tough questions, to see who has the vision, the moxie, the strategic smarts and the work ethic to earn our support.
After nine years of Mandel’s expansionist dreams, will Edmontonians opt for a more back-to-basics, fiscally prudent mayor? Or one who wants to build on Mandel’s grand legacy? For a mayor who makes them feel safe and secure? Or bold and ambitious?
Because, come Oct. 21, we’re not hiring a mayor. We’re choosing a future, a vision of the city we’d like to call home. Now, it’s up to the candidates to show us what they want our Edmonton to be.
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