Kerry Diotte the front-runner … for now.

For months now, the city has been watching a tedious production called Waiting for Stephen to come to its end — is Mayor Mandel in, or is he out? All other potential or rumoured candidates — Karen Leibovici, Don Iveson, Kerry Diotte and Amajreet Sohi — have kept their powder dry waiting for the mayor to make up his mind. Now, with the arena deal done and his single biggest project of his mayoralty now a certainty (as much as we can call anything about the arena a certainty), it seems more likely than ever that Mandel will not run again. An incumbent mayor is awfully difficult to dislodge (in Quebec, the only way to get rid of an incumbent mayor is to haul him off to jail), and if Mandel decides not to run, the dominos will start to fall.

By not waiting for Mandel to make his decision known, Diotte has thrown down the gauntlet, not just to the mayor but also to the would-be mayors: he announced today that running for mayor, whatever Mandel does. That’s a bold move, and a smart one. Diotte is saying that he’s not afraid of the incumbent, and that he’s not the kind of guy to sit back and coast to an easy win in his ward like all the other namby-pamby maybe mayors.

Diotte will likely take aim at the great mass of disgruntled Edmontonians. They’re angry that the city is spending millions on an arena for a hockey team, that we’ve got an administration whose first job seems to be to come up with multi-million dollar pie-in-the-sky spending ideas, that adds to its payroll at a rate that far exceeds the city’s growth — but we can’t keep our roads from crumbling. That’s a large constituency, just waiting to be courted.

The strategy, if that is indeed Diotte’s plan, is risky. There is always a chance of being perceived as an anti-everything kind of guy. While there will be many who will applaud Diotte’s stand on the arena (he consistently voted against the deal) and his almost line-by-line parsing of city budgets, many more will see him as small minded penny-pincher with no great vision for the city.  Remember Mike Nickel, all around troublemaker? Turfed by the voters, defeated by a young upstart named Don Iveson in 2007. Going much further back, alderman Ed Leger was a consistent negative force on council before the public finally got tired of his negativity and turfed him in 1986.

Mandel is no fan of Diotte’s, it appears. On the morning news shows today, he called Diotte “irrelevant”, said he “has done nothing to contribute to the success of the city”, has “no vision for the city” and spends council meetings tweeting. Those are the strongest, most personal words I’ve ever heard from a mayor about a councillor. His surprising broadside means either a) Mandel is running again, and he took the opportunity to blast a possible opponent; or b) isn’t running again, but can’t stand the idea of a perceived do-nothing like Diotte in the mayor’s chair.

But right now, as of 3 p.m. on May 16th, Diotte is the favourite to win the mayoralty, predominantly because no one else is running right now. However, now that Diotte has officially started the race, the pressure now builds on other potential candidates. How do the others rate?

If Leibovici decides to run, she will become the front-runner, I think. Iveson would likely become the favourite of Edmonton’s young, Facebooking, Tweeting, downtown crowd, who are sorely underrepresented on city council. The fact that he changed his vote on the arena deal — from consistently opposed to supportive on the final vote — shouldn’t do him any harm. Circumstances change, and so should politicians. Amarjeet Sohi, a decent councillor touted by some as a mayoralty candidate, should best just stick to his ward; he doesn’t have the experience, profile or charisma to be a legitimate mayoralty candidate.

However it shakes down, the race is now fully underway. Diotte is off and running, with everyone else — including the incumbent — still pondering if they want to join the fray. If nothing else, this should make the election a whole lot more interesting.

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