May 1, the first day prospective candidates could file their paperwork for a kick at the can in October’s municipal election, has come and gone.
At this point, six declared candidates for Mayor have joined the fray: Paul Cheng, Sean O’Connell, Stephen Orser, Paul Paolatto, Tanya Park, and Jonas White. Incumbent Mayor Matt Brown will not be standing for re-election.
It’s worth reviewing how we got to this point.
To be sure, the 2018 election will be dramatically different from its 2014 counterpart. In 2014 there were no less than 15 people vying for the Mayor’s chair. There was also a full slate of fresh-faced rookie candidates challenging London’s old guard for ward seats.
As the campaign developed a so-called “progressive” coalition coaelesced around mayoralty candidate Matt Brown (a local big L Liberal) who promised to bring fresh ideas and return dignity to city council, which had been tarnished by misdeeds of former Mayor Joe Fontana and his cronies.
On election night the results were pretty predictable. Brown won a clear majority of the votes cast (57.75 per cent) and his progressive coalition pushed aside Joe Swan, Bud Pohill and other old guard councillors.
The future looked bright. Anything seemed possible. Dignity had been restored to city politics.
Big policies like the London Plan and BRT were introduced with much fanfare and it looked like the new council was planning on a long stay in office.
And, then it happened.
In June 2016, it was disclosed that Brown had carried on an extra-marital affair with Councillor Maureen Cassidy, then his Deputy Mayor.
Suddenly, almost overnight the shine seemed to come off the new council, and although they would probably deny it, the council’s momentum slowed and its honeymoon with London voters was over.
After Brown and Cassidy returned to council after self-imposed suspensions, council turned its attention to implementing what it perceived as its mandate to put shovels in the ground for a new mass transit system. After an earlier LRT proposal was rejected due to staggering costs, council settled on the less expensive, but no less controversial, BRT alternative under the Shift banner.
However, things didn’t proceed quite as anticipated. Poor communications between city staff, council and the public lead the emergence of an anti-BRT group calling itself Downshift, composed mainly of Richmond Row merchants fearful that their businesses would be adversely affected by the construction of the proposed BRT route.
A rather raucous public meeting at Budweiser Gardens revealed that there was a good deal of anti-BRT sentiment and opposition among London taxpayers.
Potential mayoralty candidates Paul Cheng and Paul Paolatto expressed their displeasure with the project vowing to scrap it altogether or come up with a better alternative.
Suddenly, BRT didn’t seem like such a done-deal despite the provincial Liberal government ponying up hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for the project in 2018.
Then in April 2018, Brown announced that he was not running for re-election, probably realizing he had little chance of winning.
BRT enthusiasts must have been devastated. Their tireless champion was not going to be there after October to help push through the project.
Councillor Tanya Park, who had earlier announced she would not be running because she had accomplished everything she had set out to do, and who had mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be the Ontario NDP candidate in London North, stepped into the breach announcing her candidacy for Mayor, saying she would continue to promote the project as Mayor.
After the three major mayoralty candidates filed their papers, they fired off their initial salvos with Cheng proclaiming his familiar refrain: Let’s open London for Business; Paolatto surprisingly, but predictably, expressing his support for London’s developers; and Park letting it be known she is running on a platform of job creation and leadership on issues such a fighting sexual harassment.
Something tells me that we will see even more Londoners throwing their hats into the race for Mayor in the months to come. The deadline for filing the paperwork is July 27.
Rick Young, May 3, 2018