Iveson vs. Leibovici a generational battle.

Polls indicate that Don Iveson will be the next mayor of Edmonton. Of course, polling has been about as on-target lately as the Edmonton Eskimo offence. Polls also said Christie Clark would not be the premier of B.C. (she is), and that Danielle Smith could be the premier of Alberta (she isn’t).

But Iveson’s lead over Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte seem to be too big to be wrong, and there is a very good chance that Iveson will win. I won’t be particularly upset if he does, but neither will I be excited — and I can say the same about Leibovici. (I can’t say the same about Diotte, but I’m not even considering a Diotte victory.)

I was hoping this election would be a good one, but it has disappointed. With Diotte not a real factor, the race is between Leibovici and Iveson. And the way I see it, the only real difference between the two main challengers is about 30 years experience. (A note on Diotte: I wish he had just run for his guaranteed council seat. I like a lot of what Diotte says — he’s the kind of financial curmudgeon a council needs — but a mayor needs to project positivity, not negativity. He could have been a powerful player on an inexperienced city council. That’s a shame.)

Seriously, does anyone really believe that Edmonton will be substantially different in four years under Don Iveson as mayor than it would be under Karen Leibovici as mayor?  Both are, essentially, liberal progressives. They both promise better roads, more LRT, watching your tax dollars, blah blah blah.

I suppose there are differences in their policies, but who has time to wade through all their statements on the issues? Check out Iveson’s website: endless, boring term papers on every issue under the sun. Leibovici’s is better, but not by much. Only the most dedicated of voter (and that would not be me) would have the time or inclination to wade through thousands of words of policy and promises. (Note to both candidates: there is something called a ‘bullet point’ that works very well. Look into it.) If they differ in substance on any major issue, they haven’t made it clear to me.

This is what makes the poll today in the Edmonton Journal so amusing to me. The Leger poll found 43% believe Iveson “has the best vision for the long term future of the city”.  My guess is that you could ask that 43% to outline Iveson’s vision of the future of Edmonton, and they wouldn’t have an answer. Iveson scored heavily again on the question of “who will focus on the right priorities for Edmonton”.  Again, is there really any major difference between Leibovici and Iveson that would rate such a disparity?

So why the split? Forget the policies — I think there is a clue to be found in the endorsements of both candidates, and they way they present them.

Leibovici took out a full-page ad in the Journal listing prominent Edmontonians who endorse her candidacy. It’s a who’s who of Edmonton established money, with a smattering of some loathsome Conservative MLAs (interestingly for a former Liberal MLA, no support from Liberals). Collectively, they’re worth hundreds of millions. It’s the Establishment, if I may use an old 1960s term.

Iveson seems to be ignoring the mainstream media (I don’t recall seeing any ads for him in the Journal), and putting his money on the web. His list of endorsements is less well known, mostly young up and comers, the kinds of names you see on those self-serving ‘Top 40 under 40’ lists.   Let’s call them the Future Establishment.

The difference, as I see it, is generational. Leibovici deserves a shot at running the show more than Iveson, whose resume is anemic at best.  But it may come down to how Edmontonians seem themselves reflected in the mayoralty candidates. Are we a little dowdy and middle aged, or young and moderately handsome? We’ll know on Monday.

Thanks, Mayor Mandel. Now, on to business…

First, a thank you to Stephen Mandel for his years of service to our city. Politics — particularly civic politics — is a tough way to make a living, and in my view Mandel has acquitted himself very well in his nine years as mayor. If you can be in charge of a city for almost a decade and NOT have half the population hate your guts, then you’ve done something right. I have no doubt that if he had chosen to run again, he would have won easily.

OK, now with that sentimentally out of the way, let’s get down to business — who will be Edmonton’s next mayor?

At this moment, we have exactly one candidate, Kerry Diotte, who launched his campaign last week in a bold move to stake out his position before anyone else. But, judging from the comments from the mayor — who called Diotte irrelevant — and the subtle agreement from some city councillors that Diotte hasn’t carried his weight, Diotte may not be a particularly popular member of the team. If the retirement of Mandel wasn’t enough to get the tire kickers behind the wheel, the Diotte announcement will likely galvanize the maybe mayors into action.

Oddly, the Diotte decision may actually reduce the number of would-be councillors in the race. Here’s my thinking: if there are enough city councillors who throw up a little at the thought of Diotte being the mayor, the possible contenders might decide to rally around one of their own to prevent a multi-candidate dogfight that could allow Diotte to get enough of the disgruntled anti-progress, anti-tax vote to win out over a field of more progressive candidates. If that’s the case, I could see someone like Don Iveson, who is young with many years ahead of him on council if he chooses, to sit this one out and let someone else run, like almost-certain candidate Karen Leibovici.

Of course, I could be entirely off base here. There may be too much ambition on council for any two or three to get together behind a candidate. In either event, I would think that Leibovici is an almost lock to run, and I think she would immediately become the favorite. Iveson would be a real challenger; he’s young, social media savvy, and after just one term on council, still a fairly fresh face. He will no doubt take some encouragement from the remarkable success of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose success three years ago was due in no small part to how well he utilized social media.

My guess is that Leibovici is 80 per cent sure to run, particularly now that Diotte is in the race. Iveson I would put at no more than 50/50; he’s still young enough to hang around for another term on council if he chooses.

Aside from the mayoralty, which will be a battle worth watching for the first time in years, there will a land rush of candidates into the non-incumbent wards. There could easily be a dozen or so candidates in Ward 11, where Diotte is leaving, Ward 5 if the unbeatable Leibovici takes a run at the mayoralty, and in Ward 10 where Iveson would be a shoe-in.

Maybe that’s the best thing about Mandel’s retirement. By stepping down, he has almost certainly given a boost to the public’s tragically low interest in civic politics. At least it will give us something to do in October.


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.